In yet another step toward helping schools and their students achieve 21st-century success, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) has released a new guide intended to help schools and districts evaluate the integration of 21st-century skills into their policies and practices.
The collection of tools, called the Milestones for Improving Learning and Education (MILE) Guide, initially was released six years ago. Owing to changes in some of the skills that students will need to learn to succeed in the global economy, the guide has been revised and updated.
The new version, released Nov. 6 at the American Association of School Librarians’ National Conference, will help schools and districts determine where they are on the “spectrum of ensuring students have the knowledge and skills required for success in today’s world,” says P21.
“The P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning has been updated to better reflect the importance of core academic subject-matter mastery, along with important themes like health and environmental literacy,” said Valerie Greenhill, director of strategic initiatives for P21, in an interview with eSchool News. “There is also a much clearer depiction of the support systems–standards, assessments, curriculum and instruction, professional development, and learning environments–needed to produce [the desired] knowledge and skill outcomes in students. The MILE Guide needed to be updated to reflect these changes to the framework. In addition, curricula and assessment systems and professional development are given more prominence and are more clearly described in this newly released MILE Guide.”
Greenhill also acknowledged that educators (and the organization itself) have had more experience with implementing 21st-century skills than when the first MILE Guide was published, and this has allowed P21 to put together the implementation guidelines, which were not issued with the first release.
One of the most helpful features of the new guide is the updated Self-Assessment Tool, which is a visual mapping and self-assessment instrument that allows districts to plot where they are today and set a course for future integration of 21st-century skills into their curricula. The tool has three benchmarks (early stage, transitional stage, and 21st century) and takes into account students’ knowledge and skills, education support systems, policy making, leading and teaching, district partnerships, strategic planning, and continuous improvement.
For example, the guide says that “when looking at student knowledge and skills, an early stage indicator is that student work primarily demonstrates rote factual knowledge in core academic subjects, while a transitional stage indicator is that student work demonstrates mastery of core academic subject knowledge.”
At the 21st-century stage, the guide says, two indicators are that all student work demonstrates mastery and understanding of core academic disciplinary knowledge and that more than 75 percent of student work demonstrates “the ability to think critically, problem solve, create, innovate, communicate, and collaborate.”
“No skills implementation can be successful without developing core academic subject knowledge and understanding among all students,” said Ken Kay, P21 president.
Core subjects include English, reading or language arts, world languages, arts, math, economics, science, geography, history, government, and civics. However, the guide says schools also must integrate 21st-century interdisciplinary themes into these subject areas. These themes include global awareness; financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy; civic literacy; health literacy; and environmental literacy.
Information, media, and technology skills also must be incorporated, as well as life and career skills.
“Everyone should review the ‘Student Knowledge and Skills’ area,” advised Greenhill. “No matter what role you play in a school system, the vision for student outcomes as described here is central to any knowledge and skills initiative for today’s world. After that, the priorities depend on what role the user is playing in a school or district.”
Greenhill said school and district leaders also will benefit from the Education and Leadership, Partnering, and Continuous Improvement areas of the tool.
In addition to the Self-Assessment Tool, the guide includes a set of recommendations organized around five support system areas: assessment, professional development, curriculum and instruction, learning environments, and standards.
After completing the self-assessment, schools and districts are encouraged to consider these recommendations, which were adapted from P21’s State Implementation Guides. There are recommendations for each support system area, accompanied by specific examples from districts around the country. According to the guide, these recommendations can help local districts move from self-assessment to concrete action–and district leaders will see how other similar districts have approached their action plans.
For example, the guide recommends that districts develop intensive teacher professional development programs that focus on enhancing skills and knowledge acquisition in the teaching of core subjects. Two examples include Iowa’s Authentic Intellectual Work initiative and the New Literacies Collaborative at the Friday Institute in Raleigh, N.C.
Another recommendation is for schools and districts to build capacity by working with educators to create an environment of differentiated professional learning, risk taking, and collaborative relationships, as demonstrated by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s Teacher Leader Capacity-Building Model.
“The 21st Century MILE Guide specifically outlines goals that will assist educators and stakeholders at every level in constructing a common vision of how to move forward with this critical initiative,” said Alexa Posny, director of the Office of Special Education for the U.S. Department of Education and former education commissioner of Kansas. “Accelerating technological advances, a rapidly changing knowledge base, an interconnected workforce, and an increasingly global society have all combined to make the integration of 21st-century skills into rigorous courses essential for every student’s success. We believe that [P21] and its member states will assist in guiding us in our systemic and forward-thinking educational improvement efforts.”
Kansas, one of P21’s 14 state members, believes the MILE Guide will act as benchmark for success.
“Kansas educators are anxious to put the revised MILE Guide to work,” said Blake West, president of the Kansas Education Association. “As we create professional development for our staff, and as we share exemplary practices among colleagues, the MILE Guide will be exactly that–a guide to plan our work and a benchmark to better assess how we are doing. Quite simply, the MILE Guide provides teachers and education leaders with meaningful, practical guidance as we plan the kind of learning experiences that will help our students apply 21st-century skills to solving real-world problems.”
For now, educators can download the complete MILE Guide or the Self-Assessment Tool by itself in PDF format. Paper versions also can be ordered through P21’s web site. According to Greenhill, an interactive online version of the Self-Assessment Tool will be available in January.
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