On Sunday morning (bright and early) at the 2016 KOTESOL International Conference I will be hosting a workshop entitled, “Is it okay to teach English instead of 21st century skills?” Yeah, I think it is a sexy title, too. In this session I mostly just want to talk and think about (what I see as) the push towards 21st century skills. I’d also like to figure out what 21st century skills means to other people. Here is the abstract for the session, which in some ways repeats parts of what I just said:
The phrase, 21st century skills is something of a buzzword and a common theme of ELT conferences in the region and world. These skills are, of course, related to the theme of this conference. The need for English teachers to focus on these 21st century skills appears to be largely unquestioned. More teachers are focused on enhancing students‘ creativity, critical thinking, and 21st century technology skills. Is this the right path? In this interactive session, reasons for and against these expanding roles will be considered. Participants can expect to walk away from the session with a clearer sense of their actual roles and desired roles as English teachers and their reasons for choosing these roles.
As part (a large part!) of the session I’d like to share some opinions on 21st century skills that I’ve heard and ask the participants to give their thoughts on these. Below is the start (or the rough draft) of my list. If you have any additions please feel free to let me know. Also, if you have any thoughts on any of these please feel free to fire away. Without further delay here are the opinions I’d like to hear participants’ (and your) opinions on:
- If you are trying to teach critical thinking skills in an EFL situation where the students are below upper-intermediate you are doing them a disservice. It is hard enough to learn English let alone have to worry about critical thinking too! If you really want to teach critical thinking then you should become a subject teacher in the students’ L1 or work with very high levels.
- If you are teaching English to adult students or even college students and you are trying to teach them how to collaborate you are wasting both your time and their time. If they don’t know how to work with others yet they are never going to learn and it is not your duty or concern.
- Some people say that 2st century skills are just another fad but I can’t see it like that. These are things students will need and this is not changing anytime soon. We, as a profession, need to step away from our old-fashioned thinking and modernize our teaching practices.
- My issue with this push for creativity training (and all the other stuff) is that the teachers who profess the need for it are not adequately trained to do these sorts of things. Kudos to KOTESOL for putting this front and center but there needs to be even more training and support for teachers who are taking the important and necessary plunge into these new waters.
- If 21st century skills are so important why do our students even need to waste their time learning to speak English? Why not just teach them to code or something?
- 21st century skills is nothing but jargon designed to sell textbooks and bring people to conferences. This term doesn’t mean anything or change anything. Let’s focus on important and real things instead.
- I think this push to teach Asian students to be more creative is borderline racist. These teachers come from “native English speaking countries” and try to save students the education system that supposedly kills creativity. Maybe just do the you are hired to do. We don’t need another hero.
- This is the ELF era and what is most important is collaboration with people who don’t share an L1. When they start working, many of our students will be speaking on conference calls to English users from places like China, Japan and Malaysia so we need to prepare them for this reality. Old style grammar and writing focused classes are a waste of time and the key is giving students practice in situations they might really be in.
- I am afraid that too many teachers these days are attracted to shiny new webtools and use them without considering the pedagogical value of such sites and tools. What we need is a return to solid pedagogical principles.
- If you are hired to teach history you teach history. If you are hired to teach English you teach English. It’s very simple. I am not sure why we need to add all these new roles to the job. Our field is filled with this sense of inadequacy and doom so we are always looking to do more. In this case it is shortsighted because it takes away from our main job which is teaching English. Anything else is an unnecessary distraction.
- It’s not a just a buzzword when it can change students’ lives for the better. I honestly don’t understand the reluctance of some to face reality. What are they fighting against. We are in the 21st century so of course we should be helping students cope with this in any way we can regardless of our job title.
- I think Mike’s title for this workshop (it’s really just a discussion isn’t it?) is a bit off. He asks, “Is it okay to teach English instead of 21st century skills?” Why does it have to be either or? Can’t it be both? Do we have to choose just one?
- It is our duty to prepare students for the globalized world out there and if we stick to just teaching grammar and vocab we are robbing students of a chance to compete in the global marketplace.
- English is inextricably linked to both the internet and globalization. To attempt to teach English without helping students develop skills related to tech is cruel and unusual punishment.
- I feel sad for those students who are stuck with dinosaur teachers who refuse to do anything that is not in the textbook. Creativity is the name of the game these days and the students will suffer from the bad luck of having stubborn and antiquated teachers.
- I am sorry but I think the people who are talking up 21st century skills have never really considered why they are important. What is the big deal? If it is important won’t students learn it on their own?
- I think anyone who criticizes focusing on creativity in language class is missing the point! When students’ creativity is explored and exploited they have more fun, activate their brains, and learn more. It is that simple.
Again, any comments and suggested additions are very welcome!