I get that kids need 21st Century skills, and I fully support the thinking behind the framework. Further, the skills must necessarily be interwoven in all disciplines in order for students to truly embrace them. However, wading through the list to get to the core of what might be considered the most crucial of skills is quite a task.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21, 2009) has divided the skills up as follows:
Learning and Innovation Skills
Information, Media and Technology Skills
Life and Career Skills
Within each category, there a number of additional divisions of skills, such as Social and Cross-Cultural Skills, which falls "under" Life and Career Skills (P21, 2009, p.6). What's striking about the presentation is that everything seems equally important, and it can be overwhelming to teachers, new and veteran alike. Where to begin? How to begin? Good grief, how can I get it all in?
I humbly suggest that we focus on the one skill that underscores ALL of these skills: critical thinking. Oh, it's in there, of course, couched under Learning and Innovation.
But without the ability to think, students are unlikely to achieve any of other skills.
If a student cannot think and reason well, he's probably not going to collaborate well because it is through reason that empathy and the ability to see things from someone else's perspective that collaboration is meaningful. If students aren't thinking critically, they aren't thinking creatively or innovatively enough to meet the demands of flexibility and adaptability that P21 suggests.
Thus, the need for thinking is most significant.
I get a little agitated when discussing thinking because I don't see that districts/schools afford teachers the time to dig into the depths required for students to achieve it. Understanding how to think and why we think what we think takes time for processing and reflection. I also get a little frustrated when the presentation of information is so overwhelming.
It can be simpler than that.
We can help students, more, if we focus on just the thinking. The other stuff will naturally emerge. Help them think and reason. Help them see how their thinking, if they take the time to allow it happen, will lead them to arrive at more logical conclusions, conclusions that are inline with the degree of collaboration, creativity, and life skills we want them to have.
Nike says "Just Do It."
Consider: "Just Think."
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009, December). P21 framework definitions. Retrieved February 25, 2014 from http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/P21_Framework_Definitions.pdf