Guest post is by Steven Weber,  a passionate and innovative  Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction in Chapel Hill, NC.

We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. – President Frankin D. Roosevelt

How can we transform teaching and learning? As you reflect on 2015, what would you change in your school? Teachers and administrators often look for the silver bullet, the instructional strategy that will support all students. One flaw in current practice is that most educators design curriculum, instruction, and assessment with the 12th grade as the ‘end in mind.’ If our collective efforts are preparing students to graduate from high school, we may not achieve the desired results of preparing more students for success in college and university coursework. As we enter a new year, the focus is on college and career readiness.

“College and career readiness is not something that suddenly happens when a student graduates from high school but instead is the result of a process extending through all the years of a student’s education” (ACT, 2008, p. 3). As we enter the holiday season, I am reminded of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. In the spirit of giving gifts in December, I propose that every student receive five golden rings. If you purchase a diamond ring, the jeweler will introduce you to the 4 Cs: Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat-Weight. In 2016, teachers need to emphasize the 4 Cs: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. The 4 Cs are critically important if we are preparing students to graduate college and career ready. The 4 Cs, along with contribution, make the 5 Golden Rings.

5 Golden Rings

Critical Thinking

Do your students focus on finding the right answer for the test or asking questions? A class that emphasizes critical thinking includes student voice, inquiry learning, collaborative work, student-led assignments, project-based learning, writing, and analysis of more than one source. Critical thinkers are able to solve problems and think on their feet. Wiggins (2012), wrote, “If all I do is ‘teach’ you things and then you have to show me you ‘learned’ then, strictly speaking, there is no need for either of us to really think. A need to think only emerges when the work itself is designed to make us both question, really question what we are doing.” Skills such as critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge in new situations are emphasized by employers and universities.

Communication

Students rarely have the opportunity to practice communication skills in classrooms. The push to teach to the test narrowed the curriculum and most state tests did not assess communication skills. Employers seek high school graduates who have the ability to communicate with co-workers and customers.

Erik Palmer (TeachThought, 2014) wrote:

“How is it possible that students in their 17th year of schooling can be so unimpressive when asked to speak? In kindergarten they talked at circle time; in 1st grade they shared at show & tell; in 2nd and 3rd grade they did book shares; in 5th grade they presented their biome dioramas; in 7th grade they participated in poetry café; in 8th grade they did mock trials; in high school they presented lab reports, research results, biography projects, DECA projects. In other words, at every grade level, students were forced to speak—sometimes formally, most often informally, but they had to say something…..So why didn’t students master oral communication?”

Does your school have a rubric for communication skills at each grade level? What is the ‘end in mind?’ Do you have a plan for supporting communication skills? Reading and writing skills are emphasized in K-12, but communication skills have been ignored. Give your students the gift of communication.

Collaboration
When you observe students on a playground, you will see collaboration, communication, critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, citizenship, innovation, and community. Classrooms need to reflect playgrounds. Too often, class assignments focus on student’s existing strengths and pit students against one another. The workforce seeks employers who are able to collaborate within the organization and partners outside the organization. Several teachers have changed the arrangement in their classroom from straight rows to tables or groups of four students. However, the assignments still emphasizes individual work. Fast Company (2014) cited five skills graduates must have to land their first job. Collaboration was listed as one of the five skills. Will students learn to collaborate in your class or merely how to get along?

Creativity

In the 1980’s, a student who was labeled creative was an artist or musician. Creativity was often associated with the arts. A creative student may not excel at math or science, but displayed giftedness in other areas. ‘Most Creative’ was akin to an honorable mention award. Creative students were not recognized if their creativity did not help them earn As. How do your assignments encourage and foster creativity? Price-Mitchell (2015) shares Six Ways To Boost Student Creativity. In a changing workforce, students will need to be adaptable. Students will not have one job for thirty years, like many of their parents and grandparents. Creativity is a college and career skill and it can no longer be reserved for the artist or musician.

Contribution

A 5th ring is “Contribution.” As you reflect on 2015, ask “What was the ratio of compliance vs. contribution?” Many students enter kindergarten as risk takers and graduate high school as compliant learners who are seeking the answer that gives them an A. Do you see students writing blogs, experimenting, creating videos, designing apps, serving as leaders throughout the school, providing community service, challenging the status quo, and offering solutions through innovative research? Wiggins and McTighe (2005) described the Twin Sins of curriculum design: Activity-Focused and Coverage-Focused. If you see students engaged in activities but there is little contribution, then you should question the activities and purpose. In an era of standards-based teaching, if there seems to be little transfer then teachers may be focusing on the standards more than on what the students will be able to do as a result of implementing the standards.

Contribution is the missing link in many K-12 classrooms. “No longer an end point in the public education system, the American high school is now being asked to prepare all its students for the postsecondary schooling and training required for full economic and social participation in U.S. society” (Balfanz, 2009, p. 18).

Conclusion

Opportunity to Learn (OTL) means that all students will be provided the opportunity to learn key skills and concepts that prepare them for the next level. Teachers and administrators control OTL. If you are looking for that last-minute gift for your students, give each student 5 Golden Rings: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Contribution. You don’t need to purchase a program or determine how these skills align with high-stakes testing. Seventy five years ago, President Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future” (Address at University of Pennsylvania, September 20, 1940). Give the gift that keeps on giving – 5 Golden Rings

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