21st Century Frameworks for Education


There are three overarching frameworks for 21st century learning as found in Chris Dede’s Comparing Frameworks for 21st Century Skills (2011).  These are life skills, information and communications technology literacy (ICT literacy), and inventive thinking.  Dede looked at frameworks from several sources to compile his list, such as from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).  In my visual representation, life skills is the largest framework that encompasses the other two frameworks.  The next framework is ICT literacy, and within these two frameworks is inventive thinking.



Life skills are overlooked in 20th century education.  Since these are not assessed on standardized tests, many schools (or policy-makers) believe they are not necessary skills to learn or to teach.  Life skills include leadership, ethics, accountability, adaptability, personal productivity, personal responsibility, people skills, self-direction, and social responsibility (Dede 2011).  They are just what they say they are: skills that are needed to function in life.  I’m sure there’s the argument that these are skills that should be taught in the home and not at school, and also that if these skills were taught in the classroom that it would take too much valuable time away from learning other skills and disciplines.  In my experience teaching in urban, poverty-stricken schools, many of these life skills are not being taught in the home and valuable time is being wasted in the classroom anyway due to the lack of life skills.  If schools took the time to teach and reinforce these skills, our students and our teaching could only benefit from it.  The life skills framework encompasses the other frameworks because I believe it is the most important for academic and life-long success, and also because without this framework, the other frameworks would be difficult to master.

Information and communications technology literacy (ICT literacy) is the “ability to use technology to develop 21st century content knowledge and skills, in the context of learning core subjects” (Dede, 2011, Kindle Location 1594 of 9753).  ICT literacy also helps students think critically, solve problems, use information, communicate, innovate, and collaborate.  Within this framework, I also include visual and information literacies, multicultural literacy, global awareness, and digital citizenship.  Digital citizenship teaches students to practice safe, legal, and responsible actions while using information and technology.  Today’s students use technology on a daily basis and would benefit greatly from becoming ICT literate.  Again, the argument against teaching these skills could be time-restraints or perhaps believing these skills only need to be taught in a computer or technology class.  However, in 21st century classrooms, technology should be used frequently, and again these are skills students need to master in order to properly function in a digital world.

Inventive thinking skills include “adaptability, managing complexity, and self-direction; curiosity, creativity, and risk taking; higher-order thinking and sound reasoning” (Dede, 2011, Kindle Location 1610 of 9753).  Also included in this framework is critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and communication and collaboration skills.  This framework contains the skills that many business owners are looking for in prospective employees.  These skills will not only help students in school, but in their future careers as well.  If we want to help create holistic learning environments and well-rounded, life-long learners, we need to ignore complaints of time constraints and include these skills in our curriculum.

A major distinction between 21st century schools and most schools today is how they assess their students.  Schools, such as the one I teach in, still rely on standardized tests as the main method of assessment.  Any other form of assessment is seen as unreliable and too much work placed on the teachers.  In schools such as New Tech High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, students learn through project-based learning projects.  The assessments, then, are much more authentic and give the students and teachers a clearer idea of student success and improvement.  Standardized tests are created to test the student after the learning is over, but authentic assessments are intended to test the student during the learning process, so the teacher can adjust the lessons to better help the student succeed.  I worked in a school, Rise Up Academy in South Bend, Indiana, for a year that used project-based learning and other 21st century learning methods.  Creating the school-wide themes and multidisciplinary projects was a lot of work and took a lot of planning, but in the end, the students really seemed engaged in their learning.  For once in their academic lives, they wanted to come to school and wanted to work.  They were not simply completing worksheets or answering questions in the textbook, they were working on projects that were relevant and meaningful to their lives and their community.  I no longer work at a school that uses project-based learning.  I wish I could get my co-teachers and administrators to see the benefits of project-based learning, but I bet they wish they could get me to see the importance of standardized testing.  Collaboration and communication are also 21st century skills that some schools are starting to emphasize.  These are great skills to learn since they important not only in school, but the life outside of school.  Students need to practice these skills in school.  This can be done through group work and group discussions.  In 21st century schools, the individual and the group both play important roles.  As Sir Ken Robinson (2011) says, “None of us is smarter than all of us. The purpose of collaboration is to benefit from the stimulation of each other’s expertise” (Kindle Location 4073 of 6198).

I’ve often thought about what my ideal school would look like.  My ideal school would involve project-based learning projects.  The entire school would be gamified; the students would earn experience points in their classes and would level up in the “game”.  The classes would be interconnected and there would be school-wide themes that all the lessons and projects fit into.  There would be an emphasis on the arts and arts integration.  There would also be an emphasis on technology.  The school would be wireless, and all the students and teachers would have iPads.  The classrooms would also have SmartBoards.  The projects and lessons would contain real-world applications and would also be meaningful to the students.  Some school projects would result in improving the community, such as painting murals, maintaining a community garden, or re-purposing discarded household objects (such as a couch) and selling them to raise money for school functions or charities.

Dede, C. (2011). Comparing Frameworks for 21st Century Skills. In J. Bellanca, 21st Century Skills: Rethinking how students learn (pp. 51-75). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Robinson, K. (2011). Out of Our Minds: Learning to be creative. West Sussex, UK: Capstone Publishing Ltd.


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