Lessons for 21st-Century Learners
According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, the four Cs of a 21st-century learner are collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity. Given the fact that technology use in schools continues to grow, it is worthwhile to consider how technology can be used in assignments designed to help students develop the skills that they will need in the future.
COMMUNICATION AND CREATIVITY: PERSONAL NARRATIVE PODCAST
In the classroom, stories can be a very effective learning tool. For a narrative unit in 11th grade, I asked students to analyse classic narrative essays such as George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” and Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” using the traditional plot diagram and paying attention to literary narrative devices, as well as contemporary narrative essays. Following that, they looked at contemporary personal narratives from NPR’s This I Believe series and chose three essays to read based on their personal interests and background knowledge. Then I asked them to write their own personal narratives in order to share a significant event in their lives with the class.
My students were unfamiliar with podcasts, so we decided to explore a few episodes from NPR’s This American Life series as a class, first listening to them together, then discussing oral storytelling techniques that we learned from them. The students then selected several This I Believe audio clips to supplement their existing knowledge of storytelling techniques.
Students used GarageBand to create their own podcasts after becoming familiar with the world of podcasting. They included elements such as sound effects and music in their podcasts. It’s important to note that although I’ve listed the tools we used in my class, there are a plethora of others that can be used with these types of assignments. Some students chose to collaborate on podcasts in the style of interviews, while others chose to work on dramatic interpretations of their own personal experiences.
It was extremely engaging to hear the stories students shared about their experiences, which ranged from grieving over a lost grandmother, to being in a tent on a safari with lions, to competing in a swim meet event for the first time, among other things. Students were able to share a personal event that had enriched their lives through the use of creativity and communication, and this sharing helped to strengthen their sense of belonging as a classroom community.
The Visual Interpretation of Poetry: CRITICAL THINKING AND CREATIVITY in the Arts
Over the years, I’ve discovered, like many other teachers, that students are apprehensive about exploring poetry. Although this is a time-consuming process, it is an excellent way to improve critical thinking abilities. Students read traditional poems such as Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” and Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” and discussed the poetic devices used in them as part of a 10th-grade poetry unit.
Students watched videos of contemporary poems from the Poetry Foundation’s Poem Videos series to add a visual element to the lesson, which we then discussed as a class. The end of the lesson included some time for students to explore some of the videos on their own, which I encouraged them to do.
Afterwards, they selected a poem from which they would create a visual interpretation using iMovie or another video-creation platform of their choosing. They were overjoyed to have the opportunity to select their own poems, choosing texts that were meaningful to them. The only requirement for the video was that it should include an explicit interpretation of the poem’s theme or message, and this was the only requirement for the video itself.
They ranged in format from live action to photographic images to personal drawings to stop motion, all of which were representative of the students’ individual interpretations of the text. Incorporating student agency in the selection and analysis of a poem resulted in engaging videos that demonstrated their developing critical thinking and creative abilities.
CRITICAL THINKING AND CREATIVITY: VISUAL INTERPRETATION OF POETRY
Even though working in groups is a necessary skill in the twenty-first century, students are often hesitant to do so, fearing that they will be saddled with the entire load of work. In an 11th-grade unit on The Merchant of Venice, I addressed that fear by having students divide an assigned research question into three or four subtopics depending on the number of people in the group—each individual had his or her own responsibility as the groups explored the cultural and contextual background of the play and then wrote a collaborative research paper on the subject.
Groups used NoodleTools, a virtual collaboration environment, to create a shared project that was accessible through their individual student accounts on the internet. My students shared their projects with me, allowing me to monitor group participation and answer any questions they had while still working on their projects in real time.
Everyone was tasked with creating one virtual source card and three virtual note cards on the subtopic that they were assigned for their group. Students were able to easily share and view each other’s work in the virtual environment because the source and note cards are individually tracked, but they are compiled together by groups online.
NoodleTools was used to create and share a Google Doc between groups, and students wrote individual sections on one group document. Each group collaborated on the writing of an introduction and the creation of a reference page in MLA format. The final product for each group was a single research paper that included both individual and collaborative contributions. My students found NoodleTools to be incredibly simple to use, and none of them expressed any frustration at having to submit group work that had been created by only one or two members of the group.
Just a few examples of how technology can help students develop their 4 Cs skills in the secondary classroom are provided below. One of the most appealing aspects of modern technology is that it can be used in a variety of ways to improve student learning and motivation.