At the end of an academic quarter, students get more stressed about grades. What is reflected in these grades? Test scores? Memorization of key facts and concepts? Perhaps applications of these concepts in an essay or a project? 21st century universities and colleges say that they want students to come prepared with “soft skills” like critical thinking, oral communication, problem solving and collaboration. However, these skills are rarely taught explicitly in public schools, particularly with so much emphasis on standardized testing. This week students in the course will read the following articles about 21st century soft skills:
- “Preparing for the 21st Century: Soft Skills Matter” Huffington Post
- “21st Century Skills” The Glossary of Education Reform
- “In the 21st Century, soft skills are essential” Every Day of Education blog
- “Rigor Redfined” byTony Wagner, Transforming Education
Students will collaborate to create a collective list of “21st century skills” and reflect upon their progress and mastery of these skills in this course. Then each student will write an essay stating which grade he or she deserves in this class and why, based on skills development and contributions to the class.
This week the class will be going to the University of Virginia’s Youth-Nex conference which is focusing on how “Youth of Color Matter: Reducing Inequalities through Positive Youth Development” To prepare for the trip students had to focus on the panelists for the conference and the organizations that they represented to create some questions. We talked about what makes a good research question is the amount of depth you can go into trying to answer it. We try to steer away from asking things that could be answered easily by a web search.
We then focused on the questions that interested the class most: Why should we care about youth of color and how does focusing on youth of color affect students who are not “of color”? Our class talked about the assumption that students are only”normal” when White; how White is technically a color too; and how White is not just about skin tone but also about culture. We went over what the positive and negative outcomes that can happen for youth who do not identify as “of color”. The positive side was open-mindedness, but the perception of negative outcomes was much longer. Our class worried that students who didn’t identify as of color would feel: left out, ignored, threatened, like minorities were taking over, and like they were losing their privileges. The class concluded that there is a lot of diversity among White students that can get erased by an idea of a collective “normal White”identity, just like there can for students identified as Black, Latino, etc. The idea that youth of color matter isn’t to diminish how much other youth matter, but to focus on the ways that youth of color are being systemically left out of educational considerations. I was really proud of my students for having such a tough discussion, and hope that the parallels between this discussion and debates around #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter are understood.
We finished up the discussion by talking more about what it means to be a citizen. The student answers boiled down to individuals who belong (or feel they belong) to a place (community, group, nation) and are granted special rights and responsibilites along with their citizenship status. We didn’t focus on legal definitions, and returned to the Personally Responsible Citizen, the Participatory Citizen and the Socially Justice Oriented Citizen from last week’s typology. Students were asked to use React, Reflect, Respond or the 3R method to respond to the idea of citizenship.
We ask that students “React” to the concept of citizenship and what kind of citizen they self-identify as. In the first paragraph, you will describe the citizenship typology and how/what it make you think, feel, consider. You will then write a paragraph to”Reflect” on why you thought, felt, and/or acted the way you did. Finally you will “Respond” by discussing what action you might take (or have already taken) moving forward to either change your type of citizenship or maintain it.