Beyond the 'three R's' of education

July 16, 2012

Edward SilverA new report from the National Research Council (NRC) summarizes scholarly evidence that problem solving, critical thinking, communication and self-discipline can be taught and learned in ways that benefit students both in the classroom and in their future lives.

The report, titled Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century, affirms the importance of “deeper learning,” the process of taking what is learned in one subject area or situation and learning how and when to apply that knowledge in other areas.

Edward Silver, dean of the School of Education, served on the Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills, which conducted the analysis of existing research.

The report uses scholarly research to address a topic of practical importance to students, educators and employers. “Employers want graduates who can do more than demonstrate memorization of specific facts and procedures,” Silver said. “They want graduates who have skills and dispositions oriented toward creative, collaborative problem solving and the effective communication of ideas.”

The NRC study was undertaken to define the proficiency that has become popularly known as “21st century skills.” According to the NRC report, those skills encompass three dimensions: cognitive, which involves thinking and reasoning; intrapersonal, which involves managing behavior and emotions; and interpersonal, which involves expressing ideas and communicating those ideas to others.

Though the report focuses on K-12 education, Silver said the arguments also could be applied at the college level. “These skills will be outcomes of education only if we orient our curriculum, instructional methods and assessments to the cultivation of these skills and disposition.”

“Higher education can play a key role in supporting this ambitious goal for American schools by refining expectations regarding what it means for students to be ‘college ready’ by contributing expert advice regarding domain-specific versions of deep understanding,” Silver said. Those in higher education can also help by engaging in interdisciplinary research ventures focused on 21st century skills.

Interested in learning more? Read the report online.

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