By Huda Harajli, Teacher at Crestwood School District and Instructional Coach

Translation: العربية

Rigor, data, growth, percentiles, and achievement are all educational terms used to describe the modern classroom. The term “21st century skills” generally refers to certain core competencies, such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving which most advocates agree are necessary to help students thrive in today’s world. However, there is a need to visualize and make “21st century classroom” more than buzz words. Below are four strategies to build a 21st century classroom.

1. Student Engagement

Schools are often guided by test scores. This sobering reality impacts teachers and students alike and we likely feel powerless to change this. Teacher and administrator frustration, in this case, is incredibly valid. After all, standardized testing is rarely a local decision and drains valuable resources and time.

However, student engagement remains a key component of any 21st century classroom.

The world around us is evolving at a rapid rate. Yet, our classrooms seem to be stuck in the past. We need to center our practice around student engagement. How often do students go home and tell their parents that they did “nothing” in school? This simply means that they didn’t engage in anything meaningful or relevant to them. The answer to engagement is not creating classrooms that are fun. Instead, we should be designing lessons and explorations that allow students to be in charge of their learning.

Bonus resource: A teacher shares her process for designing student-led lessons >>

2. Flexible Seating

More and more classrooms are beginning to resemble a Starbucks, rather than something from 100 years ago. Through flexible seating, students are taking control of their time at school. Despite the initial challenges of setting up the expectations, students thrive in collaborative open spaces.

On a global level, students sit for an average of 8.5 hours a day. There is a small but enthusiastic group of teachers and administrators who believe that kids are destined to do more than just spend their school days sitting still with their knees tucked under a desk. The flexible seating movement allows students to choose their view and seating at school. Through choice and flexibility students take ownership of their learning and experiences at school.

Bonus Resource: A teacher shares her process for giving students ownership of their learning with an inductive teaching model >>

3. The Power of Talk

Novice teachers and many well-meaning administrators are convinced that quiet classrooms are the best classrooms. We admire educators that have silent classrooms that are glazed with order.

However, by limiting talk, we are also robbing students of the opportunity to converse on a deeper level with peers and adults at school. Workplaces and universities are loud and collaborative. None of us consider this to be offensive and yet classrooms that include talking are considered ineffective. Talk is powerful when it is intentional and allows students to explore and share their thinking.

Bonus Resource: Create authentic learning experiences that model real-world learning and develop future-oriented skills >>

4. Rethinking Reading

Reading guarantees, third grade retention, and billions of dollars of funding have not solved the reading crisis that has dominated education since the 1980s. Through well-intended reading instruction, we have created generations of people who are seemingly averse to reading.

Studies have shown that the majority of people have not read a book since college. We have reduced reading to worksheets, comprehension activities, Venn diagram circles, and standardized reading passages and tests. Is it any wonder that some students and adults hold negative perceptions about reading? Imagine being told that you cannot read a book which you are genuinely interested in because it’s not your “reading level”. Consider that scene playing out repeatedly.

In today’s world, we need readers. We need people who love to read. We desperately need compassionate readers who can read books which challenge them to be a global citizen. The 21st century classroom needs to have rich libraries that do not restrict children due to a reading level. Students need to be exposed to diverse texts and characters to build empathy and courage. The 21st century demands it.

Bonus Resource: Increase student engagement with five strategies to  improve reading >>

Contributing Author:

Huda Harajli is an educator and instructional coach based out of Michigan. She is passionate about literacy and teaching. She is currently a third grade teacher and also works to develop curriculum for school districts. Huda can be reached at: [email protected]

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