Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't Fit It In

This is the message from a recent post of one of my favorite blogs to read, Teach Paperless, by Shelly Blake-Plock. In this post, he critiques the nature of technology integration in schools, including many teachers who often wonder where they are going to find room to fit in technology. In four words, he does a good job sufficing what I described about integration.

The words "Don't fit it in" work well for all the 21st century skill areas, though: health literacy, financial literacy, civic literacy, employability skills, as well as technological literacy.

There seem to be 2 big misconceptions with 21st century skills adoption and the Iowa Core. The first is that you need some sort of class that covers these skills. Schools that are only looking this route are being foolish. The 21st century skill areas are not set chunks of information you teach in one unit and then have mastery, like say, the process of photosynthesis. They require ongoing exposure, integration, and practice, all to create a mindset of literacy (just as reading literacy does).

That's also the problem with the second misconception, that I'll find some place to fit in some financial literacy components in my course. That I will take 5 minutes out of my choir lesson and talk about healthy care of vocal chords, or I will have students take a class period to make a running budget of Holden Caulfield's expenses. Students are savvy enough to know when lessons are contrived, and they are savvy enough to discard contrived learning as soon as that information is not needed for an upcoming test.

Infusing the 21st century skill areas takes a broad, multi-disciplinary approach, spearheaded by curricular leaders. It is just like reading literacy. In good schoolwide literacy instruction, the outcome is to have a literate student, one who knows how to read, can read on their own, does read on their own, and uses reading to meet other purposes. Its primary focus might be in language arts classes, but through good communication, teachers in other disciplines are aware and can build off of what the main reading thrust is. It includes activities that extend outside of the school day and the classroom, like "reading drives for charity" or student book clubs. And, reading teachers serve as coaches for the professional development of other teachers.

Good schoolwide literacy instruction is not "I've got to do 1 reading strategy per 3 weeks via PD quota, so I'm going to fit in an article on how to run the mile".

The same is true for the 21st century literacies. Your school might have an extra-curricular "know your credit score" or "get involved in the community" drives that all students participate in. These drives have as a purpose to get students exposed, infused with, and practice with the financially literate and civic literate mindset. These would be extensions of what they learn in classes such as economics or social studies. But because they are schoolwide, other teachers can relate their curriculum to that bigger picture without contriving it.

It has to be organized, stemming from good leadership. And, it has to be a team approach amongst your faculty. We, not me.

So, we have to challenge ourselves when we hear ourselves when we say "where do I fit this in?" It is not "fitting", and it is not I.

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