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using future skills to unlock young learners’ potential

using future skills to unlock young learners’ potential


If you missed our Spring Days webinar series, don’t worry – the webinars are now available to view online. One of the authors who participated was Annie Altamirano, co-author of the Now I Know! series, which is aimed at primary-level students. Annie is an educational consultant, teacher trainer and writer with more than thirty years’ experience of teaching different levels. In her webinar she explores the pedagogical theory behind the four Cs and the future skills that young learners need to develop for success in today’s world. 

What do we mean by future skills? 

The skills students will need in their future studies and careers are dramatically different from those required previously. Times are changing rapidly and educational institutions and teachers have a critical role to play in developing those skills in our young learners so that they are able to fulfil their potential and have bright futures ahead of them. 

These skills are referred to as future skills. There is no common consensus on how to define these skills, but, broadly speaking, they can be grouped into four categories: 

1. Ways of thinking

Skills in this category include critical thinking, creativity, innovation, problem solving, metacognition and learning skills.

2. Ways of working

Here, we’re talking about the skills of communication and collaboration.

3. Tools for working

Information literacy is an important 21st century skill, as well as ICT literacy and citizenship, both global and local. 

4. Life skills

The final category covers life and careers skills and is all about personal and social responsibility. 

One way you can encourage young learners to build these skills is through STEAM subjects (that’s science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) which will equip them with functional skills such as organizing, planning, cognitive flexibility and self-regulation. 

The four Cs 

The four Cs refer to four important skills for young learners to master; communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. These are essential, not just in an educational context, but in everyday life. 

Falling into the first two categories of future skills (ways of thinking and ways of working), these can help children build confidence and self-esteem. They also encourage healthy emotional development.  

So let’s take a closer look at the theory behind them: 

1. Communication

We normally think of communication as speaking and listening, but it’s actually much broader than that. Communication encapsulates telling stories, reading, sharing ideas and experiences, body language, facial expression, eye contact and tone. Children learn to decipher the world around them by learning and practicing these skills.

Strong communication skills, developed early, are directly related to their literacy success. These skills allow children to articulate their thoughts and ideas effectively, and listen to decode meaning. Students then begin to use communication for a range of purposes, and communicate effectively in diverse environments. What’s more, developing strong patterns of verbal and non-verbal communication also foster self-esteem and social skills. 

2. Collaboration

Collaboration is how young children begin to build friendships with others. At first, young children will watch what others do and say, before moving on to playing together. As they get older, they become aware of other children’s feelings and ideas. Friendships become motivating and they learn how to make compromises and respect each other’s perspectives and skills. 

Collaboration is enhanced through group work and project-based activities, sharing time with peers. Children thrive when they feel valued by the people around them, not just adults but their peers too. 

Teaching teenagers? Learn more in our article: 5 ways to get your teens to collaborate more effectively

3. Creativity

Creativity is a complex concept. Many people think that creativity is being good at painting, or drawing, but actually creativity can manifest itself in a multitude of ways. Some of the attributes of creative thinking involve divergent thinking, imagination, flexibility, and the tolerance of ambiguity. 

Children who can express themselves creatively show less frustration and develop a joy of learning. And this expression can take many forms; writing or drama, dance and other movement, and scientific exploration – to name just a few.

Part of creativity is learning to innovate. Innovation is how children test their thinking, and how they interact with their world. Creative children are able to create content from their own ideas or other resources. They can use that newly created content to solve problems, and participate in creative activities. 

Teaching teenagers? Check out our article: 5 Ways to boost creativity in the secondary classroom

4. Critical thinking 

Critical thinking refers to the higher levels of thinking that learners need to enable them to think rationally and effectively about their needs, the best way to do things, identifying links between ideas, analysing points of view, evaluating arguments, and supporting evidence and reasoning. It’s about thinking in a non-linear, open-ended way, allowing for multiple responses and unspecified answers, and considering issues from various perspectives, challenging assumptions and exploring possible alternatives. 

Critical thinking is not a natural function like sleeping or eating. Children benefit significantly from teaching methods that take the development of their thinking skills seriously. And when children start applying critical thinking skills, they’ll begin to enjoy more challenging tasks. 

Teaching teenagers? Discover more in our article: How to get teenagers to think critically.

Five steps to the four Cs

So how can teachers plan their lessons to develop these four skills in their young learners? There are five steps which provide a framework that challenges and stimulates students: 

1. Determine learning objectives and define behaviors that learners should exhibit

Think about the purpose of your lesson. What new concept or information do you want your students to absorb? And what learning behaviors do you want to elicit from them? Clarifying these aims before your lesson will help you to measure its success afterwards. 

2. Model a new concept and encourage students to think critically and creatively through questioning

It’s important for the teacher to plan significant questions, and give students time to respond. Follow up on those responses, asking probing questions and periodically summarising key points of the discussion. There are various types of questions you can use in class: 

  • Clarification questions, eg. what do you mean? Can you explain that more? Could you put that in another way? 
  • Assumption questions, eg. why do you think so? Would you make this assumption? 
  • Evidence questions, eg. Can you give me an example? Do you think this is true? 
  • Origin or source questions, eg. Where did you get that idea? Is this your own idea or did you hear it from someone else? 
  • Consequence questions, eg. What effect would that have? What would the implications be? What alternatives could there be? 
  • Viewpoint questions, eg. How are these ideas different? How would different groups of people respond? 

It’s important to include as many students as possible in the discussion. In this way, they are more likely to communicate with each other, and discover knowledge on their own. 

Read more about Big Questions. 

3. Choose activities that promote active learning 

One activity that usually gets a good response is the KWL approach. Create a table with three columns:

  • K = what students Know 
  • W = what they Want to know 
  • L = what they have Learned

Once the class has completed the first two columns, you can put the table aside until the end of the lesson or the topic. Then complete the final column as a way of reviewing everything that has been covered in the lesson. 

Also try think-pair-share activities. Assign students short tasks to complete individually. Just make sure that they prompt learners to come up with creative responses. Once students have had an opportunity to think critically and creatively about the concept, they can share their ideas with a partner before sharing with the whole class. 

4. Prompt communication and collaboration, and give students an opportunity to review and refine their ideas 

Moving into larger groups, learners can share their work, accept different perspectives and defend their own point of view. Presenting to one another and answering questions will prompt them to review and refine their ideas before the final step in the process.

5. Learners present their work, getting feedback and creating an opportunity for self-assessment 

Depending on the type of work you’re doing, presenting could be as simple as sharing answers to questions or giving a project presentation with a group spokesperson. Encourage the other members of the class to ask questions and provide feedback, as well as giving your own feedback. Then, encourage learners to reflect on their participation in the lesson.

Learn more 

For more practical applications of this process, you’ll find examples in the webinar, including details of lessons from Now I Know!, the series for young learners which incorporates future skills into each unit. For further reading of the 4 Cs, check out this blog on teaching 21st century communication, and the 21st century skills that secondary learners need

For more ideas on using questions in class, have a look at Jeanne Perrett’s webinar on inquiry-based learning. If you’re working with young learners, you might also be interested in Carol Higho’s webinar about active learning





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