The gap between the skills people learn and the skills people need is becoming more obvious, as traditional learning falls short of equipping students with the knowledge they need to thrive, according to the World Economic Forum reportNew Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology.
Today’s job candidates must be able to collaborate, communicate and solve problems – skills developed mainly through social and emotional learning (SEL). Combined with traditional skills, this social and emotional proficiency will equip students to succeed in the evolving digital economy.
What skills will be needed most?
An analysis of 213 studies showed that students who received SEL instruction had achievement scores that averaged 11 percentile points higher than those who did not. And SEL potentially leads to long-term benefits such as higher rates of employment and educational fulfillment.
Good leadership skills as well as curiosity are also important for students to learn for their future jobs.
The report asked chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers what the current shifts mean, specifically for employment, skills and recruitment across industries and geographies.
Policy-makers, educators, parents, businesses, researchers, technology developers, investors and NGOs can together ensure that development of social and emotional skills becomes a shared goal and competency of education systems everywhere.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of blog posts reflecting on the educational pipeline authored by Karen Gross, former president of Southern Vermont College. She has taught students from preschool through graduate school. The title of her next piece is “How College Admissions is Changing — For Better and Worse.”
Expanding Silo Busting Across the Educational Pipeline
- faculty development;
- faculty burnout;
- college and career readiness;
- the use of technology within and outside classroom;
- the value of partnering and leveraging resources in times of fiscal challenge;
- the demographics of America’s future students, particularly those who are low income; and
- accreditation, including its effectiveness, quality, cost, and approach.
Concrete Suggestions for Teachers, Staff, and Accreditors
Conclusion: We Need Silo Ventilation
By Kathy Thayer
Teachers are busy. We plan, grade, and provide students with extra help or a shoulder to lean on. We talk with parents, coach teams, advise clubs, lead committees, and participate in professional development. And we constantly think about how to more effectively meet the diverse needs of our students.
As an 8th grade English/language arts teacher, department chair, and data coach at Mount Vernon Middle School in Ohio, I’m keenly aware of the challenges my colleagues face in finding the time to complete all that teaching demands—and do so consistently well. We’re always looking for ways to improve. At the same time, we also need to find supports that make teaching easier. As the saying goes, we should work smarter, not harder.
During the past four years, our school has adopted Ohio’s new learning standards using an interdisciplinary approach. We want to better engage students and enhance their learning by creating powerful connections between subject areas. We also want to leverage our collective skills and share the lift of teaching students to these higher standards. In other words, we are trying to make our teaching better and easier. Here are a few examples of what we’re doing to achieve these goals:
Sharing the responsibility of reading instruction. Ohio’s new standards demand close textual reading in each subject area. Our challenge is that science and social studies classes are scheduled for 42 minutes per day. Time is already tight for teaching the subject area scope and sequence, as well as trying to include student-driven experiments and project-based learning. In contrast, our English/language arts and math classes are scheduled for 84 minutes per day—double the amount for other content areas.
It was apparent to all of us that the ELA department had the class time and the instructional background to lend our colleagues a hand. We now spend part of our ELA classes introducing students to the complex texts they will be grappling with in social studies and science. This provides students more instructional time in complex reading and we also meet the ELA standards for teaching informational texts. Now, when students arrive at their science or social studies classes they are already comfortable with the new, complex texts and are prepared to dig deeper into its meaning with their content teachers.
Using tools that help us plan lessons collaboratively. When we began our interdisciplinary approach, co-planning wasn’t always easy and there were times when we struggled to create focus and consistency across classrooms. Then we were introduced to the Literacy Design Collaborative, a national network of educators who share a common instructional framework and tools for assignments and lesson design. We use the LDC tools to co-design assignments that capture the shared literacy standards for implementation in different classrooms. The tools create a consistent form and a concrete way to develop and implement our interdisciplinary approach. Whether it’s LDC or another tool, it’s important to find a solution that saves time and improves the quality of assignments and lessons.
Teaching skills multiple times, in multiple classes, through multiple teaching styles. Our educators also share the teaching of specific literacy skills our students need. We identify common skills, build or borrow lessons (called “mini-tasks” in the LDC design system), and teach those skills in each subject area. For each interdisciplinary module‐such as The American Revolution or Plate Tectonics—students engage in related mini-tasks in each class. Through multiple teachers, within various topics, and in different ways, students continually learn and practice important skills, such as researching, annotating, note-taking, creating graphic organizers, and outlining. Our teachers save time by sharing mini-tasks and instructional strategies, while our students benefit from the transference of content and from the multiple opportunities to learn a skill in different ways.
Recognizing students’ own connections across subjects. Facilitating student’ connections across subjects is a quick but powerful way to recognize and reinforce student learning. Students are excited to talk about the connections they make and we provide them class time to share their findings. I also use an interactive bulletin board titled “Building a Strong Foundation,” where students share their connections for everyone to see. One of my students recently reported that she found a source that she was already using for her research within the bibliography of another source. This quick connection of information allowed her to prove the validity of her sources. Without placing an emphasis on the importance of making connections, this brief association may not have occurred. It’s easy on our part and it deepens student learning.
Co-grading. We also share the lift of grading student products. As students complete interdisciplinary assignments, they submit their work on Google Drive. Depending on the content area, the ELA and science or ELA and social studies teachers provide students with feedback using a common rubric, such as those found in the LDC platform. For student projects on a science content standard, for example, our science teacher evaluates the controlling idea, related reading or research, and content understanding of the work, while I do a close reading of the students’ focus, development, organization, and conventions. We split the work and tap into our areas of expertise for feedback to students.
Finding the common thread. These days, every school is managing multiple continuous improvements efforts. A way to make sense of it all is to find a common thread that can connect each of the efforts into a coherent plan. For us, finding a resource like the LDC platform that supports lesson design has become that thread: It helps us collaborate, plan, and improve our instruction within our interdisciplinary approach. The system helps us set a common goal around literacy instruction and allows us to discover places through shared assignments and lessons where we can connect our disciplines.
These are the strategies that are working for us, but there are sure to be others that fit other teachers and schools. It’s important to note that it does take time and commitment upfront to work more collaboratively, but, ultimately, it brings us to a place where teachers share instructional responsibility and students receive multiple, coordinated supports that enhance learning. It’s really a win-win.
Kathy Thayer is an English/language arts teacher and department head at Mount Vernon Middle School in Mount Vernon, Ohio. She has a master’s degree in administrative curriculum and professional development and is currently pursuing principal licensure.
Progress is often driven not by the accumulation of small steps, but by dramatic leaps. The television wasn’t an iteration of a previous device, it was a new technology altogether. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity didn’t tinker with Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, it replaced it in almost every detail. Likewise Dyson’s dual-cyclone vacuum cleaner was not a marginal improvement on the conventional Hoover that existed at the time, it represented a shift that altered the way insiders think about the very problem of removing dust and hair from household floors.
James Dyson is an evangelist for the creative process of change, not least because he believes it is fundamentally misconceived in the world today. As we talk in his office, he darts around picking up papers, patents, textbooks, and his own designs to illustrate his argument. He says:
Dyson’s journey into the nature of creativity started while vacuuming his own home, a small farmhouse in the west of England, on a Saturday morning in his mid-twenties. Like everyone else he was struck by just how quickly his cleaner lost suction.
Dyson strode into his garden and opened up the device. Inside he could see the basic engineering proposition of the conventional vacuum cleaner: a motor, a bag (which also doubled as a filter), and a tube. The logic was simple: dust and air is sucked into the bag, the air escapes through the small holes in the lining of the bag and into the motor, and the dust (thicker than the air) stays in the bag.
This realization triggered a new thought: what if there were no bag?
This idea percolated in Dyson’s mind for the next three years. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, he was already a qualified engineer and was helping to run a local company in Bath. He enjoyed pulling things apart and seeing how they worked. He was curious, inquisitive, and willing to engage with a difficulty rather than just accepting it. But now he had a live problem, one that intrigued him.
It wasn’t until he went to a lumberyard that the solution powered into his mind like a thunderbolt.
Dyson rushed home. This was his moment of insight. “I vaguely knew about cyclones, but not really the detail. But I was fascinated to see if it would work in miniature form. I got an old cardboard box and made a replica of what I had seen with gaffer tape and cardboard. I then connected it via a bit of hose to an upright vacuum cleaner. And I had my cardboard cyclone.”
His heart was beating fast as he pushed it around the house. Would it work? “It seemed absolutely fine,” he says. “It seemed to be picking up dust, but the dust didn’t seem to be coming out of the chimney. I went to my boss and said: ‘I think I have an interesting idea.’ ”
This simple idea, this moment of insight, would ultimately make Dyson a personal fortune in excess of ￡3 billion.
A number of things jump out about the Dyson story. The first is that the solution seems rather obvious in hindsight. This is often the case with innovation, and it’s something we will come back to.
But now consider a couple of other aspects of the story. The first is that the creative process started with a problem, what you might even call a failure, in the existing technology. The vacuum cleaner kept blocking. It let out a screaming noise. Dyson had to keep bending down to pick up bits of trash by hand.
Had everything been going smoothly Dyson would have had no motivation to change things. Moreover, he would have had no intellectual challenge to sink his teeth into. It was the very nature of the engineering problem that sparked a possible solution (a bag less vacuum cleaner).
And this turns out to be an almost perfect metaphor for the creative process, whether it involves vacuum cleaners, a quest for a new brand name, or a new scientific theory. Creativity is, in many respects, a response.
Relativity was a response to the failure of Newtonian mechanics to make accurate predictions when objects were moving at fast speeds.
Masking tape was a response to the failure of existing adhesive tape, which would rip the paint off when it was removed from cars and walls.
Dropbox, as we have seen, was a response to the problem of forgetting your flash drive and thus not having access to important files.
This aspect of the creative process, the fact that it emerges in response to a particular difficulty, has spawned its own terminology. It is called the “problem phase” of innovation. “The damn thing had been bugging me for years,” Dyson says of the conventional vacuum cleaner. “I couldn’t bear the inefficiency of the technology. It wasn’t so much a ‘problem phase’ as a ‘hatred phase.’ ”
Creativity is, in many respects, a response.
We often leave this aspect of the creative process out of the picture. We focus on the moment of epiphany, the detonation of insight that happened when Newton was hit by the apple or Archimedes was taking a bath. That is perhaps why creativity seems so ethereal. The idea is that such insights could happen anytime, anywhere. It is just a matter of sitting back and letting them flow.
But this leaves out an indispensable feature of creativity. Without a problem, without a failure, without a flaw, without a frustration, innovation has nothing to latch on to. It loses its pivot. As Dyson puts it: “Creativity should be thought of as a dialogue. You have to have a problem before you can have the game-changing riposte.”
Perhaps the most graphic way to glimpse the responsive nature of creativity is to consider an experiment by Charlan Nemeth, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and her colleagues. She took 265 female undergraduates and randomly divided them into five-person teams. Each team was given the same task: to come up with ideas about how to reduce traffic congestion in the San Francisco Bay Area. These five-person teams were then assigned to one of three ways of working.
The first group were given the instruction to brainstorm. This is one of the most influential creativity techniques in history, and it is based on the mystical conception of how creativity happens: through contemplation and the free flow of ideas. In brainstorming the entire approach is to remove obstacles. It is to minimize challenges. People are warned not to criticize each other, or point out the difficulties in each other’s suggestions. Blockages are bad. Negative feedback is a sin.
The second group were given no guidelines at all: they were allowed to come up with ideas in any way they thought best.
But the third group were actively encouraged to point out the flaws in each other’s ideas. Their instructions read: “Most research and advice suggests that the best way to come up with good solutions is to come up with many solutions. Free-wheeling is welcome; don’t be afraid to say anything that comes to mind. However, in addition, most studies suggest that you should debate and even criticize each other’s ideas [my italics].”
The results were remarkable. The groups with the dissent and criticize guidelines generated 25 percent more ideas than those who were brainstorming (or who had no instructions). Just as striking, when individuals were later asked to come up with more solutions for the traffic problem, those with the dissent guidelines generated twice as many new ideas as the brainstormers.
Further studies have shown that those who dissent rather than brainstorm produce not just more ideas, but more productive and imaginative ideas. As Nemeth put it: “The basic finding is that the encouragement of debate— and even criticism if warranted— appears to stimulate more creative ideas. And cultures that permit and even encourage such expression of differing viewpoints may stimulate the most innovation.”
The reason is not difficult to identify. The problem with brainstorming is not its insistence on free-wheeling or quick association. Rather, it is that when these ideas are not checked by the feedback of criticism, they have nothing to respond to. Criticism surfaces problems. It brings difficulties to light. This forces us to think afresh. When our assumptions are violated we are nudged into a new relationship with reality. Removing failure from innovation is like removing oxygen from a fire.
Think back to Dyson and his Hoover. It was the flaw in the existing technology that forced Dyson to think about cleaning in a new way. The blockage in the filter wasn’t something to hide away from or pretend wasn’t there. Rather, the blockage, the failure, was a gilt-edged invitation to reimagine vacuum-cleaning.
Imagination is not fragile. It feeds off flaws, difficulties, and problems. Insulating ourselves from failuresis to rob one of our most valuable mental faculties of fuel.
“It always starts with a problem,” Dyson says. “I hated vacuum cleaners for twenty years, but I hated hand dryers for even longer. If they had worked perfectly, I would have had no motivation to come up with a new solution. But more important, I would not have had the context to offer a creative solution. Failures feed the imagination. You cannot have the one without the other.”
This post has been adapted from BLACK BOX THINKING: Why Most People Never Learn From Their Mistakes—But Some Do by Matthew Syed (Portfolio/Penguin Random House), on-sale now.
As the focus on group work and collaboration increases, classrooms are neglecting the needs of students who work better in quiet settings.
MICHAEL GODSEY SEP 28, 2015
When Susan Cain published Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking nearly four years ago, it was immediately met with acclaim. The book criticizes schools and other key institutions for primarily accommodating extroverts and such individuals’ “need for lots of stimulation.” Much to introverts’ relief, it also seeks to raise awareness about the personality type, particularly among those who’ve struggled to understand it.
It seems that such efforts have, for the most part, struggled to effect much change in the educational world. The way in which certain instructional trends—education buzzwords like “collaborative learning” and “project-based learning” and “flipped classrooms”—are applied often neglect the needs of introverts. In fact, these trends could mean that classroom environments that embrace extroverted behavior—through dynamic and social learning activities—are being promoted now more than ever. These can be appealing qualities in the classroom, of course, but overemphasizing them can undermine the learning of students who are inward-thinking and easily drained by constant interactions with others.
Just last week the University of Chicago library announced that in response to “increased demand,” librarians are working with architects to transform a presumably quiet reading room into a “vibrant laboratory of interactive learning.” One writer on Top Hat, a popular online resource for educators, argued in a post last month that “cooperative learning strategies harness the greatest part of human evolutionary behavior: sociality.” And earlier this month, Cal State University, Dominguez Hills, promoted their installation of “active learning classrooms” with “multiple desk formations” in which “professors must change their mindsets” because “the lectures should be designed to learn by doing.” Hamoud Salhi, a professor and acting associate dean, explains, “This project is not just about changing the classroom environment; it is also about changing how instructors approach teaching.”
Meanwhile, some advocates for “active learning classrooms” write about “breaking students and faculty out of their comfort zones” like it’s a good thing, and other teachers continue to conflate introversion and an inability to self-advocate. Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric advertises a pedagogy that “seeks to overhaul the model of education” and challenges students to “forego passivity in favor of contribution and participation…students must overcome isolation in order to learn to write.” And Liz Sproat, head of Google for Education—an organization that doesn’t see a profit when students simply read quietly and think introspectively—situates “the increase in collaborative working” as an agreed-upon premise in an article on ComputerWeek.com, one that Google can make more “cost-effective.”
Introverts “feel at their most alive and their most switched-on when they’re in quieter, low-key environments.”
This growing emphasis in classrooms on group projects and other interactive arrangements can be challenging for introverted students who tend to perform better when they’re working independently and in more subdued environments. Comprising anywhere from one third to about half of the population, introverts sometimes appear shy, depressed, or antisocial, when that’s not always the case. As Susan Cain put it in her famous TED Talk, introverts simply “feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments.”
I started reflecting on this recently after observing classes at a public high school in California. (I teach English at a different public high school and visited the school as a professional-development activity.) All but four of the 26 teachers I witnessed had their students arranged in groups or with partners. Such formations aren’t necessarily irreconcilable with the needs of introverts, but these arrangements can inherently enable noisy, distracting conditions that make learning particularly difficult for certain students.
Recommended Reading The Influx of Latino Students at Historically Black Colleges
Many of my own high-school students regularly request extended sessions of silent reading. Some prefer learning with the fluorescent classroom lights off, instead relying on the softer sunlight coming in through the window. Some admit to enjoying the opportunity to work in a quiet room and are eager to write about certain prompts for as long as I let them. I used to think their ubiquitous earbuds were feeding their need for stimulation; now I wonder if they’re sometimes blocking out the noise.
These are, of course, generalized observations, but I recently met with two high-school students who spoke directly and frankly about their need for quiet, solitary learning environments. Both of proudly spoke of their success at Grizzly Youth Academy, a 22-week charter-school program in San Luis Obispo, California, targeted at teens who’ve had a “history of school failure” at a previous school. Asked what she thought facilitated her success, one student responded: “The structure—I can concentrate here.” Acknowledging her tendency to get distracted, the student noted that there was “absolutely no quiet time” at her former public school, and she now appreciates the disciplined classes and quiet study hall sessions. “I’m like a completely different person now.”
I used to think their ubiquitous earbuds were feeding their need for stimulation; now I wonder if they’re sometimes blocking out the noise.
The other student, whom I interviewed separately, offered similar reflections: “It’s more focused here [at the charter school], and noisier there [at the public school]. I have ADD so I’m usually distracted.” Beaming, he added, “but now I’m getting the best grades ever. I’m able to concentrate here more.”
It’s striking to me that a premise on Grizzly’s website is that there are “students who struggle in school [because they] often lack social and emotional skills to succeed in the classroom,” and the students themselves are quick to diagnose themselves with an inability to concentrate at their former school. The improvement they’re describing at Grizzly, however, isn’t based on a cure for a dysfunction or a breakthrough in social skills—it’s just a significant change in environment. And in the five Grizzly classrooms I observed, the students sat in rows that Cain nostalgically praised in her talk—the traditional classroom setup in which, Cain said, “we did most of our work autonomously.”
Certainly, group activities can serve a purpose in the teaching of introverts. In part because of the Common Core standards and the Internet increasingly serving as a proxy for classroom teachers, “cooperative learning” has grown in popularity among teachers in recent decades. As the English teacher Abigail Walthausen noted in The Atlantic two years ago, “Common Core standards place far greater value on small-group discussion and student-led work than on any teacher-led instruction.” And overall, this trend is a good thing. Several recent studies offer the latest evidence that students who engage in cooperative learning tend to outperform those immersed in traditional learning approaches—namely lectures. But cooperative learning doesn’t have to entail excessively social or overstimulating mandates; it can easily involve quiet components that facilitate internal contemplation.
Near the end of my observations last week, I told two teachers on separate occasions that I’d feel incredibly exhausted at the end of every day if I were a student at that school. To my surprise, both of them responded by immediately laughing and then agreeing. One recalled learning best when arranged in rows, while the other concurred, “I know, right? How exhausting it must be to have another student in your business all day long.”
The ideal, of course, would be to establish arrangements that facilitate differentiated instruction for varying personality types, but this might be difficult in large classes with students of diverse levels of proficiency and motivation. I’ve noticed that, like Grizzly, the private schools I’ve visited also seem to create space for the introverted students, ultimately resembling the university classes to which they hope to send their students. And at the aforementioned public school I observed, three of the four classes where students were in fact seated individually in rows were AP or honors courses.
But I’m reminded of Sartre’s famous line, “Hell is other people,” when I see that Georgia College’s webpage dedicated to collaborative learning, which includes the topic sentence: “Together is how we do everything here at Georgia College. Learn. Work. Play. Live. Together.” Everything, that is, except quiet introspection, free of cost and distraction.