The 4 Cs of Learning

You know the four Cs right? I mean everyone is talking about them. The four Cs that are going to change education in the 21st century? They are amazing! Do a Google Image Search for 21st Century Skills and you get a beautiful display of the four Cs. Great colors, wonderful wording and multiple ways to explain:

Communication

Collaboration

Creativity

Critical Thinking

I look at this list from the lens of a 4th grade teacher, a tech coach, a consultant or a substitute teacher and I can’t help but think…really? This is new? There is nothing new in this list that educators haven’t been teaching and focused on for years. Don’t get me started on these being “21st century skills,” a phrase I gave up over 7 years ago. So why do these things keep coming up?

As I work with schools and educators, we do focus on these four Cs. They aren’t new…but in a way they actually are new. How we view them is new, what they mean is new. In 2016 these four Cs have a different meaning.

Communication: Teaching to communicate the way the world communicates

Not sure if you have noticed, but we no longer write letters to each other. We write Facebook updates, Facebook messages. We write emails…lots of them actually. We write LinkedIn updates, Tweets, Snaps, and Grams. I’m not saying it’s right…I’m saying this is how the world, both socially and in the business world, communicate. So where are we teaching this in schools? Where are we teaching:

Yes…communication isn’t new to education but how we communicate has changed. Are we teaching these new forms of communication? Where do they belong in our curriculum? At what level should we start and how do we assess these new forms of communication? Those are the questions we should be trying to answer in 2016.

Collaboration: Across space and time

Collaboration isn’t new. I remember doing group projects in elementary school in the 80’s. We collaborated on projects, on worksheets, on reading and science projects. Collaboration….getting along, working with others…has always been a part of education. So why is this a “21st century skill”?

In 2016 collaboration means across space and time. How are your students collaborating across periods in the school day (2nd period and 6 period working on a project together)? How are they collaborating across schools in your district or across schools in your state/country/continent/world?

I think about this every time one of my friends that work for Amazon talks about getting up at 3am to be on a conference call with India, China, Singapore, name-your-country. Or every time I have to get up early or stay up late for an Eduro, COETAIL, or Learning2 meeting. Collaborating across space and time is how the world works today. It’s how business gets done. I was talking about this with a gentleman sitting next to me on the plane today who instantly went to understanding cultures. How his company was doing business in France and failing until they started looking at the culture of France and accepting that they have a different way of operating. Once his company accepted and embraced the culture, it became much more successful. Collaborating with other students in your class in so 1990’s. We need to start creating ways for students to collaborate across space and time.

Creativity: To a global audience

It’s one thing to create something for your teacher or even a presentation for your class where everyone knows who you are. It’s something completely different to create something for an audience that you don’t know. Whether that is a YouTube video, an update on a Wikipedia page or a comment on an Amazon book review. Have you ever noticed how students try a little harder, do a little better, when their creations go beyond the classroom? In 2016 when we talk about creativity we do not mean creating something for a closed audience but rather we’re talking about creating something for a global audience. We’re also not talking about just “putting something out there” but rather finding a community that will appreciate the creation that the students worked so hard to produce. Create a google map of the Oregon Trail? Share it with your local community or local government. Create a recipe? Share it with one of a number of recipe sites on the Internet today and see how others rate it and improve on it.

It’s not just about “putting stuff out there” but rather creating content that has a purpose, has an audience, has a community.

Critical Thinking: Creating Problem Finders

When we talk about critical thinking skills we usually talk about problem-solving skills. We want students to be good problem solvers. I’m not saying that’s a bad goal. But time and time again I’ve been told that what we really need is Problem Finders. That’s a different skill…that’s a different type of critical thinking. We need to be able to find the problems that need to be solved.

What about giving students a mathematical equation that has a mistake in it. Their job….find the mistake (problem finder) and then solve it correctly (problem solver). Where is the bug in the code, or a bug in the production line, maybe it’s a problem with a science experiment. Whatever it is….how are you creating opportunities for students to be problem finders not just problem solvers?

The “C” word of education:

The C word that doesn’t make the list and probably is at the root of a lot of things we’re talking about these days in education is the word CONTROL. It’s a nasty word that many educators struggle with. When we talk about giving up control in the classroom we do not mean giving up structure. If you are going to give the control of the learning over to the students it means you need more structure in place not less. Routines need to be in place, timing needs to be clearly delineated, and a system needs to exist so that students can have control of the learning. Giving over control of the learning to students does not mean less prep-time, less work for the teacher…..at the beginning it actually means more work as teachers learn a new way of structuring their classroom around student interest, student questions and take on a new role as a facilitator and coach of learning.

The four C’s are not new…they are different. We need to come to a new understanding of what these mean in 2016 and beyond. I’m sorry to break the news to you, but your grandkids are not going to write you letters, they are going to Skype or Facetime you. Your next employee might not work in the same room as you, and your next project might have you focused on finding the problem and then handing it off to someone else to solve. Your next job opportunity might come through a LinkedIn connection or via something that you published publically. This is how work gets done in 2016. This is how we need to start defining the four C’s for our students.

7 Comments

  1. Always gives me lots of food for thought, so I’ll keep cheering him on. But I always want to know more about Jeff’s “we” — I’ve never met that subject yet…that and the confident inevitability that comes from a conspicuous lack of pluralism leaves me scratching my head. Again I like it.

    • I refer to we in this post as both the collective that is educators globally, which I consider myself part of, and we as society as a whole.

  2. My student shared a science project which inspired many in their audience to help with environmental conservation. This helped them to recognize that they can have a powerful and positive influence even though they are children.

  3. I feel that as a teacher I need to take student learning and engagement to the next level, especially in terms of the “c” collaboration. I have always had a focus on collaboration on projects that happen inside my classroom, but I realize after reading this posting that I need to move my thinking beyond my classroom, and really take advantage of the digital world we are living in. It is a goal of mine to take projects to the next level and have students share their work with others in our school and in the world beyond. I hope that by making this change students will take great pride in their creations and thinking processes, do their best work, and learn from others as well.

  4. I do find that media and technology changes are very different and changing rapidly. Trying to keep up with the different on communication tools is scary and awesome at the same time. I hope that I am able to keep up a little in order to prepare my students for their future because it promises to be VERY DIFFERENT than the present. That is why I think that teaching independent critical thinking, being “fearless” in questioning, and continuing to learn new things are of utmost importance.

  5. Always interested to read your thoughts, Jeff, but “Collaborating with other students in your class in so 1990’s.” Yes, but and this is a big but, if students can’t collaborate with their neighbor they are unlikely to be able to collaborate at a distance either.

    • Totally agree……my argument here is collaborating with your neighbor is still very important….and teachers for decades now have been trained to have students work in collaborative small groups face to face. I do not want to take that away….however I want to trade in 1 maybe 2 of those face to face collaborative times to be across space and time.

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