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May 1, 2022
Vol. 79
No. 8

Reader's Guide / Lighting a Rocky Path

    School Culture
    Professional Learning
    Reader's Guide (stock thumbnail)
    Credit: Grinbox / Shutterstock
      I'm not sure I'd want to be a young person entering the "real world" in 2022, confronting a rocky road.
      In some ways, young people have more options now than in past decades. More high school students are encouraged to pursue college education. And many employers in fields that require skills training but not a college degree are hungry for workers. But having many options without clarity on how to pursue each can be overwhelming. And as low college completion rates indicate, many young people enter college without truly being prepared to do college-level work. At the same time, an article on the education news site The 74 notes that high school grads aren't pursuing in big numbers well-paying "mid-level" jobs available to those with specialized vocational skills. It seems many students need to receive more guidance—or more skills—in school to find their path to a satisfying future.
      The authors featured in this issue of EL want to change this situation. They propose ways teachers, leaders, and counselors in secondary schools can better prepare youth to take on the challenges they will face—whether in college or career training, personal interactions, or in terms of high-stakes societal problems like climate change or a new pandemic.
      One thing these writers agree on is that schools need to equip students with skills beyond those needed for traditional school success. Michele Borba asserts, "This generation will need more than grades and scores to thrive in an … unpredictable new world." Critical thinking, creativity, and social-emotional skills are central to that skill set, as Harvey Silver, Abigail Boutz, and Jay McTighe explain: "To prepare students for this modern world full of unpredictable, complicated problems, we can't just arm them with information. We must help them become sophisticated, flexible thinkers." Silver and coauthors unpack five thinking practices—inquiry, design, evaluation, argumentation, and systems thinking—and ways to integrate them into schoolwork.
      Another skill students will need is the ability to work collaboratively. Kristina Doubet worries about the long-term impact of the pandemic on collaborative work in schools. Educators must now plan better group-learning experiences, including creating classrooms that help all kids feel safe enough to put in the work of working with others. Erik Palmer points to yet another skill: speaking. People who are adept in presenting and discussing ideas orally, he argues, have an advantage in today's economy—so why don't schools deliver actual lessons in speaking well?
      We can't talk about the rocky post-high school road without thinking about equity. In an exclusive interview, journalist Paul Tough discusses his recent work on how the U.S. higher education system is "perpetuating inequality for individual students." Tough believes this situation has profound implications for the way we prepare students for life after high school. Likewise, 2022 National School Counselor of the Year Alma Lopez emphasizes the importance of counselors' work, including introducing students to career options and making the idea of "college" less abstract as early as middle school.
      This issue also highlights models for transforming high school by better integrating technical skills prized in the job market into learning—from career academies focused on fields like health care, to career-pathway curriculum sequences, to courses co-created with industry leaders. Gene Bottoms, a leader in career-tech education, describes how future-sighted schools are making CTE courses more rigorous through real-world project-based assignments that integrate high-level academic content.
      Such models show that educators, even as we recover as a society from the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, can both teach students essential skills and illuminate their path—even if it's sometimes rocky.

      Reflect and Discuss

      "Future-Proofing Students" by Michele Borba

      ➛ Why do you think human skills will be so crucial to students' future success?

      ➛ Which of these seven traits is particularly lacking in your school or classroom? What practical steps could you and/or your team take to boost students' skills in this area?

      ➛ Choose one or two traits to focus on in your next PD session: How might the adults in your building better model these traits?

      "Reviving Collaboration in Classrooms" by Kristina J. Doubet

      ➛ How has the pandemic changed the way you do group work in your school or classroom? What have been the upsides and downsides of these changes?

      ➛ In what areas of collaborative work do your students struggle? How can you apply Doubet's suggestions to help with those challenges?

      ➛ Does this article inspire you to put more emphasis on collaborative work in your school or classroom? Why or why not?

      ➛ Are there ways at your school or district for teachers of academic courses and teachers of CTE in related fields to coordinate in terms of what and how students are taught?

      ➛ Do you agree that, for many students, the typical high school curriculum has not adapted to current career-preparation demands? If so, what do you see as the barriers to change?

      ➛ Consider the criteria for powerful assignments in Figure 1 in terms of one of your student projects. How could you have students follow a problem-solving process, learn new software, or other criteria as part of the project?

      "5 Ideas for Developing Real-World Thinking Skills" by Harvey F. Silver, Abigail L. Boutz, and Jay McTighe

      ➛ In what ways do you or your school currently teach the kind of thinking processes outlined in this article? Are you doing enough?

      ➛ Do you agree that the entire curriculum should ultimately be designed around "authentic, complex thinking tasks"? How big a shift would that be for your school or district?

      ➛ Review the Sample Task Starters for the "Design" process in Figure 1 (online). How could you adapt one of these "starters" to make an assignment that lets students tap their knowledge and creativity to design something?

      ➛ What methods do you currently use to track whether students are developing "future-ready" skills?

      ➛ How might you start creating a map to track competencies you want students to develop over time?

      End Notes

      1 Cantor, D. (2019). Half of America's jobs require more than high school diplomas but less than four-year degrees. The 74.

      Naomi Thiers is the managing editor of Educational Leadership.

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