The new global economy requires American educators to rethink their approach to teaching. Today there is a gap between what students are taught in school and the knowledge and skills they will need in the workplace or college. For instance, The American Management Corporation wants workers who can think critically, creatively solve problems, innovate, collaborate, and communicate (Thoughtful Learning, 2016). Other employers seek people who are self-starters, demonstrate leadership abilities, and who are able to work cooperatively towards a common goal (University of Wisconsin-Stout, 2015). They must also have writing abilities that enable them to clearly convey complex material to a lay audience (University of Wisconsin-Stout, 2015). Additionally they must be able to research information from online sources, analyze and evaluate the ensuing data, apply this information to a problem with no obvious solution, and subsequently find answers (University of Wisconsin-Stout, 2015).. Along similar lines employers feel that the most valuable computer skills new workers needs are: word-processing abilities and knowledge of databases and spreadsheets, along with the ability to navigate the Internet. Finally, successful applicants should be flexible to changing market demands, be able to communicate orally (give presentations), and have the ability to speak and read a foreign language (University of Wisconsin-Stout, 2015).
Students are an excellent resource when it comes to finding out what is going on in the classroom. Here is a sample questionnaire, geared for fifth graders, that focuses on 21st century skills.
Do you often use technology as a tool to research, evaluate, organize, and communicate information?
How often do you engage in collaborative projects that involve community, national, or global issues?
Does the teacher explain the learning target at the beginning of the lesson?
Does the teacher offer rubrics and checklists to guide your learning?
Are you given partial credit for using the correct thought process in math even when you arrive at the wrong answer?
How would you rate your current knowledge of the role diet and exercise play in a healthy lifestyle?
Are you given the opportunity to communicate (through blogging) with students who have different cultural backgrounds or those with diverse perspectives? How did that help you?
Can you recall an activity where you brainstormed a topic, and then collaboratively created a new or radical idea connected with it? Please explain.
Do you receive special credit for originality in your work?
Have you worked with other classmates analyze and evaluate information in order to create a new design for a special logo, coin, stamp or other things? What was your role and what did you add to the knowledge pool?
How often are you required to write creatively about a fictional situation of your choice?
Do you often keep a journal or log in which you reflect on how you thought your way through a problem? Has this helped you to “learn how to learn?” Please explain
How often do you participate in formative exams? Do you receive quick helpful feedback from the teacher after taking the test?
Are you offered options on how to personalize a project through choice of topics or media selections?
Does your activities offer cross-curricular themes (combining knowledge of math and science or reading and history?)
Are you able to offer presentations in audio, visual, musical, artistic, or kinesthetic ways?
Do your presentations sometimes include visual displays of data (graphs, charts, tables?)
Have you taken part in the creation of an original play or created an original poem or song? Please explain.
What can you tell us about the subjects, “Statistics” and “Probability”?
What multimedia tools do you generally use when collaborating with other students on projects?
Why is it important to cite sources?
Have you learned conflict resolution strategies for working well with classmates?
Have you ever helped to develop a class website on a particular topic?
When you work in groups do you share leadership roles and decision making, as well as information? Please explain.
Has your teacher taught social skills to be used in group work such as when to listen and when to speak?
On tests, is there a balance between remembering facts and solving problems?
Have you heard about Close Reading? If so, explain.
Are you frequently asked to draw inferences from what you have read? (Read between the lines to understand the author’s thoughts)? Please explain.
What activities have you taken part in that stressed environmental issues?
Do you generally feel that you have learned enough about a given topic or do you wish that the teacher spent more time on it?
Are you maintaining a portfolio of samples of your work from the beginning of the school year?
Are you asked to offer different strategies to solve the same problem?
Do you view failure as an opportunity to learn? Why?
In science, or in other subjects, “Systems Think” is important. Do you understand how parts of the whole interact with each other to produce a complete system or eco system? Please provide an example.
Do you often compare a literary work or story with another?
Are you required to write all types of essays that inform, persuade, and motivate?
In discussions are you asked to evaluate opposing points of view?
Does the teacher frequently ask you to explain or justify your thinking?
Are you often asked to evaluate the thinking process of others?
Are you asked in tests or projects to apply what you have learned to new situations? How?
Are you asked to solve problems by first gathering reliable information? Please cite an example.
Do some activities require you to apply your knowledge to new situations in order to solve a problem? Explain
How competent do you feel about analyzing, summarizing new, relevant information and then combining it with your previously collected data? Can you recall such a case?
Are you frequently asked to communicate orally in small groups or in whole class discussions or presentations? How did that go?
Are you frequently asked to communicate in written form about real world topics? Please explain.
Have you been offered the opportunity to study other cultures and examine how their points of view differ from your own?
Dou you take technology-enhanced tests frequently during the school year?
How often do you participate in virtual learning (simulations, interactive educational games)?
Are tablets or laptops available to all students throughout the school day?
Is there a balance between face-to-face and online instruction?
Are you able to manage the flow of information from a wide variety of sources through the use of folders, “Live Binders” and other tools?
What do you know about participating in civic life? (Changing government policies with grass-roots action plans).
What are the most important characteristics found in a good leader?
Do you often share information with other classmates when working on a project or activity?
Does your teacher frequently communicate with your parents?
Do you often go beyond the activity directions to expand your knowledge of the subject?