Appendix A - Definitions of Terms - “21st Century Skills”
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Critical thinking and problem solving are interrelated skills that require the individual to be able to analyze a problem, break it down into its constituent parts, understand the relationships among those parts, and then determine the best solution. Such skills may appear discipline-specific, but they are transferable to a wide-range of problems across a range of domains. Thus, the analysis of a poem that begins by identifying the poem as a sonnet, uses form as a starting place for understanding theme, which is very much the same approach a mechanic might use when noting that a particular engine is air-cooled rather than water-cooled, leading in one direction of problem-solving rather than another.
Collaborating with others towards a shared or collective goal demands the commitment of the individual to the collective good and the balancing of individual strengths and weaknesses in order to capitalize on the strengths of the group. Negotiation, give and take, appropriate allocation of responsibility: these are the necessary skills to successful collaboration. Studies have shown that groups have a powerful advantage over individual problem-solvers, so teaching students the skills they need to work well in groups will place them in a position of advantage for future.
Entrepreneurialism is a disposition towards activity that provides the impetus to move from the conception of an idea or project through to its successful implementation, i.e., bringing into existence something that had not been there before. The essence is not economic in the sense that many may see this term, but rather descriptive of the passion engendered by true engagement and a desire to see a project through to completion. This entrepreneurial spirit may manifest itself in a service learning project, in an independent study, or in any activity in which a student has a vision and initiates a process and carries it through to the realization of that vision.
Written and Oral Expression
The ability to choose and use a variety of rhetorical forms to communicate appropriately and effectively in writing and the ability to prepare and deliver remarks orally in front of individuals or groups: these skills are the sin qua non for any educated person. They are essential to success in virtually any field human endeavor.
Intercultural competency is the ability to use knowledge, awareness, and skills to achieve effective interactions between and among different individuals, groups, and institutions. Effective interactions are those that result in respectful, inclusive, and equitable relationships, treatment, and systems. Intercultural Competency requires the self-awareness that each individual is a multicultural being with biases and prejudices that effect decisions and actions. It further requires a willingness to challenge one’s own knowledge-base and perspective to foster empathy for others and maintain competence in an ever-changing environment.
All children are naturally creative, and the goal of identifying creativity as a 21st Century skill is to highlight the increasing importance of this skill or disposition in an age when so much routine work can be done by machines. Creativity cannot be outsourced, so it must be nurtured at every level and in every discipline by fostering an environment that encourages and supports divergent, creative, independent, and original thinking. Supporting classrooms that are student-centered and pedagogy that allows students to learn by doing is an essential step in creating environments that nurture and support students’ innate creativity.
Adaptability and Resilience
The ability to respond fluidly and constructively to changing and even chaotic conditions is the central element of adaptability. Because not all adaptions will necessarily be successful, the twin element of resilience must be developed in students by creating an environment in which appropriate risk-taking is encouraged, where real success brings a possibility of real failure. True resilience can only be developed by experiencing setbacks or failures and then learning how to move constructively forward from them. The elimination of obstacles, of opportunities for failure and the consequences of failure, undermines the development of resilience and may have the additional outcome of producing risk-averse graduates who are unable or unwilling to attempt new or different challenges.