Build foundational skills with the ‘six Cs’

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A little more than a year ago, the Grand Rapids Public Museum hosted “Outsmarting the Robots: Redesigning education from the classroom to the halls of Lansing.” The conference was organized around the question, “How do we redesign our system for learning what matters to meet the needs of our children, economy, society and world?”

The conference organizers — including the think tank I lead, Michigan Future Inc. — believed that our education system needed redesign of both what we are teaching and how we are teaching. Another premise was that standardized test-driven schooling — now delivered both in schools and at home — is designed to teach a too-narrow set of skills and is delivered in a way that does not engage kids nor create lifelong learners.

New York Times bestselling author of “Becoming Brilliant,” Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, served as the conference guide.

The book makes the case that the foundation skills for all students — no matter what path they choose to take after high school — are the “six Cs” of communication, collaboration, content, critical thinking, creativity and confidence. These, of course, are essential life skills. They also are the skills students will need to outsmart the robots. They’re also needed to complement rather than be replaced by machines and to compete in a labor market that is increasingly rewarding those who are able to work, solve problems, innovate and lead groups of people who don’t look like you and don’t think like you.

“Becoming Brilliant” describes what we should be teaching. In a new report for Brookings Institution entitled, “A new path to education reform: Playful learning promotes 21st century skills in schools and beyond,” Hirsh-Pasek and co-author Helen Hadani describe how to teach those skills. They detail six key characteristics that are inherent in playful learning contexts:

Active (Minds on): Children are focused and engaged in the learning process through questioning and reflection, as opposed to passive learning where students listen and memorize information.

Engagement: Learning environments for children to filter out distractions and focus their attention on the task at hand.

Meaningful: Children can connect their own experiences and interests to new information.

Socially interactive: Beginning in infancy, we seek out interactions with others. This desire for social interaction is fundamental to education.

Iterative: An ever-growing body of literature demonstrates that children generate, test and revise hypotheses while interacting with their environment based on data.

Joyful: Emotion and imagination go together and are integral to the development of creativity.

Hirsh-Pasek and Hadani conclude: “This approach fundamentally alters the traditional view of educational success of “Did our child do well on the test?” to a definition that celebrates happy, healthy, thinking, caring and social children who become collaborative, creative, competent and responsible citizens tomorrow.”

This is a very different redesign of teaching and learning than the one we most often hear about: self-paced learning on a computer.

As Patrick Cooney wrote in a Michigan Future blog entitled, “A 21st century education, technology not required”:

“It is clear that students don’t need computers to engage in any of the six Cs listed above, and if used incorrectly they can be counterproductive. We’ve seen schools where personalized learning platforms simply take the mindless, skill-building exercises students would normally do in a textbook and transfer them to a computer screen. And we’ve seen kids plopped in front of a computer to progress through material at their own pace, only they lack both the requisite skills needed to access the material and the motivation to engage in the work in the first place.

“This isn’t a 21st-century education. No matter how sophisticated the platform, if digital tools lead to students spending a large portion of their day working alone on a narrow band of skills, rather than building deep understanding, working collaboratively with classmates on meaningful projects, and being asked to think critically about the information they’re presented, then computers can in fact hinder the development of the six Cs.”

The lesson we need to learn is that you build six Cs foundation skills in all children through the active, engaging, interactive teaching and learning — both in school and at home — that Hirsh-Pasek and Hadani describe.

Another important lesson to learn is that the same what and how applies to extracurricular activities as well as after school, youth development and summer programs. Sports, the arts, robotics, or the environment may be the theme of these programs, but the essential skills these programs can and should be designed to build are the six Cs. These programs are already designed around active, engaging and interactive learning. They should be considered essential components of our teaching and learning system and be widely available to all our children.

Lou Glazer is president of Michigan Future Inc.

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