7 Survival Skills, per Wagner
CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING
Wagner also writes about interview he did with other HR managers wherein they remark that critical thinking skills are among the most important skills. Wagner even says, "70 percent of employers rank high school graduates deficient in this area." Of course these skills are important, and I focus a lot on ensuring students are genuinely thinking and not memorizing information. I wonder, though, if we should only fault the education system. I mean, Wagner is correct that schools should be teaching these skills, but certainly other forces are at work here. Parents play an important role, too, as well as college. Even more, popular media perpetuates a lack of thinking. Some of the most nuanced, thought-provoking movies, for instance, are some of the worst performing at the box office. The most popular ones, which require no thinking, are movies like Transformers and movies based on comic books. So Wagner's First survival skill that he mentioned is well-received, but I think the focus to build this skill needs to include more than just high schools.
COLLABORATION ACROSS NETWORKS AND LEADING BY INFLUENCE
Wagner's second survival skill is collaboration and leading by influence. A quote I liked was "we have to interact around the globe with people from diverse cultures and religions." This is true, and I think it would be easy to incorporate into the high school curriculum. A simple online class would allow students to collaborate with other students from somewhere else, or the teacher could build into his curriculum diversity that educates students on others. Teachers can group students together who have different backgrounds and force them to learn about each other. This would help students collaborate when they get to the workplace.
AGILITY AND ADAPTABILITY
Third, Agility and Adaptability is essential. I worked in an environment where people were unwilling to change and it was frustrating. One can see this lack of agility and adaptability with regards to the common core. Whether these people think its inferrior than the status quo or they are just too lazy to change, either way, their lack of adaptability only hurts the kids.
INITIATIVE AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP & EFFECTIVE ORAL AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATION
Wagner's fourth and fifth skills go together I think. One who has initiative needs to be able to effectively communicate in a written and oral way. He must convince the people around him to follow him and clearly communicate goals, plans, etc. To have initiative but no effective communication would be a waste. The quote Wagner has, "what do you want me to take away from this meeting" is something teachers need to consider when planning objectives and assessments. We should think about how to effectively communicate our goals to students so that they know what we want them to walk out of the classroom thinking and feeling.
ACCESSING AND ANALYZING INFORMATION
Six is similar to the first (critical thinking). Of course we must do more than absorb information, but also analyze it. In our classes at CSUSM, we are taking in information all day on Mondays. However, as students we must decide what's useful, what's realistic, what applies to us, what we agree/disagree with, etc. I often teach students analytical skills when looking at primary source documents. They have to figure out: is this reliable? Why or why not?
CURIOSITY AND IMAGINATION
Seventh, I want to teach students to be curious. I want students to question why as a country we have done certain things (I teach history) and have them decide how it's like today. I tell my students things deliberately to make them angry, and make them say, "why is it this way?" This encourages them to investigate and want to know the answer. This survival skill is something I use in the classroom to make history fun.
What Wagner is missing:
Wagner focuses too much on tests and his dislike for them. Tests aren't necessarily bad, I don't think. Some tests are bad and some are not. Multiple choice/scantron tests? Almost universally bad. But tests that require critical thinking? Good, right? I think Wagner should write more about what features a good test has and how, specifically, educators can improve them. There was one other thing that he wrote about in chapter four that I previously mentioned disagreeing with. He says that when a teacher gave students two pages of just text, "2/3 of them refused to do the assignment." But when the assignment was broken up with graphics of various sorts, the number dropped to 1/3 who "refused to do the assignment." I have a couple problems with this. First, why are students refusing to do assignments? Since when do teachers permit that? Second, ok, great, kids like pictures more than words. Should we give them crayons and a coloring book to for an hour instead of reading? Lots of cool graphics are great and help me too, but there are times when reading a long text devoid of pictures is necessary. It's a skill for college and a skill for when our students get careers. It's surprising to me that Wagner so vehemently advocates training students for jobs and life outside of school and then misses this. If your boss hands you a report that he wants you to read and be familiar with it, would you "refuse to do it?" Or hand it back to him and demand he puts more pictures in the report? That's not real life. Our students need to learn to read long texts without accommodations sometimes.
What could incorporating these skills look like in your class or school? And what I can commit to
Lots of Wagner's ideas are things that I either already do or look forward to implementing in my classroom. For example, students need to be heterogeneously grouped as frequently as possible. This speaks to Wagner's second survival skill. Sometimes I find myself wanting to be the nice teacher and let students pick their partners or their groups, but there is real value in students interacting with their peers who they do not know and may have a different background. I also want to present things in a more discovery-based way. I want the curriculum to be something they figure out on their own. This accomplishes a few things. First, students enjoy it more. Second, they take ownership of what they learn. Most importantly, they are curious and they want to learn. For me, a social science teacher, I can see myself in a government classroom presenting students a case like flag burning, and having students assert what they think, but then setting them loose to go find the information about is it legal, should it be legal, why or why not. Students would be genuinely curious about something like this. And the content is framed in a way that's much more interesting than merely stating to kids, "ok so flag-burning is legal because of Texas v. Johnson." These sorts of things I can commit to doing. I'd also commit to requiring students to do more critical thinking. I can commit to eliminating multiple choice tests, in favor of short answer/essays. It takes more time to grade, of course, but I think that's a sacrifice worth making.
How will you measure your success?
It will be challenging to measure my success. Grading essays, for example, is subjective. If I want students to utilize critical thinking, than their answers must necessarily be longer and more essay-like. I can observe their essays over the semester and anecdotally decide if I think they're improving, but hard data would be difficult to obtain. I can fairly easily know if I am encouraging collaboration across networks. I will know how often I use homogenous, self-selected groups rather than the more beneficial heterogeneous ones. After reading this book, I dont think I will be letting students select their own groups anymore. It's not real life. Students must learn to work with others that they don't like, are unfamiliar with, etc. Last, how will I measure if students are enjoying it more? Mostly participation and then with the surveys I hand out at the end of the year. My students, as it is, don't raise their hands or participate in class. I know I will have succeeded if I can change that. If 10 (out of 30ish) raise their hands when I ask discussion questions, then I know I have succeeded. I will also give students a survey for the end of the year, and I will ask, "would you come to this class if you didn't have to?" If 2/3+ answer yes, then I have succeeded in my endeavor to make class interesting.