Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘Lıteracy is not enough’

Stop Talking…Start DOING!

In Book Reviews, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Schools, Our Universities, Uncategorized on 19/12/2011 at 11:24 am

Sticky TEACHing and LEARNing


In November I started a “series” based on the work of those lovely chaps at the 21st Century Fluency ProjectLee CrockettIan Jukes and Andrew Churches very kindly gave me permission to use their new book Literacy is NOT Enough to create a number of “guest-posts” (now, if we could only get more writers to don their “creative commons” hats)!

To date, I have done five posts:

#1 – Can a committee write a poem? 

#2 – Why we need more “Committed Sardines”…

#3 – From Literacy to Fluency – 21st Century Fluencies, that is…

#4 – Getting FLUENT with the 5 FLUENCIES… 

#5 – How to make LEARNing “stick”


I was planning to complete the series in six posts – with the last one highlighting the type of lessons teachers can develop to really “breathe life” into the “Fluencies”. Best laid plans and all of that!

However, I had to edit down Post #5 – and missed a very important bit of commentary from Andrew, Lee and Ian…

So, here is Part 6 – or perhaps Part 5b…… 



A study that was conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation in Michigan back in 1998 clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of cultivating higher-level thinking as well as measurable learning and retention. In the study, two groups of 100 social studies students were taught the same information by two different methods. One group was taught in the traditional way that’s all too familiar to us: full-frontal lecturing with students sitting in rows. They poured over worksheets and were hammered with drills, drills, and more drills, and traditional tests and quizzes.

Weapons of Mass Instruction


The second group learned primarily through problem- and process-based approaches.

This group of students worked both individually and in groups. They benefited from self-assessment, peer assessment, and teacher assessment. They focused on creating real-world products to solve real-world problems.


At the end of the year, both groups were tested, using the same traditional state-mandated exams for social studies. The results were stunning, and most likely not what you would expect.

The scores were nearly identical for both groups, regardless of how they learned. You might be confused now as to the point of this. Perhaps you’re thinking this indicates that there is no point in investing in technology or new instructional and assessment methods.

Apparently the old approach still works just as well as ever.


You’d be wrong. One year later, unwarned and therefore unprepared, the students were given the very same test that the previous year they had passed with both groups performing equally well.

The results were astonishing!



The group that was taught using traditional methods was able to recall only about 15 percent of the content. To make matters worse, an analysis of the results and the students’ thinking indicated that they viewed social studies as a series of itemized facts—this happened on this date, this happened on that date, and one event did not influence another in any way.

Theirs is an excellent example of lower-order thinking.


The group that was taught using problem- and process-based learning approaches recalled more than 70 percent of the content. More important, they demonstrated a deep understanding of the integrated nature of their learning. In other words, they not only remembered the content but also understood its significance. They were able to make abstract connections between events. Effective learners make attachments or connections between their existing knowledge and new information.

This is Velcro learning! This is higher-order thinking. These are the goals we have for our students, and we need to make this shift in the instructional approach to give them the opportunity to develop the skills we know they need.

They are limited not by their abilities, but by our lack of flexibility in making the shift.


Even though this research has been around for decades, many educators continue to depend completely on the “stand and deliver; sit and learn” full-frontal lecture method. If we were to be really honest with ourselves, we know intuitively that this isn’t working.



Teachers are good people who are committed to their students and want to do what’s best for them. Yet what they’re doing isn’t working. They know this, but they continue to do it. Why? There is an unprecedented pressure on educators today. As our students are failing, fingers are being pointed at teachers. In many cases, teachers’ salaries and employment are being tied to student performance.

Governments are demanding that more information be taught than there are hours available in the student’s career. At the same time, millions of dollars are being slashed from budgets. In the panic to meet the mandates, teachers are attempting to cram as much information into students’ heads as possible. Many students are seeing education as a 16-year process of slowly and painfully memorizing facts that can be Googled in seconds. The result is that they are tuning out and leaving school in unprecedented numbers—in some cases more than 50 percent of students. As we discussed earlier, this is happening not just in high schools but also in universities.

It’s time to shift the instructional approach away from talking as teaching to problem- and process-based learning. In the 21st-century classroom, we must move the responsibility for learning from the teacher, where it traditionally has been, to the student, where it should be. Students must become active participants in their education. The teacher becomes the facilitator of learning, posing real-world problems that have relevance to the learners and guiding them through the process of creating a real-world solution. It’s up to the students to decide how best to communicate their understanding. The learning is not scripted, and it doesn’t limit students—they have the opportunity to explore, to communicate, and to create.

While it is not an easy shift, it is very rewarding – for both teachers and students.


As the 21st-century learning environment revolves around real-world problems, teachers must transition to be crafters of these problems. A well-written scenario that connects real-world relevance to the learner, cultivates the 21st-century fluencies, and addresses curricular objectives sounds like a lot to ask for.

Road to Truth (Buddha quote) Ver 02


Like any skill, it takes time to develop. It also takes a willingness to make mistakes – that is what debriefing is all about – and finding a way to do it better next time.

In the next chapter, we walk you through the process of developing scenarios. We also provide samples and templates of the unit plans we have created for our 21st Century Fluency Kits. This next chapter is the real meat of this book, so let’s get at it and have some fun transforming your classroom into a 21st-century learning environment.


This guest-post is adapted from Chapter 10 of Ian, Andrew and Lee’s new book Literacy is NOT Enough


How to make LEARNing ‘stick’…

In Book Reviews, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Schools, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 18/11/2011 at 11:36 am

With all the hoopla and hullabaloo surrounding the EduBlogs Awards, I almost forgot I was in the middle of a series of guest-posts from Andrew Churches, Lee Crockett and Ian Jukes. 

This one is #5 in the series – and follows on from Getting FLUENT with the 5 FLUENCIES… – in it the “boys” discuss what really matters in a 21st Century LEARNing Environment.


There’s an old saying you might’ve heard: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” There is a lot of truth in this statement. In fact, there are decades of research telling us that what we are doing in education isn’t working.

Talking at and teaching at students is not effective.

Only learning that has meaning sticks. Only teaching that is relevant to the learner is effective. This is called Velcro learning. A learner must be able to connect to what is being taught. Otherwise, the learning is like one side of Velcro: it just doesn’t stick. Let’s talk about what we know does work and how we can shift our instructional approach to create a 21st-century learning environment.

We know for certain that for students to remember and internalize information, they must move it from their short-term (working) memory to their permanent memory.

For this to happen, four things are required.


1. Make It Sticky

The new information must connect to something the learner already knows and has already made meaning of. If the connection isn’t there, the learner has to make one on the spot. Unless a connection is made, new content stays in working memory for only a few seconds. This is the difference between rote learning and meaningful learning.

Writer Eric Jensen says that we discard 98% of everything that comes into our brains.

  • Have you ever been introduced to someone and instantly forgotten his or her name?
  • Have you ever given your students a test on something and had them do really well, only to give them another test on the same material two weeks later and find it’s as if they’ve never heard of the material before?

If the information is not meaningful to the learner, regardless of whether it’s meaningful to the teacher, it will be quickly be discarded by the learner’s brain. I want to restate that, because it is constantly forgotten by teachers: If the information is not meaningful, in other words relevant, to the learner, learning will not occur.

It makes no difference if it’s interesting, meaningful, or relevant to the teacher. It must be relevant to the student.


2. Draw From the Past

The second element is that new information must connect to previous knowledge and previous experiences. In other words, what students bring with them into the classroom determines not only what they’ll learn but also if they’ll learn.


3. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Learners have to be given differentiated learning opportunities that are repeatedly distributed over extended periods of time. If students don’t understand something the first time around, you can’t just walk up close and start talking to them more slowly and loudly and expect that method to work any better. Because learning doesn’t usually stick the first time, students need multiple opportunities and a variety of experiences that provide both the time and the context for the ideas to be internalized.


4. Give Positive Feedback—Frequently

Students must be provided with consistent, positive feedback. They need to have their efforts reinforced regularly and meaningfully.

According to a top video game developer, video games are designed so that game players are asked to make a critical decision about every one-half to one second and are positively reinforced or rewarded for those decisions every seven to 12 seconds.

In contrast, according to a recent research study, students on average receive positive reinforcement in the classroom only about once every 12 hours. Quality, formative feedback and positive reinforcement give learners what they need to better retain information. Students need to know that what they’re doing is right, and then they need positive suggestions on how they can improve their performance.

If teachers do these four things consistently, research tells us, measurable learning will take place.


On a recent trip to Japan to visit his family, Lee took his 11-yearold niece, Anna, to the aquarium in her hometown. There was a huge shallow tank that all of the kids had their hands in. All over their hands were hundreds of garra rufa fish, also known as doctor fish.

These fish are found in river basins the Middle East and also live and breed in some outdoor pools in spas in Turkey. They feed on dead skin cells, and since they will only eat infected or dead areas, leaving the healthy skin to grow, they are used to help treat patients suffering from various skin disorders, such as psoriasis and eczema. Doctor fish spas have opened in Japan and dozens of countries around the world, including the United States.

Anna was curious about these fish, and the staff at the aquarium explained everything I’ve just told you. They also recounted that Cleopatra used to bathe with doctor fish to keep her skin beautiful. Suddenly, for Anna, a door was opened to inquire about geography, ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, and so much more. Why? Because these subjects are interesting to Lee? Because they’re in the curriculum guide?

No; because there was a real-world connection that brought relevance to the learning.


For LEARNing to occur, there must be relevance, not to the teacher, but to the learner. So the first component of the 21st-century learning environment is relevance.

As teachers, we all know that we start to see significant retention when we move to active receiving. For example, participating in a discussion involves thinking about the information and forming an opinion or question. Comparing, contrasting, and evaluating are all necessary for participation, and overall higher-order thinking skills are used.

The most dramatic results come from simulating a real experience. Actually doing the real thing, or teaching it to another person, increases retention by as much as 90 percent. The information learned through this method sticks. In short, for learning to happen, as we have said before, there must be relevance in context for the learner.

Again, don’t get hung up on the actual numbers. All the studies show that we remember very little of what we read and a whole lot of what we do. The argument that process- and problem-based learning takes too long just doesn’t stand. In light of this research, which is more effective? Reading and lecturing or creating a real-world simulation?

Students are much more engaged when given the opportunity to do, to participate, and to create. Engagement means being involved or engaged in the process, and students need to be allowed to participate in and not be passive recipients of their education.

In every classroom and in every district where change is needed, teachers and students must make the shift. The switch to process- and problem-based learning can be uncomfortable at first, and it will take time to make this transition, but the payoffs outweigh the difficulties for both teacher and student.

Consider this: When students are engaged, there are fewer discipline problems. When students are allowed to create real-world products to demonstrate their understanding of the content, and the teacher is wise enough to pose problems and get out of the way to let the learning happen, those students amaze the teacher with what they’re capable of doing. Teachers in turn are excited about coming to school every day, because they can’t wait to see what they’re going to learn from their students.


The third component of the 21st-century learning environment is real world.


In a 21st-century learning environment, students use higher-level thinking to create realworld products as solutions to relevant real-world problems.

  • Do you enjoy being lectured at all the time?
  • When you were a student, did you enjoy having your teacher talk at you all the time?

Now in the same breath, let’s be absolutely clear: there most certainly IS a time and place for “telling” – for full-frontal lecturing. It can be very useful when a lot of content has to be delivered quickly – we just can’t do it all the time.

We need to shift our instruction from the traditional and predominantly full-frontal lecturing model to more of an emphasis on discovery learning. This method generates interest and therefore the relevance that is critical to learning.


Think about a scary action movie. Watching as the actors narrowly escape certain death and listening to the music creates a suspenseful atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wonder what’s coming next. The experience is indelibly etched in your mind.

But what if just before the movie began, someone told you what was going to happen, and that all of the actors make it through without a scratch? Or what if the people next to you talked to you throughout the movie, telling you what was going to happen next? It would rob you of the experience of finding these things out for yourself, because it would remove the elements of wonder and surprise. That’s the problem created when we tell students what they need to know all or most of the time: It takes the excitement of discovery out of learning.


When students learn the material for themselves, it becomes their learning, not our teaching, and because it is their learning, they own it. They will remember it, they will be able to apply it, and they will be able to use it as the foundation for new learning and creating.


This guest-post is adapted from Chapter 10 of Ian, Andrew and Lee’s new book Literacy is NOT Enough. 

Why we need more “Committed Sardines”…

In Educational Leadership, Our Schools on 04/10/2011 at 7:22 am

A couple of days ago I did a “lazy Sunday” post – but shared a poem from the guys at the 21st Century Fluency Project (Ian, Andrew and Lee). The poem clearly touched a nerve with many of you and showed me just how much we educators value allthingseducation – and “the need for change”.

If only our schools, colleges and universities were half as passionate!


Lee, Andrew and Ian have recently published their latest book – Literacy is Not Enough –and have kindly offered to share selected chapters of the book with you all. After I had posted the poem, I thought elements of Chapter 12 (the end of the book) would be the best to start their series of guest-posts for us.


We must immediately begin to rethink and reshape the current classroom learning experience. We must re-examine the way we teach, the way students learn, and the way we assess that learning. We acknowledge that this is a great challenge. What we are being asked to do is not like changing a small bad habit such as smoking or eating a bit too much chocolate or biting nails.

The challenge we’re facing in education at this time is that educators are being asked to reconsider our fundamental assumptions about how we teach, how students learn and how that learning should be assessed.

But when we’re challenged to rethink education, we’re not being asked just to change a few small behaviors or habits like how we spend our money, what we put into our bodies, or how we spend our time. What we are being asked to do here is reconsider some of the most fundamental, traditional, embedded parts of our life experiences and our habits of mind.

And that is the real challenge that educators face.

And yes, change is hard. Sometimes the challenge of change seems absolutely overwhelming. So where do we begin? How do we in education deal with a world of such fast-paced change? How do we deal with embedded traditional mindsets about teaching and learning and assessment? How do we deal with the digital generation?


Facing the Music

It may seem a bit selfish, but what we passionately believe is that this is not about us; it’s not about our issues; it’s not about our comfort zone. This is about our children and our hopes and our dreams and our prayers for their future. They may only be 20 percent of the population, but they are 100 percent of the future of our nation.

Put on a more visceral level, all of our pension plans depend on how well we prepare them. Three billion new people entered the world economy in the past ten years, and if even if only ten percent of them have skills and opportunity to compete with us, that’s still 300 million people—about twice the size of the entire U.S. workforce and twenty times the Canadian workforce.

In the work culture of the 21st Century, everything from the neck down is going to be minimum wage. Everything that can be automated, turned into hardware, turned into software, or outsourced or offshored will be. So we have a choice. Either our students and workers have high skills or they get low wages. And if they don’t get those 21st-century kills in our schools, where will they get them.

We hear complaints all the time that kids today are different, and that our schools aren’t what they used to be. Frankly, we believe the problem with our schools isn’t that they aren’t what they used to be. Culturally and socially they are different, but structurally, they are just like they were when students were released for 3 months in the summer so they could harvest the crops based on a European agricultural cycle from 150 years ago.

No, the problem is that our schools are what they used to be. So if we’re going to prepare our students for their future and not just our past, if we’re going to prepare them for their future and not just our comfort zone, we’re going to need new schools—and more than that, we need a new mindset. We need new schools for the new world that awaits them. We need schools that will prepare students for their future—for life ahead of them after they leave school—for the rest of their lives. We know this is hard, but as educators, we must understand that our job is not just to serve what is or has been. Our job is to shape what can, what might, what absolutely must be.

Once again, change is difficult, and it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the changes required. But this is normal. Little has ever been understood or achieved in one blinding flash of light. The process of change is messy and doesn’t happen overnight.

Honestly, in writing a book like Literacy is Not Enough, and in creating a project as large as the 21st Century Fluency Project, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed, and we certainly do feel that from time to time. But when we do feel overwhelmed, there’s a place we like to go to decompress. That place is the Monterey Aquarium in Monterey, California. Some say it’s the world’s greatest aquarium.


The Joy of Whalewatching

A few years ago, Ian took his wife Nicky there for the first time. After they paid their fee, they walked inside. Immediately on their right was a gift shop that was playing a DVD about the blue whale, the largest and, at 190 decibels, the loudest mammal on earth—much louder than a person can shout (70 decibels) and louder than a jet (140 decibels). The video was full of amazing facts. The blue whale weighs more than a fully loaded 737. It is the length of 2 1/2 Greyhound buses put end to end and has a heart the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It has blood vessels that a human adult could swim down, and a tongue 8 feet long that weighs 6000 lbs. One particularly amazing fact was that in its first year of life, a baby blue whale was estimated to gain 15 pounds an hour.

One other amazing fact caught their attention—a blue whale is so mammoth that when it swims in one direction and it decides it needs to turn around, it takes three to five minutes to complete the turn. There are a lot of people in our world who draw a strong parallel between the blue whale and the school system. And there are also a lot of people who believe that all the calls for charter schools and vouchers are being made by people who are wishing and hoping that we just won’t be able to turn public education around in time.

But if you walk past the video on the blue whale, turn to the left and walk about 50 yards down the way, you come to what we consider to be the absolute centerpiece of the Monterey Aquarium. It’s a 10 story, all-glass tank inside of which have been placed many of the creatures that are native to the Monterey Bay. If you’ve read ever John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, you’ll know that a century ago, twice a year, in the inner Monterey Bay, there used to appear—out of nowhere—schools of sardines that were the length, the width, and the depth of city blocks. These immense crowds of the tiny fish had the mass not of one, two, or three blue whales, but of rather thousands of them.

But there is a fundamental difference between the way a blue whale turns around and a school of sardines changes its direction. How do they do it? How do they know? Is it ESP? Is it Twitter? Are they using cellphones?

Because we were quite curious, we pressed our noses against the tank and looked at the gigantic school of sardines swimming around inside.

At first glance, it looked like all the sardines were swimming in the same direction. But when our eyes adjusted to light, we began to realize, slowly at first, that at any one time there would be a small group of sardines swimming in another direction. And when they did this, they inevitably caused conflict, discomfort, collisions, and stress to each other.

But finally, when a critical mass of truly committed sardines was reached—not 50 or 60 percent who wanted to change, but 10 to 15 percent who truly believed in change, you know what happened? The rest of the school turned and followed. And that’s exactly what has happened over the past few years with things like out attitudes toward smoking, our unwillingness to tolerate drinking and driving, or politicians who lie. It’s exactly what happened with regime change in the Middle East. Each and every one of them was an overnight success that was years in the making. Every one of them started with a small group of people who were willing to make the change despite the obstacles and resistance.

You All Need To Be Committed!

On the 21st Century Fluency Project website ( is our blog, which we call “The Committed Sardine Blog.” When we first started posting we had a vision of building a following and providing world-class books and free resources that would help to transform education to be relevant to life in the 21st-century. We had a trickle of subscribers, which has turned into a flood. Today we have tens of thousands of Committed Sardines in dozens of countries. The blog and resources have been accessed millions of times. Shortly it will expand into a personal learning network where you can create and share unit plans like the ones in this book.

So the big question is:

who amongst you is willing to become a Committed Sardine?


Who amongst you is willing to swim against the flow, against conventional wisdom, against our long-standing and traditional assumptions and practices in education and begin to move schools from where they are to where they need to be?

American anthropologist Maragret Mead put it this way:

Highly Educated Useless People (from “guest blogger” – Ian Jukes)

In Guest BLOGGERS, Our Schools, Technology on 27/02/2011 at 1:21 pm

Ian (you have to watch his video) is one of the team of “educational imagineers” that brought us  The 21st Century Fluency Project and the “Committed Sardine.

He’s on the road at the moment and busy working his way through his overflowing inbox – but took some time out to get us a few thoughts as the second of our “guest bloggers” this week.

I had just finished speaking at an international educational conference. What followed completely floored me. It was not only what was said but also who said it, and how they said it.

The comment was as follows:

“Our students are amongst the very best performers academically in the world on the TIMS.” . The TIMS stands for The Third International Mathematics and Science Study. The speaker was describing students from his country

As he walked away, he calmly added, “The problem is that most of them [students] couldn’t think their way out of a wet paper bag if their life depended upon it. They’re nothing but highly educated useless people.”

The commentator: The Minister of Education of a certain high profile country.

I was speechless. Highly educated useless people?


What was he really telling us?

What he was saying was that his high-achieving students had school smarts and thus could excel at school-related activities – that they had developed special abilities that would allow them to move smoothly through the school system because they had developed the necessary skills to effectively cram for and write tests. What he was suggesting was that most academically successful students do well in large part because they have learned to play the game called school.

But in describing them as “highly educated useless people”, what he was also suggesting was that while many students in his country, particularly the brainy ones, had school smarts, they did not possess what is generally known as street smarts. For him, being street smart was about having the necessary higher-level thinking skills and competencies above and beyond being able to do well on a written exam that were needed to live and work in the real world beyond school, solving real world, real life problems in real time.

We become curious. What were the distinctions between being school smart and street smart? How could so many of these students, who were good at school and able to do so well on the tests, at the same time be inadequately prepared for life?

What was going on?

After much debate around our expectations of the who, what, why, where, when, and how surrounding school learning, we believe we finally have one answer. Thus answer is related to how we teach our students to learn and think.

When children first attend primary school, they are completely dependent upon their teachers to tell them what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to sit when they are doing it, and even for how long. The primary focus is on mastering content and learning through memorization within a tightly controlled instructional environment.

In this environment, mastery of content is valued over thinking critically about the content. The teachers tell the students what they need to do to pass the test, to pass the course, to pass the grade, to move to the next level, and finally to graduate.

All the answers are prearranged, preformatted and ready for absorption by those who are willing and able to play the game called school. These are the academically successful. These are students are comfortable operating in a culture of dependency – dependent on the teacher, dependent on the textbook, dependent on the test.

Then after graduation from school, having spent 13 or more years in the system, the educational infrastructure that has held the students up for all their years in education is suddenly removed. When this happens, many of the students fall flat on their faces as they enter the real world. And we can’t understand why. Even though it is we, the educators, who are responsible for creating this culture of dependency on the teacher, the textbooks, and the test, we feel confused.

In the real world of today, school success clearly does not guarantee success in life.

So, what is the problem?

The answer lies in our efforts to ensure compliance in our learners. Somewhere along the line, we have lost sight of the need to develop in our students the capacity to become independent thinkers and doers.

If our students are to survive let alone thrive in the culture of the 21st century of technology-driven automation, abundance, and access to global labor market world, independent thinking and its corollary, creative thinking hold the highest currency.

If our students are to be successful in making the transition, our job as educators must be to move from demanding the compliance of our students to making ourselves progressively redundant. As we do this, we must shift the responsibility of learning from the teacher where it has traditionally been, to the learners where it belongs.

This shift sounds simple, but in fact, it is an incredibly complex task because for it to happen, it must occur in the hearts and minds of every single educational stakeholder – from the politician, to policy designer, to administrator, to teacher, parent, and even the student.

The new and different paradigm of teaching and learning is that of progressive withdrawal. Our responsibility must be to ensure that our students no longer need us by the time they graduate from school.

This is no different than what we do as parents. Think back to the very first tentative steps of your child. They stood there wobbling and teetering. Inevitably they fell down.

What did we do when this happened? Did we rush over, point at them and say, “39 – you fail, 28%, C minus, I’m sorry, you’ve had five chances, you don’t get any more?”

The answer is – of course not! What did we do? We clapped our hands, helped them up, brushed them off, wiped away their tears, and encouraged them to try again. We understood that our job as parents, as difficult and challenging as it might be, particularly during the teenage years, is to help our children to become independent. People who could stand all on their own, as they began to make their way through life.

So, what should we do?

Do we give up on helping our students to become school smart and simply focus on helping them become street smart? Absolutely not – we need them to be both school smart and street smart. This is not a matter of either/or.

Beyond this, there is a deeper question we need to ask. What do we want our students to be, feel, think, and do that measurably demonstrates that they are prepared and willing to step up from school to the world in which they will work, live, and play?

This is not a simple thing to answer because our present day world is in constant and rapid flux and profoundly complex. And it’s not getting any simpler.

We live in the dynamic world of InfoWhelm, where content is growing exponentially in both quantity and complexity. In this shifting landscape where digital content, is readily available at our fingertips, learners must be able to move beyond simple mastery of content recall and must develop the capacity to interpret and apply old and new information alike to new situations, problems, and new environments.

Access to information by itself is not the issue. Rather, learning to become a discerning and creative consumer of information is. In this new digital reality, the application of higher-order independent cognitive skills, within the context of real world, real life, and real time tasks; and of being able to transfer previous learning to new, different situations and challenges is of critical importance.

We firmly believe that invoking progressive withdrawal and fostering street smarts in school smart students requires a major shift to the existing educational paradigm. To enable this shift demands that we rethink the design of our schools, our classrooms and other learning environments.

At the same time, we need to rethink our assumptions about instructional design, what constitutes learning and even our definitions of what it means to be intelligent. And ultimately we must also rethink how we assess and evaluate both effective instruction and effective learning.

The exponentially growing body of content brought on by InfoWhelm has moved way beyond the content of traditional school subjects. The newer 21st century content areas include global awareness, financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, health and wellness awareness, leadership, ethics, accountability, and many others.

In particular, becoming an independent learner requires the development of two types of skills: those that emerge from the critical cognitive intelligences and those from the emotional intelligences.

Cognitive intelligences involve primarily the rational higher order thinking skills. These include how to manage, interpret, validate, transform, communicate, and act upon information. These cognitive intelligences include abstract reasoning, problem solving, communications, creativity, innovation, contextualized learning, and technical, information and media literacy skills all used in the context of content areas.

Emotional intelligence competencies include four major skill sets – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Today there is much evidence to show that significant leverage can be obtained by promoting learning strategies in the emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is particularly important in developing street smarts.

Then there is the matter related to not only what we assess, but also how we assess learning? Standardized tests can only measure the very narrow range of rational cognitive skills that can be measured by a bubble test, multiple choice, or fill-in-the-blanks exam. Real learning is about assessing much more than this.

The bottom line is that schools must change drastically if we are the reverse the growing disconnect between being school smart and being street smart. If we are going to make schools more relevant to our students’ futures – if we are going to prepare students for the real world that awaits them, there are at least five fundamental changes that need to be made.


1. We must acknowledge the new digital landscape

Schools must embrace the new digital reality of the online, computerized world described by Friedman’s The World is Flat. Outside of schools, the digital world has fundamentally and irrevocably altered the way things get done. This is not just the case for business but for many aspects of our lives.

It must be stressed that this is not about schools having high-speed networks or students being able to use laptops or handhelds. Even when hi-tech resources are available, if the resources are only used to reinforce old mindsets about teaching and learning and how that learning is assesses, little will have changed. This is about developing the full spectrum of cognitive and emotional intelligences that are increasingly required in the culture of the 21st century. As such, this is primarily a headware not a hardware issue.


2. Access but little guidance

The new digital landscape allows students access to information and learning experiences outside schools and classrooms. Learners can engage in experiences that have traditionally been the domain of teachers and the adult world. From home, shopping mall, whenever and wherever they are, students can access information, music, original sources and multi-media, full motion color images from friends and acquaintances, as well as people who might have diametrically opposed perspectives.

Because of our current fixation on testing, we are unable to properly guide our students or help them develop the necessary skills that will empower them to effectively use these powerful resources. As a result, it is often the students, not the teachers who define where they go, how they get there, and what they do when they arrive.

This is compounded by the fact that many adults, decision-makers, and educators are not in synch with the new digital reality of students. We don’t have the experience, skills or even the inclination to help them even if we have the time. Schools and teachers persist in using new technologies to reinforce old mindsets. These are issues well beyond computers and networks and way beyond traditional testing.

To understand the new digital landscape– to leverage their world, we must be willing to immerse ourselves in that world and embrace the new digital reality. If we can’t relate, if we don’t get it, we won’t be able to make schools relevant to the current and future needs of the digital generation.


3. Changing minds

We must address the shift in thinking patterns that are happening to digital students. They live and operate in a multimedia, online, multitask, random access, color graphics, video, audio, visual literacy world.

As Steven Johnson points out in Everything Bad is Good For You, these new literacies are generally not acknowledged, valued, or addressed in our schools. This is because these emerging literacies do not generally reflect our traditional definitions of literacy, which were confined and defined by the technologies of the 19th and 20th century when PCs, Internet, cell phones, and other digital technologies were the stuff of science fiction.

We must acknowledge that because of this new digital landscape, our students not only think differently but also learn differently from the way we learn. Only by accepting this will we be able to begin to reconsider and redesign learning environments, instruction, and how we assess learning.


4. The whole learner

We must broaden evaluation to encompass activities that provide a complete picture of students learning. As management guru Tom Peters says “what get measured gets done” and conversely “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done” – it’s imperative that we begin to measure more than information recall

Dave Masters uses this analogy:

“You can get a good picture of a person’s health by taking their height and weight but would you go to a doctor who only took your height and weight and said here’s a picture of your health. The answer of course is no. It would require a battery of tests – urinalysis, blood tests, blood pressure, cholesterol, checking for lumps and so on to get an accurate picture of your health.”

However schools act like the doctor who only takes your height and weight and then says here’s a complete picture of your health.

We test students using standardized instruments that primarily measure information recall and low level understanding, and then say here’s a complete picture of a student’s learning, which is absolutely not the case. It is extremely presumptuous for us to say that current test scores are a complete indicator of student learning.

A complete picture of student learning needs to include portfolios of performance, demonstrations not just of recall of theoretical content, but also the application of that theory used to solve real world problems.


5. Relevancy and connections

Last but not least, we must increase the connection between instruction in schools and the world outside if we hope to increase the relevancy of the learning that takes place. The key point here is that the students must perceive the relevancy of what they’re learning. They need to understand not just the content, but also the context of that content as it is applied to the world outside of schools.

For this to happen, schools need to become far less insular. We need to systematically work to bring the outside world into our schools while at the same time sending our schools out into the community. New technologies and an understanding of the new digital landscape can help us do both. The online world creates virtual highway and virtual hallways to both our local and global communities.

If we want to unfold the full intellectual and creative genius of all of our children -if we want to prepare them for the new world that awaits them – if we want to help them prepare for their future, not our past – if we are going to march through the 21st Century and maintain our tradition of success – if we want our children to have the relevant 21st century skills – then we must create a bridge between their world and ours so they can develop both street smarts and school smarts.

For this to happen, there needs to be fundamental shift in how teaching and learning takes place in schools. We must look for alternatives to the traditional organization of schools. We need to uncover our longstanding and unexamined assumptions about teaching and learning, about what a classroom looks, where learning takes place and the resources that are needed to support it.

And we also need to re-examine the use of time – the length of the school day and school year, the school timetable, and the traditional methods used for instructional delivery. And we must consider the potential of online, web-based, virtual learning that can be used to augment, extend, and transform the role of the traditional classroom teachers.

In other words, we cannot foster street smarts in our students who are school smart unless we ask the powerful and relevant questions around our assumptions of what schools currently are and what they need to be.

© The InfoSavvy Group, 2011


You can find Ian’s latest book (written with Ted McCain and Lee Crockett) on my list of 25 “must-read” books.