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Developing Power Skills for a 21st-Century Classroom

What really matters in the modern classroom? Is it:

  1. To deliver the core knowledge curriculum to ensure learners know and remember more?

  2. To fulfil a broad function of getting learners ready for work with the requisite skills?

In this blog, we will discuss how it doesn’t have to be a choice between the two and that the wraparound learning of soft - or power - skills is possible through the use of technology.

According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), who represent more than 190,000 businesses and 7 million people in the UK, the top skills their employers require are:

  • Planning & organisation

  • Research & using information

  • Interpersonal

  • Strategic & business thinking

  • Communication

  • Leading & managing people

At the end of 2020, Forbes acknowledged that communication, collaboration, emotional intelligence and adaptability were essential skills for anyone in business, referring to soft skills as power skills. Jen Jamula and Allison Goldberg wrote, “Finally, a truth is solidified: One can’t code their way through creative brainstorms, heated all-hands, or social interactions with colleagues.”

All wine-related jokes aside, there is a real need to ensure that the educational settings we find ourselves in are preparing students for a future where conjugating Latin verbs, memorising key events from the reign of King Stephen and knowing the features of a V-shaped valley is not the be-all and end-all! This is not a bashing of knowledge-rich, discrete-subject, end-point assessed mastery curricula - indeed, there is a place for all of the above within the broader context of a holistic human development educational system. This is not a knowledge vs skills debate - Tim Oates’ brilliant piece in the Chartered College Impact magazine does a much better job than I could in dismantling the myth that it should be an either-or dichotomy:

Oates goes on to make the distinction between the National Curriculum and the school curriculum and it is to this that I feel I can address some ideas about how we ensure the school curriculum caters for the ‘power skills’ development of all learners. This is supplemented by the obligation that maintained schools have under section 78 of the Education Act (2002) which requires schools, as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society. This isn’t some whimsical off-timetable workshop with business leaders or shoehorning British Values into a lesson that is being observed, but rather a conscious decision to ensure that SMSC is embedded in the curriculum.

It is at this stage that we probably should look at the development of these ‘soft’ or ‘power’ skills and how technology can support this. It probably comes as no surprise that I will start with a Google tool that helps develop the 4Cs that are so crucial to the future success of our students. Jamboard, whether using the full 4K device or the Chromebook/web browser app, is a fantastic resource that clearly encourages collaboration and communication. It is a tool that allows learners to add their own ideas and have a stimulus for further synchronous discussion in a classroom or remote setting (remember that Jamboard is now integrated into Google Meet). I have used the tool as a brilliant opportunity to develop creativity and critical thinking too - asking students to use images only to explain their views or ‘ordering’ material in a storyboard template, for example. It is also a great tool for asking students to make decisions about their views on ethical issues, such as genetic engineering or capital punishment, almost with a virtual opinion line like the simple one below. This allows for the technology to fuse nicely with the traditional discursive elements of these types of topics; it isn’t a substitute for pedagogy that clearly works.

On the Edufuturists podcast, we interviewed the brilliant Kavin Wadhar from KidCoach App. The vision of this app is to get kids talking, thinking and feeling by resourcing parents with question cards to work through with their children. These ‘cards’ (they are electronic after all!) are designed with a key question, the skill they are developing, guidance for parents and prompts if the learners are stuck. Questions range from ‘How do you make small talk with someone new?’ to ‘How can we reduce traffic on the roads?’ and ‘When is it good to fail at something?’.

Flipgrid is another excellent tool for helping students to develop interpersonal and communication skills. As a video response tool that empowers students to have a voice, this device-agnostic platform is becoming increasingly adopted by schools around the world. Examples like the one I used below with my Y8 class about Pentecost give students the opportunity to make critical decisions around questions like, “What if…?” or “Why not…?” which help them to develop future-thinking, research and evaluation skills.

Finally, and perhaps my favourite of all the tools I have discussed is BreakoutEDU. Designed as an ‘escape room in a box’, the integration of a physical box with locks, keys and clues with a digital platform is so good for helping students to solve problems, make decisions and work as a team to do it all. I have used this for staff recruitment, as well as group tutorials for learners, Religious Studies lessons with A-Level students and for student induction. In my humble opinion though, the best part of BreakoutEDU, other than the creative nature of getting students to think outside the box (no pun intended), is the use of reflection cards when the ‘task’ is over. Asking students to reflect on their own participation, evaluating the contribution of others and what they have learned, as a metacognitive activity, cannot be underestimated. For the current climate of lockdown learning, the team at BreakoutEDU have even written a blog post on doing the activities over Google Meet or Zoom.

So, let's finish up with a nice sentiment from Mark Dawe, CEO of Skills Network, recently writing in FE Week:

Ben Whitaker is a Google Certified Trainer & Innovator who delivers training across the UK and Europe on behalf of a number of providers. In June 2019, he was appointed as a Curriculum Manager at Burnley College after working as Chief Education Officer for Project Digital, a dynamic partnership between Burnley College and +24 Marketing to deliver digital apprenticeships in the North West. Their aim is simple: to plug the digital skills gap. Ben was previously Assistant Principal: Head of Sixth Form, having taught Religious Studies & Sociology for 12 years. He is an experienced examiner for four of the main examination boards and writes articles across the education spectrum. Ben is co-host of the Edufuturists podcast. One of his proudest achievements is that he trained his own parents on G Suite and they actively use this in their own classroom practice.

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