1. Teaching Students How to learn
What is the purpose of education? Some might say the purpose is to give students knowledge
about science, English, history, or math. Others might say the purpose is to build character. While these
are all valuable, at the heart of education, is teaching students how to learn. From the time of birth, a
person begins learning- they learn how to talk, how to walk, and eventually how to maintain a career
and become a successful member of society. At some point, whether it is in college or when they enter
the “real world,” learning will be taken into their own hands, and the student must have the
groundwork to know how to learn without instruction. 21 st century learning builds this foundation and
encompasses relevant skills, including collaboration, critical thinking, and digital literacy.
As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one,” and one of the best ways to learn is from
another person. In Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm Model, students work together by taking on
different class roles such as scribes, tutorial designers, researchers, or coordinators (November, 2012).
November explains that this type of collaboration “creates a culture of learning in which students feel
autonomous, masterful, and purposeful” (November, 2012, p. 383). This type of model is evident in
learning experiences and assessments that require students to share ideas, give feedback, and become
contributors. Effective practices include shared notes, jigsaws, think-pair-shares, or virtual discussion
The ability to think outside of the box, solve problems, and analyze information is prized, and
these are the skills that have lead to many of the world’s greatest discoveries. Often times, educators
get into the habit of lecturing, choosing the learning activities, and instructing students through
everything that happens in the classroom. However, to develop critical thinking skills, the educator
must leave learning open-ended and let the students think for themselves. With as many digital
resources as there are today, evaluating, analyzing and creating have never been so easy; however, a
2. student can’t think critically with these tools if they don’t know how to use them. With the growing
prevalence and accessibility of smart phones, computers, and other technologies, educators need to
give students opportunities to practice using these resources for empowerment. Ferriter and Garry
claim that “Today’s students can be inspired by technology to ponder, imagine, reflect, analyze,
memorize, recite, and create-but only after we build a bridge between what they know about new tools
and what we know about good teaching” (Ferriter and Garry, 2010, p.6). Heidi Jacobs in her book,
Curriculum 21, claims “We should aggressively go out of our way to find better ways to help our learners
demonstrate learning with the types of products and performances that match our time” (Jacobs, 2010,
p.422). Tasks such as tutorial designing, making graphic organizers and game-based learning can
promote digital literacy and critical thinking simultaneously.
“Moving learning forward begins by introducing teachers to ways in which digital tools can be
used to encourage higher-order thinking and innovative instruction across the curriculum” (Ferriter and
Garry, 2010, p.6). To accomplish this, it is important to start small, making sure that each learning
experience is authentic, meaningful, and relevant. One strategy might be to focus each lesson on one
21st century theme. Another strategy might be to integrate one new technology tool into each lesson so
that by the end of the year, students are dexterous with a variety of resources. By starting small, it
makes the process gradual for students while also giving the not-so-digitally-literate educator time to
learn along with them. The following 21 st century resources support innovative instruction and are free
and easy to use:
• Google Documents
• My Big Campus
• Poll Everywhere
Critical Thinking and Digital Literacy
• Bubble Us
• Mentor Mob
While innovation takes change, and change is not always easy for students or educators, it is this change
that will drive learning forward, build lifelong learners, and give students the best chance at success
later in life.
Ferriter, W. M., & Garry, A. (2010).Teaching the igeneration: 5 easy ways to introduce essential skills
with web 2.0 tools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21 essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, Va.: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development. Kindle Edition.
November, A. C. (2012). Who owns the learning?: preparing students for success in the digital age. Bloomington,
IN: Solution Tree Press. Kindle Edition.