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What am I going to do as an English teacher to engage with the 21st century skills?
I think that the 21st Century is a very exciting time in human history. We now have personal computers and smart phones that let us share information instantly around the world. Modern air travel can take us anywhere on the planet.
But when I talk to teachers about new developments in English education, and go on to mention the term 21st Century skills, so many of them and me personally feel uncomfortable.
In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves toward greater interconnectedness, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society. Yes, basic language skills are essential. However, equally essential is an individual’s ability to think outside the box, find future solutions to future problems, collaborate and reach a consensus across cultural and national borders1.
As a general guide, however, here are five “essential strategies” I would develop in my classroom to encourage 21st Century thinking and learning.
1. Let Your Students Lead The Learning
Learning takes place best in environments where students feel empowered to learn. Effective teachers are more like moderators, offering inspiration and guiding students to discover for themselves. I would try to give students the opportunity to be self-learners, which guarantees lifelong learning.
2. Create an Inquiry-Based Classroom Environment
If students are to lead the way to learning, they need to be able to ask questions – and then find the means to answer them. Students (and teachers) need to “wonder out loud” as they encounter new information. A KWL chart (What do you Know? What do you Want to know? What have you Learned?) can guide students toward true self-motivated learning.
3. Encourage Collaboration
A healthy, active classroom is a sharing classroom. Students are social beings, and even more so in a language class. I would find every opportunity to allow students to form pairs and small groups. Not only does this encourage the development of speaking and listening skills, but it also teaches students how to effectively achieve goals together.
4. Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Learning is more than memorizing and remembering2. Critical thinking skills take students well beyond simple comprehension of information. Students use these skills to solve problems in new situations, make inferences and generalizations, combine information in new patterns, and make judgments based on evidence and criteria. I would find and then introduce activities in my lessons that build critical thinking skills along with language skills.
5. Encourage Creativity
Encourage my students to be creative throughout each lesson. Creative activities allow students to express what they’ve learned in a new way. This synthesizing and personalizing of knowledge consolidates learning, and creates an experience that remains with students long after the class is over.
By keeping these strategies in mind as I plan each lesson, I will be encouraging the development of 21st Century skills. Of course, my students may also need time to adjust to this new way of learning. However, they will soon begin to feel empowered to think more critically, to ask questions and seek answers, and to express themselves creatively. Most importantly, their communication skills will become much stronger as a result, which always remains our main objective!
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