The Partnership for 21st Century Learning, a coalition of business, education and government leaders, today released a framework for how educators and other community organizations can encourage 21st century skills in young students.
The existing framework is broken down into learning and innovation skills; life and career skills; and information, media and technology skills. Those components are meant to complement core academic areas with “21st century themes,” such as global awareness and health literacy.
In kindergarten, for example, innovation might involve making up games or using classroom materials in a different way to solve a problem, and kindergartners might demonstrate the “life skills” of initiative and self-direction by explaining how to fix something or describing the steps someone else is using to complete a task.
When the partnership was formed, technology in kindergarten and preschool classrooms was still very limited. But now 15 years later, young children are using tablet computers before they can walk, and apps and digital media are a part of their daily lives. That’s why media literacy skills, such as using a device to find information or recognizing the difference between a fact and an opinion, are now important for young children as well, according to the partnership.
In addition, while efforts to develop life and career skills typically focus on middle and high school students, the framework gives examples of how teachers can encourage skills such as flexibility or adaptability through child-centered and play-based approaches.
The partnership released the Early Learning Framework not only for schools, but also for libraries, museums, summer camps and other community organizations that provide programs for young children. The authors note that the examples are not meant to replace early learning standards, but to give examples of how to build 21st century skills and knowledge among younger children. The organization also has a network of “exemplar schools,” such as Feaster Charter School in Chula Vista, CA, which has a one-to-one iPod program in K-1 and all kindergartners are introduced to STEAM topics. And at Benjamin Franklin Elementary in Glen Ellyn, IL, students practice collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills through project-based learning.