ISM691Pat Bassett scores again, with a very valuable piece helping us move forward in becoming, ever more, 21st century schools.    His introductory piece in the current, excellent issue of Independent School offers a quick overview of the key ideas in the 21st century education movement, (and it is great to see the praise he heaps on Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap, the book we are using as a centerpiece of our effort at St. Gregory).    Bassett offers his sythesis of the key 21st century skills, drawing from many sources:

  1. character (self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience, and courage);
  2. creativity and entrepreneurial spirit;
  3. real-world problem-solving (filtering, analysis, and synthesis);
  4. public speaking/communications;
  5. teaming; and
  6. leadership.

These resonate well for the way we are defining ourself at St. Gregory.  Character has long been a core value of our school, to be sure, and we are proud of our success teaching writing and communications.   Real world problem-solving is not always easy to integrate deeply into the secondary classroom, but it is something that we are talking about more frequently, and hope to make good progress upon.   Most meaningful to me are numbers 2 and 6: our school is embarking on a quest to raise leadership and innovation to the forefront of what we seek to ensure our students learn and grow in, and it is great to see Bassett’s endorsement of their central importance.

Bassett’s piece hits it stride, however, in the second half, as he articulates “ten demonstrations of learning.”

It is rooted in the most basic of concepts: if we could agree on what well-educated students should be able to do, teachers, schools, and systems could then “backward design” the means to those ends. The “essential demonstrations” that follow could be gathered in a student’s electronic portfolio that follows him or her through the various stages of education, documenting and preserving stages of learning and presenting in ways far more comprehensively than standardized testing a student’s preparedness for the next level of schooling.

  1. Conduct a fluent conversation in a foreign language about a piece of writing in that language.
  2. Write a cogent and persuasive opinion piece on a matter of public importance.
  3. Declaim with passion and from memory a passage that is meaningful — of one’s own or from the culture’s literature or history.
  4. Produce or perform a work of art.
  5. Construct and program a robot capable of performing a difficult physical task.
  6. Exercise leadership.
  7. Using statistics, assess whether or not a statement by a public figure is demonstrably true.
  8. Assess media coverage of a global event from various cultural/national perspectives.
  9. Describe a breakthrough for a team on which you served and to which you contributed to overcoming a human-created obstacle so that the team could succeed in its task.
  10. Demonstrate a commitment to creating a more sustainable future with means that are scalable.

I look forward to St. Gregory’s faculty reviewing this list, and making a list of our own in the months to come.  We are preparing a dashboard in the Academic Committee to declare publicly how we seek to measure our  success in facilitating valuable student learning, and I think a list like this should be a key component of such a dashboard, with an annual numerical rating of how close to 100% of our students achieved 100% of our defined-in-advance demonstrations of learning.

As for this list itself, it is fun for me to see that we are jumping ahead on several of them.  Number 5 speaks of robotics, and we have just invested $5000 and key faculty time into the development of first-ever robotics teams in both the middle and upper school.   Number four conforms closely to the school’s history of excellent fine arts, and also will be a core component of our in-development, coming-soon, innovation institute; parallel to this is number six, which both is alread well-evidenced in our 12 grade peer leadership program, and will be more prominent in our forthcoming leadership institute and leadership diploma program.

Finally, numbers two, seven, and eight are skills of critical thinking, analysis, and effective communication which quite closely conform to what is measured by the CWRA, the College and Work Readiness Assessment, the new, next generation testing tool which we are just commencing at St. Gregory.   Of course we will want to provide vehicles for our students demonstrating these skills in portfolios and in their school-work, but in time we will also have very valuable reporting to us on how they are mastering these skills over the course of their time at St. Gregory, and as compared to other students nationally.