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May 1, 2022
Vol. 79
No. 7

Mapping Skills for the Future

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College- and career-readiness skills can easily get lost if you don’t have a clear schoolwide plan for teaching them.
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Curriculum
Assessment
Instructional Strategies
Mapping Skills for the Future
Credit: YURIY GOLUB / SHUTTERSTOCK
The curricula in our schools are, among other things, meant to support students in being ready for college and careers. Many standards call for students to engage in critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration—all skills meant to equip them for the future. However, these standards may not be enough to ensure all students end their K–12 journey with the capabilities they need. Standards are often discipline specific, meaning a student may only get exposure to that skill in one course. It is educators' responsibility to move from hoping students gain career-readiness skills to ensuring our students walk away with what they need to be ready for life beyond K–12. Singapore American School, where I work, embarked on a five-year process to do just that.

Start with Mission and Vision

It's important to start with the "Why?" behind this work. Schools often have a clear mission and vision to guide purposeful decision making around curriculum and instruction. School leaders must facilitate reflection on the mission and vision and the goals that drive the daily work of teachers (DuFour et al., 2016). A school mission articulates "Why do we exist?" while a school vision answers the question "What must our school become to accomplish our purpose?"
When it comes to college and career readiness, school leaders should hold input sessions with all stakeholders of the community to refine their school's mission and vision so it articulates language that expands upon their guiding principles. For example, the vision statement of Singapore American School is "Cultivating exceptional thinkers prepared for the future." We expanded that language into phrases such as:
  • "Creating lifelong learners ready for their futures"
  • "An education prepared for the future"
  • "Critical thinkers, collaborators and problem solvers ready for college, career and life"
By committing to a clear mission and vision like this, school leaders set the stage to develop a curriculum that teaches and assesses key college- and career-readiness skills.

Articulate Necessary Skills

Once everyone across the school has agreed upon the mission and vision, it's time to unpack them into specific college- and career-related skills. In the case of Singapore American School, our vision mentions "exceptional thinkers," but we wanted to define what exactly we meant by that. Teams of educators, community members, and students held a series of discussions to determine the skills that we call our "Learning Aspirations" (Figure 1), articulating specific skills that would create "exceptional thinkers." They also looked at research such as the World Economic Forum's Top 10 Skills of the Future to learn what key skills and competencies students need to be successful.
Miller fig 1
The teams shared these ideas with the larger school community, including parents and students, to gather perception data, asking questions such as, "What are the most important skills and dispositions you want for your students?" and "What skills and dispositions should an ideal graduate of our school have?" It's important to focus on a select number of skills that are critical for college and career readiness and reflect the identity and values of the school. In addition, before making final decisions on which skills to include, leaders should facilitate feedback sessions on drafts as ideas begin to emerge and become more concrete.

Develop Competencies

Once you have a set of learning targets you want to emphasize, the next step is to describe them in detail through a measurable learning progression. College and career competencies are often personal success skills—valuable workplace habits, self-management skills, social-emotional learning skills, and skills for interacting effectively with others (Hess, Colby, & Joseph, 2020)—that are transferable across courses, grades, and learning experiences. One challenge in developing the learning progressions is keeping these competencies succinct. For example, describing "collaboration" could result in a laundry list of skills.
To avoid confusion, Singapore American School came up with a "1-2-3" approach for structuring target capabilities: For one "learning aspiration," there are two competencies and three skills that are learning targets to measure in the classroom (Figure 2). For example, "Collaboration" has two competencies ("Engage in Teamwork" and "Navigate Conflict") each with three skills ("Recognize and manage emotions," "Recognize others' feelings and perspectives," and "Apply strategies to work toward resolution"). While this doesn't encompass all collaboration skills, it does identify the ones that emerged as most important through our design process.
Miller fig 2
To create a draft set of competencies to share, school leaders can form teams of P–12 curriculum leaders who have a high knowledge of standards, assessment, rubrics, and other curriculum development skills. Teams need to articulate a learning progression that works across grade levels and identifies novice-to-expert demonstration of specific skills. They should use student-friendly "I Can" statements that reflect increasing complexity and cognitive demand to describe the performance (Hess et al., 2020). The language also needs to be task neutral to provide multiple opportunities for assessment and performance (Figure 3).
Miller fig 3
Our school took a slightly different approach: we contracted with an outside vendor to draft the progressions, instead of writing the full progressions ourselves. This saved us a lot of time. Once the draft progressions were done, we held feedback sessions with faculty, and then tested the progressions in classrooms with students to see if the language was accessible. In places where students said the language was too technical or confusing, we revised it.

Map Competencies to Curriculum

While educators should have autonomy as they integrate competencies into their instruction, there is always a tension between complete instructional freedom and the need to guarantee that all students get equitable access to effective learning experiences. If educators are allowed full choice of which competencies to implement, students may not grow effectively. So it's important for the competencies to be clearly linked to existing curriculum to make sure they are embedded and not "one more thing" outside of the curriculum. To make this happen, you can create a map that assigns competencies to specific grade levels, teams, and/or disciplines. Figure 4 shows three competencies assigned to specific disciplines or grade levels.
Miller fig 4
To build this map, school leaders should engage in the following process (which is similar to what our school followed):
  1. Audit the existing curriculum for opportunities to leverage strengths. For example, look at how a course might already include collaborative learning activities.
  2. Draft a map that assigns competencies to curriculum areas to ensure all students get equitable amount of exposure (Figure 4). For example, you might assign both grade 7 science and grade 9 English the competency of "Engage in Teamwork."
  3. Seek feedback from teacher leaders on level of "lift" and ease of implementation. For example, school leaders can label and share the competency map with "red lights," for challenges, and "green lights," for skills that are easily to implement. Teacher leaders can give feedback on the accuracy of the changes.
  4. Revise draft from feedback. While some competencies may be a larger lift to fit in a course or grade level, there may some that don't fit at all. For example, you might want to reassign "Design Solutions" to a different course and instead assign "Navigate Conflict" when there isn't an appropriate unit or assessment that would call for students to engage in the design process.
Once the map is complete, it's important that school leaders clearly communicate the "What, Why, & How" of the finished product. Teachers can refer to the map to know what competencies they are required to teach and use it in their planning and team meetings to create lessons and modify assessments.

Develop Performance Assessments

One way to effectively measure student progress in developing college- and career- readiness skills is to use performance assessments that call for independent knowledge transfer. Teachers might assess skills such as "navigating conflict" and "designing solutions," for example, through observable performances, such as presentations, demonstrations, or products that require the students to apply their learning in new and novel situations. In fact, these transdisciplinary skills place value on students being able to think critically about new information and complex issues throughout their lives, and persevere in challenging tasks year after year (McTighe, Doubet, & Carbaugh, 2020).
One example from our school was in a Grade 1 science unit. Students took on the role of engineers and used materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plant or animal external structures function to help them survive and grow. This performance assessment gauged not only science content, but also the skills for the competency "Design Solutions," which aligns to our learning aspiration of creativity. The students tested out ideas and received feedback on both science skills and creative skills, such as brainstorming, experimenting, and reflecting. This is where the teaching and learning of these skills come to life, assuming the tasks are complex, relevant, and authentic to students' lives.

Our next step is to engage in intentional classroom walkthroughs to collect evidence that the skills are taught in the classroom.

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Andrew Miller

Monitoring Progress

As implementation continues, it is important for leaders to continually monitor progress with clear goals and expectations through classroom observations, curriculum artifacts, and teacher surveys. For example, during one year at our school, we asked teachers to design or refine a performance assessment aligned to a competency and implement it with students in the classroom. Supported by professional learning opportunities, teachers worked in teams to implement and reflect on their learning. Leaders then used these assessments as a measure of accountability. In addition, leaders assessed the quality of the performance assessments to identify areas of strength and areas of growth, which informed professional learning and goal setting for the following year. Our next step is to engage in intentional classroom walkthroughs to collect evidence that the skills are taught in the classroom.

A Map for the Future

The work of integrating college and career readiness into the curriculum is both exciting and challenging. It allows teachers to work together to intentionally teach and assess students' progress in critical skills, but requires a clear and inclusive implementation process with ongoing support and professional learning opportunities for teachers.
Because of this, school leaders will need to develop their own multi-year plan that includes parent, faculty, and student voices, and they will need to allow feedback to drive decision making. While there may be changes to the process in terms of timeline and structure, leaders should remain committed to this work, to arrive at the finish line where they can say, "We intentionally support our students' college and career readiness."

Reflect & Discuss

➛ 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?

References

DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T., & Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work (3rd ed.). Solution Tree.

Hess, K., Colby, R., & Joseph, D. (2020). Deeper competency-based learning: Making equitable, student-centered, sustainable shifts. Corwin.

McTighe, J., Doubet, K., & Carbaugh, E. M. (2020). Designing authentic performance tasks and projects: Tools for meaningful learning and assessment. ASCD.

Andrew Miller is the director of teaching and learning at Singapore American School in Singapore. He is also an ASCD faculty member and author.

As an education consultant and member of ASCD's FIT Teaching® Cadre, Andrew Miller supports schools with strategic planning and professional development on a variety of topics, and engages teachers in ongoing reflection to improve instructional practice and increase student learning.

He is the director of Teaching and Learning at Singapore American School, supporting implementation of competency-based learning, customized pathways, and flexible learning environments. There, he also engages in long-term strategic planning and organizational change and leads comprehensive curriculum reviews to support coherence and consistency.

As an expert facilitator of personalized, authentic professional learning, Miller has supported schools and districts in short- and long-term implementation of programs focused on PBL, FIT Teaching, assessment, and student engagement. He has also been a classroom teacher, instructional coach, and administrator.

Miller's publications include ASCD's Arias title Freedom to Fail: How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom? as well as numerous blogs and articles with ASCD, Edutopia, and other journals and websites.

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