Book Review: 21st Century Skills

As regular Scripted Spontaneity readers know, next week I’ll be hosting and moderating an asynchronous discussion on Voicethread about a new book that has really got me thinking.  It’s called 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn, and I think what I like best about it is that it isn’t really one story.  It’s an anthology of essays by experts in various fields discussing how they connect with the idea of 21st Century Skills.  Under the umbrella of its central theme are fourteen diverse and engaging chapters that address every level from policy maker to classroom teacher.

The list of contributors to the book really reads like a “Who’s Who” of educational thinking today.  Howard Gardner (of multiple intelligences fame) describes the five types of minds that are needed for this new era.  Ed reform heavyweight Linda Darling-Hammond discusses national education policy changes that are needed to bring these skills to the forefront.  Rick and Becky DuFour make a strong argument for the role that PLCs can play in implementing 21st Century Skills, especially as teachers become models of critical thinking.  Will Richardson, author of the first educational technology book that I ever read (a dog-eared copy of which is still on my classroom bookshelf), explains the impact of a future in which education is increasingly global and self-driven:

“Instead of learning from others who have the credentials to “teach” in this new networked world, we learn with others whom we seek (and who seek us) on our own and with whom we often share nothing more than a passion for knowing.”

One of my personal heroes, Alan November, writes a powerful chapter about the dangers of assuming that more technology means more information.  Like several other of the contributors to 21st Century Skills, November stresses the need to develop a “global work ethic”.  This idea is what has got me really thinking about the changes that await my students.  What can I do now to help them think of themselves as global citizens and to compete with job-seekers from all over the world? Alan lays out a clear and convincing strategy.

Add to that chapters from Doug Reeves (on reforming assessment), John Barell (about the role of Problem-Based Learning), Jay McTighe and Elliot Seif (the Understanding by Design guys), David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson (experts on cooperative learning), and even Bob Pearlman writing about design of our school buildings, and you end up with one book that tells many stories.  In the end, these stories make it clear that huge changes are needed if we are to ready our children for the challenges that await them.  The way forward is mapped out, leaving all of us in the education business with the choice of whether to follow it.

If all of this has you interested, consider dropping by next week for our Voicethread conversation with several of the book’s contributors.  You can download a non-printable PDF copy of the book to prepare for the discussion by clicking here.  Come back early next week for some simple Voicethread beginner’s advice and more details about how you can participate in the conversation.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: 21st Century Skills

  1. I enjoyed reading your introduction to the book, have started reading it on the Solution Tree site and hope to join the Voicethread. This is exciting food for thought – and discussion among educators. As a School Librarian, I am thrilled that more of these kinds of discussions are becoming more available. Thanks.


  2. I just attended the Partnership for 21st Century Skills P21 Institute and this book was recommended by some of the partnership participants. I look forward to reading and participating in this discussion!


    1. Kelly,
      I’m so glad to have someone in the conversation who has P21 experience! Please drop by the Voicethread when you get a chance.


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