Original? – May 9, 2016


Why is it so hard for students to THINK?

One particular class I have tries pretty hard, for the most part. They do their work and stay on task for most assignments and discussions. So why is it so difficult for them to approach a writing prompt with good arguments, explain them logically, and support them with evidence?

They read an 11-page article from the Expository Reading and Writing Course and completed 13 various activities developed by California university professionals about the article, from reading to annotating, to identifying arguments, to answering questions.

Yet, as I read their timed writing responses, I wondered if all of this taught them anything? Their papers generally referenced the article, cited the source, and stayed on the topic of the prompt.

But overall, the papers lacked any original ideas. Students did not have a fresh take on the topic. There was little critical thinking. There were few creative anecdotes or evidence that supported their positions.The language in most papers failed to properly communicate basic ideas about the topic.

They are good 20th-century students: reading (maybe), studying (probably not), and regurgitating (definitely) the information when they must. However, this is the 21st-century and they need different skills today.

Maybe it’s my fault – I will be 40 years old this summer and technology has been a struggle for me to learn – but as an instructional coach, I have tried to incorporate technology when I can and implement newly-recommended changes to my instruction.

Maybe it’s the kids – they have been forced so long to follow orders, follow formats, and follow test directions that they have not been able to develop original thought and creativity.

I fear that even though we are using our Chromebooks and having collaborative discussions and working on projects in class (though not entirely project-based learning yet), students still need better instruction from all of us on learning how to THINK.

Critical thinking is essential to success in the 21st century.We hear a lot about the four Cs of 21st century learning: communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. These are the areas that experts say are the most important skills students will need in the 21st century workplace. four-cs-education

Today’s workforce has changed. Employers have the luxury of being picky due to so much competition for jobs.(1)  Part of the competition may be due to the increasing numbers of students studying in the United States, such as students from China and India. In 15 years, the number of such students has increased 72%.(2)  In the Unites States, the declining numbers of qualified college graduates foretells a grim future.(3)

We keep hearing that college is overrated. The media focuses on the high rates of debt college graduates will bear. We hear dazzling stories about internet celebrities who only needed one great idea for a game, app, or YouTube channel to hit the big time. But how important is a quality higher education, really?

According to 2015 Pew research report, “On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment—from personal earnings to job satisfaction to the share employed full time—young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education. And when today’s young adults are compared with previous generations, the disparity in economic outcomes between college graduates and those with a high school diploma or less formal schooling has never been greater in the modern era.”

And are things really that bad? The United States has a current unemployment rate of 5.5%, which is relatively low. It may seem like the economy is rebounding and that employment will be readily available when current students graduate from high school. What good is college in the 21st century, post-modern, digital world?

The reality is that both the labor-force participation rate and employment-population ration have actually declined. The unemployment rate does not include 9.3 million people: six million part-time workers who wanted full-time employment, 1.7 million people who wanted to work but had not looked for work in the previous four weeks, over half a million who wanted a job but believed there were no jobs available, or the 1.1 million who didn’t even look for a job.


Here are the most recent facts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

In April 2016, there were 7.9 million unemployed people. Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for each group was:
Hispanics – 6.1 percent in April,
All adult men – 4.6 percent
Adult women – 4.5 percent
Teenagers – 16.0 percent
Whites – 4.3 percent
Blacks – 8.8 percent and
Asians – 3.8 percent

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) = 2.1 million in April. These individuals accounted for 25.7 percent of the unemployed.

In April, the labor force participation rate decreased to 62.8 percent, and the employment-population ratio edged down to 59.7 percent.

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons…was about unchanged in April at 6.0 million and has shown little movement since November. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

In April, 1.7 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force…These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

Among the marginally attached, there were 568,000 discouraged workers in April… Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.1 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in April had not searched for work...(4)

These 21st century skills will be necessary for students to find meaningful employment, to be successful in college and employment preparation programs, and increasingly essential for wellness, financial, and emotional security in life as well.

Are we giving them the edge they will need to be successful adults?

Are we encouraging them to bypass college because many of us resent our student loans and view those two to four years of college as a waste of time and money?

How many times have you heard someone say, “Bill Gates, Steve jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg never graduated from college?  Well, imagine if they had! Bill Gates is pouring money into education to help prepare students for the future, and he thinks students SHOULD go to college. Read about it here: Bill Gates Says Go To College

Our students are what I consider “transitional” students – at the intersection of the old and new models of education. Teachers who obtained certification over five years ago are unlikely to be prepared for the fast-paced and frenetically-changing environments of technology and education. They are still teaching the majority of students, and many will still be in their career for ten to even thirty years more. For how long will they be using “what always worked?” We need to prepare students for the jobs of the future. How will we do that with old methods for an old paradigm?

Not only that, but many of our students also lack the “soft skills” necessary for success in the world of work. “…Many [students] lack what are commonly referred to as ‘soft skills’ which include the basics for all workers, such as coming to work on time, dressing appropriately, and being able to listen to supervisors and communicate…”(6)

I noticed that as I increased technology in my classroom, students became strangely addicted to their devices, even completely ignoring me when I asked them to close the covers and place their phones face-down on the desks while I gave 30 SECONDS of instructions for an activity.

Soft skills are important in this brave new world of work and education they will be entering. To illustrate the importance of such skills, “…By [age] 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won’t….IQ matters, but [there are] equally important traits that start and then build from those early years: motivation levels, emotional stability, self-control, and sociability….” (5) So even if they have the foundational knowledge and that college degree, they still may not possess the skills they will need for the new workplace.

If you go back and look at the statistics on jobs for minority students, do you wonder why their unemployment rates are higher for these groups?

I wonder. I hope we are not lowering our expectations and shortchanging minority students. Are we overlooking negative behavior and failing to teach important social skills to children who will need them to have more choices in life?  Are we afraid to discipline certain students because we fear being labeled racist? Are we aware of unconscious bias that might be telling us not to expect too much from some students because they obviously won’t be going to college? If so, doing so provides a cruel disservice to our most vulnerable populations.

Lowering expectations harms minority students, as expressed here: “There’s a tremendous gap of achievement between rich and poor, white and minority…Phyllis Hunter…calls reading the new civil right…No child in America should be segregated by low expectations, imprisoned by illiteracy, abandoned to frustration and the darkness of self-doubt…” (7)

One could argue that allowing these exceptions amounts to racism, as expressed by Leonard Pitts, a black man who didn’t realize his test scores were very low compared to his white peers because so many people in his circle congratulated him and falsely built him up: …It burns…to realize people have judged you by a lower standard, especially when you had the ability to meet the higher one all along…Because ultimately, you do not fix education by lowering the bar. You do it by lifting the kids.”(8)

We need to lift all of our kids and teach them ALL the skills they will need to be successful in work and life.

We need to teach 21st century skills like critical thinking and the “soft skills” they will need in the future.

We need to encourage them to go to college, and help them understand financial aid and loans, and help them through the process to get there.

We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing.

We need to change and we need to help them change. Their future depends on it. They may have happier lives. They may participate in a global society. They may change the injustices in our nation…

Plus, their papers might be more interesting!


References: ————————————————————–

(1) https://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/staffingmanagement/articles/pages/fewer-jobs-more-competition-forecast.aspx

(2) http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2014/1117/Record-900-000-international-students-in-US-the-top-countries-they-hail-from

(3) http://thefederalist.com/2015/07/13/more-parents-finally-get-that-college-is-a-scam/; http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/college_bound/2015/04/college_conversation_shifts_from_access_to_completion.html; http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/where-are-all-the-high-school-grads-going/423285/

(4) http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

(5) Brooks, David. “Slowdown of Worker’ Skills the Biggest Issue.” New York Times 30 July 2008. Print.

(6) Katzanek, Jack. “Study: Shortage of Workers Ahead.” Press-Enterprise 10 June 2014. Print.

(7) Bush, George W. “Speech to the NAACP Convention.” Washington Post. 10 July 2000. Web. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/onpolitics/elections/bushtext071000.htm

(8) Pitts, Leonard Jr. Miami Herald. “Don’t Lower the Bar on Educational Standards.” Miami Herald 24 November 2012. Web. http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article1944834.html


* Today, I also graded papers, completed all the unit 2 standards for next year’s standards-based self-check sheet, contacted potential coachees, and created a character activity that I shared on Twitter! Historical Narrative Character Activity – free PDF!



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