Ok, our first blog post and we are off with an adventure…into creating a 21st Century learning environment (you know…all the latest buzz words). Our first stop is the 4Cs, or the four cornerstones of the new Common Core Standards. We have dabbled with integrating the 4Cs before, but we really wanted to see the students engage with the process and reflection of utilizing them.
With the new Common Core State Standards, the focus is not only being “book smart” but the intention of providing an overall 21st century learning experience. The previous standards emphasized more fact recalling of content, rather than the skills needed to comprehend and digest the content. We must not forget that we will want students to be able to apply these skills to their daily lives and the real world.
Plus, one of the more important aspects of integrating the 4Cs was to see the students apply them on their own. These 21st Century skills apply to everyone, young and old. We know, it may sound silly…but it’s true: As educators and teachers of our community, teaching the 4Cs are important for the generations coming through our classrooms and helping our society thrive for generations beyond our influence. As you could probably tell by now, we are excited by the 4Cs!
Wait, what are the 4Cs?
If you are reading this post then you are probably familiar with the 4Cs, but just in case, here is a quick run down. The 4Cs are Communication, Collaboration, Critical thinking, and Creativity.
Communication through speaking, writing, and presenting in various texts and formats helps develop student processing and verbalizing thoughts. Being able to work as a team, and being able to collaborate with others is another life skill that a person needs to thrive in the 21st Century. To think critically, and solve problems, is not just for word problems in the math textbook, but a “life” skill. Students, teachers, and others need to be taught “how to” critically think and practice. Critical thinking is something that can be practiced and honed, like the saying says, “Your mind is like a well-oiled machine”. But without practice, what happens to it? We would say it ‘rusts’. So, teaching students and others to think critically will help them navigate problems, and find more paths to a solution, not only in school scenarios but in the real world, also. Being able to think critically while engaging in collaboration and communication helps the mind imagine and dream of the possibilities to create and invent things…and, a new thought, idea, system, invention, or product is born.
Teaching the 4Cs
The challenge we currently face with our students is that these skills were never emphasized in previous grades. When they come to us it becomes an uphill battle to teach the 4Cs along with content. The new standards require a shift in thinking for students and there will be growing pains for those students already in the school system. To meet this challenge we have changed our first couple of weeks of school. Teaching our routines and procedures has now become entwined with emphasizing the 4Cs. We wanted to introduce and develop an understanding of 21st century expectations right out of the gate and prepare them for the rest of the year. This will prep them for new challenges in the school year as they tackle a new way of learning.
So, how do we teach the 4Cs?
This was a question we asked ourselves right away! We understood that these skills framed the bedrock for the standards that the students would be tested on very soon. And we knew that in order to transition our incoming students to a new way of learning and thinking that we needed to lay a strong foundation from the very beginning. So…why not use what we are already doing in the beginning of the year, which is teaching routines and procedures but integrate our learning expectations using the 4Cs. What should their learning look like? As teachers, what do we look for in students to see they are engaged in the learning process?
So, we had a plan and now it was time to create! (Hey, wait…it seems like we, the teachers, are engaged in the 4Cs…hmmm) Here are a few points we settled on:
- In the beginning of the school year, teach and model what each 4C looks like, sound like, and feels like.
- Use protocols, step-by-step directions, graphic organizers, and rubrics to help guide the 4Cs in the classroom.
- Many of the students may think they know what each of these are, but the point is for you to communicate your expectations for each, as these expectations are to be observed in future projects and class activities that will eventually tie into their grades and progress reports.
- Create opportunities that mirror a typical activity or learning experience in your classroom. It should be something you know integrates one or more of the 4Cs.
Our first time around we decided we needed a list of possible activities and some basic activity graphic organizers to record student/group thoughts. And, of course, some type of anchor charts to keep bringing student attention back to what was necessary also (plus, we wanted something to change up our walls!). So, we created something, which you can purchase here (4Cs Activity/Posters Bundle). It includes those basic graphic organizer for students to jot down thoughts while brainstorming as a group, a choice board for future projects that students themselves can choose from, and a great looking poster/anchor chart for the classroom wall. So, the adventure continues as we head into another school year and a new batch of students to bestow the secret power of the 4Cs…stay tuned for updates! Just remember, developing 21st Century Skills are as just important, or even more important than content. If we want to see the generations we are nurturing advance society, then they need to know how to digest and integrate new content, not just know it. We, as citizens of a community, should adapt, innovate, inspire, and change our century for the better…and that starts with our students!