A Global-Ready Curriculum

 

p21logoThis post originally appeared on Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the leading national organization advocating for 21st century readiness for every student. P21 brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers who believe our education system must equip students with rigorous academic coursework and the skills to be successful employees and citizens. View Original >

 



I am amazed by the students of my school and their ability to tap into multiple cultures. Recently I shadowed a student through part of her day. She was speaking Korean, her Native language, to her friends in the hall, English in the Social Studies classroom, practicing Mandarin with her Chinese teacher, and giving a presentation in French. It reminded me of resilience of students and the unique experience of an international education.

Although I have only recently joined the community of an International School on a more permanent basis, I have worked with many international schools in the past, and I even attended a 6-12 public school as a student with a focus on international topics. I took French my entire time there, and teachers sought to include global topics, questions, and themes into the curriculum. Most recently, I visited a school in Tokyo, Japan that had currently finished a curriculum audit and was working towards setting goals and next steps for their school and to meet accreditation expectations. They are exploring questions such as “How do we provide an international experience?” and “What does global and international education look like?” This school is not only trying create an experience that is uniquely international for students, but also supports and prepares them to be ready for that global world they are already living in.

Integrating Global Competencies
P21 has published Global Competence Indicators for grades K-12. They focus on the themes of “Understanding,” “Investigating,” “Connecting,” and “Integrating.” These indicators can easily be integrated into existing curriculum, just as many schools are already adopting 21st Century competencies of collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. One strategy we worked on was having departments look at the indicators, identify which ones are already in the curriculum and which additions might be appropriate to teach alongside content standards such as the Common Core.

It is critical that if schools intend to adopt these competencies, then they must make a concerted effort to unpack the indicators, just as educators unpack standards. Unpacking allows teachers to identify the level of thinking students need to know, and the content and skills they will need as well. (To do this, I prefer using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge). As educators unpack the standards, they need to be wary of just looking at the verb, the context is important, as it might change the level of thinking. Unpacking also allows educators and schools to identify priority standards. The same is true for these global competencies. Educators and schools should not attempt to teach and assess all the global competencies, but instead select ones that are priorities and have currency in their curriculum. International Schools particularly have an opportunity to leverage this work as it is part of their identity and mission.

Use PBL as the Model
Just as project-based learning is being used to deliver content and develop skills from the Common Core, Next Generation School Standards and college and career readiness, PBL is a perfect method to teach and assess global competencies. Global competencies call for investigation and inquiry, a deep understanding of content and different perspectives, and taking action. With these competencies in mind, teachers can create highly authentic projects that require students to partner with the cultures of the world, reflect on their place in that world, and advocate appropriately.

My friend Rich Lehrer did a fantastic project where his students connected with students in Brazil, Africa and India to build efficient stoves. They not only learned engineering, energy and other science concepts but also about serious health hazards facing people around the world. They didn’t just build the stove for someone else, they students worked together across cultures and languages to build the stoves together, to learn perspective and to learn from each other. What I truly appreciated was that is wasn’t charity work – it was a partnership. Students learned from each other not only traditional content, but global competencies as well.

International schools consider global competencies as part of the “What” of their curriculum and project-based Learning as the “How.” Together they create students that will not only be global-ready, but engaged in the many cultures of which they are members.

The Tyranny of Being On Task

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >



I remember when I was first teaching and was getting ready for my first official observation and evaluation. I was very nervous. My principal had told me she would be looking for a classroom where students were on task. Heaven forbid that any students were off task. I thought that if my classroom even hinted that some students were off task, I would never be a successful teacher, and perhaps told to leave the teaching profession.

I now know that it is unreasonable to ensure complete on task behavior from every student at all times, but back then I wanted a good evaluation, and I wanted my students to be on task so that they would learn and I could support them. Before the observation, I was told by my colleagues to have students quietly work on an assignment after I gave some instruction. “Don’t have them do group work. Don’t have them present. It’s too risky!” This advice seemed to be successful. When my principal came in, the students were quiet as I moved around to check in with them. After the observation, I was praised for my success in keeping students on task.

Many years later, I taught in a school with a focus on project-based learning. Learning was messy and conflicts emerged as students worked together to solve problems, but ultimately students succeeded. The meaning of “on task” was different there. Yes, there were times when students were off task and I needed to redirect them. Yet I struggled with the expectation of consistent on task behavior.

There seem to be forces in education that push us to make sure students are on task. Why do we attempt to meet that demand when we know it’s unreasonable? Why do we demand on task behavior when it is not equivalent to student engagement? Isn’t it OK for students to be off task from time to time? In fact, don’t students need time to be off task? To take it to another level, what if off task is really on task?

What Does the Science of the Brain Tell Us?
Adults have built executive functions of the brain, and we receive a dopamine reward when we do the right thing. Our students have not yet built up those functions. In the teenage years, students receive that same dopamine reward for very different behavior, when they take risks and explore. When a student does something that is a risk in the classroom, something we might consider off task behavior, they are doing so because they receive a dopamine reward for doing so. Science tells us that students will not only be off task on occasion but might even have strong motivations to behave that way.

What Can We Do?
Instead of working against off task behavior, we should embrace it and try to reframe it as an on task moment that is necessary and useful to our students. Judy Willis calls such moments brain breaks in her book Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning. She wants us to understand that such breaks are needed and are useful to students. They prevent the brain from becoming overloaded and give time for information to be processed and retained effectively. On a related note, Eric Jensen explains that movement gives new spatial meaning to information being processed, and increases oxygenation of the brain as well (subscription required).

We should explore ways to incorporate brain breaks more into our classroom routines and norms. Some other practical strategies include:

Be mindful of students’ attention span and chunk activities and tasks appropriately.
Break up tasks with conversations and checks for understanding.
Admit personal challenges and failures related to staying on task.
Meet with students one on one to discuss off task behavior rather than shame them.
Smile and laugh more.
Balance louder and quieter activities.
Move more.

Brain breaks are essential to classroom culture and student learning. These seemingly off task moments are truly on task because they provide a space for students to learn better, and take into account the fact that students are growing and maturing. Brain breaks are responsive to students and help us become allies of their behavior rather than punitive figures. In fact, brain breaks help us as educators to rethink the binary nature of on task and off task and to realize that all the work is on task and helpful to children as they learn and grow.

What brain breaks do you use in your classroom?

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