Rigor versus Rigor Mortis

First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions…We can teach them the technical stuff, but we can’t teach them how to ask good questions—how to think.
Clay Parker, president of the Chemical Management Division of BOC Edwards.

What’s your answer to the question: What skills do we need to be teaching in the 21st century?

To get you started – read Tony Wagner’s answer “Rigor Redefined” It’s one of several really good articles from the October issue of Educational Leadership from ASCD the theme of which was “Expecting Excellence”.

It’s a quick read and basically a concise summary of the main points from his book The Global Achievement Gap. It answers that opening question: What skills do we need to be teaching in the 21st century?

Wagner began his research with conversations with hundreds of business, nonprofit, philanthropic, and education leaders from Apple to Unilever to the U.S. Army. He then took a look at whether U.S. schools are teaching and testing the skills that matter most. His conclusion: The best is not the best. In fact – it’s not even “good enough”.

Here’s what he found. First his research led him to identify seven survival skills that students need to compete in the global economy, make a positive contribution and thrive as productive citizens:

I want people who can engage in good discussion—who can look me in the eye and have a give and take. All of our work is done in teams. You have to know how to work well with others. But you also have to know how to engage customers—to find out what their needs are. If you can’t engage others, then you won’t learn what you need to know.

The Seven Survival Skills

1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

2. Collaboration and Leadership

3. Agility and Adaptability

4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

5. Effective Oral and Written Communication

6. Accessing and Analyzing Information

7. Curiosity and Imagination

So – those are the skills Wagner’s research identified as critically needed. And what are schools teaching in some of the most prestigious and successful schools? ? Read the article and see the disconnect for yourself.

Wagner calls for a redefinition of rigor and good teaching that goes well beyond traditional test prep. Excellent instruction, he says, is way more than drilling for the test and meeting content standards. It must focus on learning to work in teams and must emphasise and assess the importance of critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

He concludes: “It’s time to hold ourselves and all of our students to a new and higher standard of rigor, defined according to 21st-century criteria. It’s time for our profession to advocate for accountability systems that will enable us to teach and test the skills that matter most. Our students’ futures are at stake.”

What do you think? Can we do it? What does it look like? What do we need to make it happen? Where is it already in place? How do we know?

Tony Wagner is Codirector of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education;. The themes of this article are discussed more fully in his book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—and What We Can Do About It (Basic Books, 2008).

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