Content, Capacity & Change: Redesigning Learning for the 21st Century

POSTED: February 11, 2019Category: AISA ArticlesBY: Steve

Try doing a Google search with the keywords: collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. The result? A list of over 29.5 million scholarly articles, frameworks, blogs, thought leaders and more, all highlighting the criticality of ‘21st-century’ skills. No mere educational trend du jour, this focus on global competence signals a fundamental shift in how we do school, from ‘content is king’, to a broader understanding that key skills and dispositions are critical markers of success in the 21st century. At the American International School of Lagos, we leverage Project-Based Learning to plan, teach and assess the Global Competencies that we believe matter most. Our goal? To create a curricular and instructional design that achieves the Simultaneous Outcomes of deep content knowledge, coupled with non-cognitive skills and dispositions.

Step 1: Moving beyond Content
At AISL, our process is school-wide, collaborative and iterative. We started by asking, “What are the dispositions and skills of an ideal graduate?” Our thinking included all learners from Preschool through Grade 12, and we strove to keep our competencies transdisciplinary with the goal of transferability across subject areas.

Our list was gradually refined into five broad categories:

  1. Intrinsically motivated and collaborative team member
  2. Creative problem solver and critical thinker
  3. Effective communicator
  4. Critical consumer and producer of information and technology
  5. Globally, culturally and socially empathetic

Step 2: Building Capacity
Our ultimate measure of global competence is a students’ capacity to be a self-directed learner. But how do we move students and teachers along a new curricular and pedagogical path at the same time? By reframing ‘how we do school’ as simultaneous outcomes.

We began by implementing Project-Based Learning and the T3 Framework of technology integration as schoolwide frameworks. This creates coherence and a common approach when developing curriculum and instruction. A commitment to four years of professional development in partnership with external consultants helps teachers rest assured these initiatives are here to stay. And, we give time and space to what is important. Hence, a report card redesign scheduled for 2019 K-8, and 2020 for grades 9-12 will include our global competencies and student self-assessment of their Habits of Mind or IB Learner Profile respectively: both are currently part of student-led conferences.

Step 3: Getting Parents On Board the Change Train
Despite a clear call to action, schools can still face pressure from parents with a perspective of ‘what is good education’ grounded in the past. Communication is key to getting parents on board. Newsletter articles, assemblies and invites to classroom learning events are weekly occurrences at AISL. Additionally, two spring events bring the whole community together: an evening Global Competencies Symposium featuring a moderated panel of thought leaders and students, followed the next day by a schoolwide PBL and Technology Showcase. These celebrations of learning put the global competencies, and students, at centre stage.

When schools couple skills and dispositions with content, are committed to building capacity in teachers and supporting parents through change, they create the conditions for student success now, and in preparation for their future work and personal lives.

About the Author:

Kim Rayl is the Director of Teaching and Learning at the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria. A former middle school English and social studies teacher, Kim also has experience teaching PYP and has worked as a behavioural therapist using ABA therapy for children on the autism spectrum. Kim has a Masters of Teaching, a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, and a K-12 Administrator’s License. She has taught in public schools in the United States and at international schools around the world including Egypt, Mongolia, Bolivia, Indonesia and most recently, Nigeria. Kim is passionate about transforming teaching and learning through the co-creation of systems and supports that inspire collegiality, coherence and collective efficacy.

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