Sunday, April 18, 2010

Planning for Less and More

"Less is more," an aphorism from 20th century architecture may be watchwords for structuring education in the 21st.  Partnership for 21st Century Skills co-chairs, Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel present this as a likely principle for curriculum design in their recently published manifesto, 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times.

"A reasonable goal for most education systems moving from a 20th century model to a 21st century one might be 50 percent time for inquiry, design, and collaborative project learning and 50 percent for more traditional and direct methods of instruction."

"It's like déjà vu all over again" Midway in my teaching career, I sense being back to my first years of teaching. Back then praise came for using process-drama units, project-based assignments, and cooperative learning. Nearly 20 years later, I'm wondering if the novice me was so smart or not. Critics of P21 are wondering, too, including

Less maybe more, but the experienced me knows it is also less. I've spent the past 10 years working with colleagues to teach more in cohesive year-long plans. But as digital technology has come of age, the seams are starting to pull again. (Remember our generation never learned about the Vietnam War because our teachers never go to the end of the book; but boy, those Federalist Papers!) E.D. Hirsch would want me to know both, right?

That was 1977. Likewise, this year's curriculum planning is awash. As my income tax goes into the mail, graduation participation forms and summer reading letters are harolding the tide is going out: do what I can and can the rest is the best I can do. My 12th graders have senioritis, the research paper is due this week, our school is mired in state tests, and teachers are on edge about next year's duties (and a lack of collective bargaining).  The curriculum cutting board will be the business of summer. What to cut?


It's not that it's all gold. Or is it?  Seems like even if I taught all if it, muchgood is still missed. The 50% of keepers must not only be essential, but it ideally would bring out the essentials of 50 percent left out. Can we handle that?
Before answering, consider this. While calling for less beadth and more depth, Trilling and Fadel, also want us to enrich the core subjects with what they call "21st century themes." Global awareness, civic literacy, financial literacies, and health awareness are to be woven into the core subjects, while information, media, and ICT literacy are to be part and parcel of critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, and contextual learning, plus a slew of nine life and career skills, including ethics, self-direction, and social responsibility. That's a tall order.  Nonetheless who better to rise to the occassion but teachers.  But it sounds like more of more as well as less of less.

Teaching in Pennsylvania, I'm not in a P21 state, but I can see the stars, and someday the standards, lining up.  As states develop standards-aligned systems and the governors come closer on the Common Core, it makes sense that  educators "school thyselves" on this stuff.  Whether you like to think of it as the latest fad, or as the authors and supporters suggest, as "nothing new" if you think of teachers teaching what students need to know to be successful.

So this summer I plan to plan with 50/50% in mind.  Fifty-percent of the traditional, fifty-percent of the inquiry-, performance-, team-, creativity-, project-based learning that are infused with 21st century themes, skills, and digital literacies.Think of it as a mid-summer's road trip, with Trilling and Fadel suggest the model and roadmap, Hirsch making up the sights list and packing a lunch, Ravitch riding in the "been there, done that" back seat, and Richarsdon waving as we pass by a smiling Ken Robinson and the grave of John Dewey. I might end up with 150%.  I'll smile back: "Less is more."

Image credit: Remix of "Fifty Fifty Two." By Jeremy Brooks. 17 June 2009. Flickr.

1 comment:

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