There is an overwhelming amount of research and policy supporting the fact the skills are as critical as content. And it’s common sense. Knowledge isn’t worth much if we can’t use it. And knowledge won’t be retained if we don’t use it.
We know what to do. We now must do it, with more frequency, consistency, and success. Here are a few new practices that the incredible educators with whom I am lucky enough to work have put in place:
- Our district, from Kindergarten through 12th grade, from science to Visual and Performing Arts, is revisiting and redesigning content areas and courses to favor depth over breadth, so that retention of knowledge improves, so that there is time for learning to be more active and for learners to be more empowered, and so that students have time and opportunities to apply skills. Prioritization allows us to achieve better balance and balance allows us to meet our mission.
- Our secondary science teachers recognize that when prioritizing outcomes, it’s the Science and Engineering Practices – the skills – that are critical. The Disciplinary Core Ideas – the content – are the contexts within the skills are applied. It may not be necessary to cover all the content as if it is equally important; it is essential that students learn and have opportunities to apply the skills. In lessons, students are using knowledge .Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) is a great example. Students work with new material by interpreting models and creating inferences to answer questions. The answers they generate are then “put to the test” with additional models. Often times, they will need to go back to the original models and re-interpret. Students are acquiring content via application. These two should not be separate ideas. They are intertwined. Students may or may not remember specific content years from now, but they will remember how to struggle, self-assess, and modify your understanding.
- Our teachers are requiring students to make claims and justify claims with evidence in all content areas, from Kindergarten through high school. In grade six and above, we additionally ask students to add reasoning to their claim and evidence – to provide a reasoned explanation that connects the claim they have made and the evidence they have provided. The C-E-R is a central, common-sense strategy that reinforces skills and guides teachers and students in applying skills to content knowledge.
- Our teachers are asking students to model their understanding and explain why these models make sense. There are various ways of modeling. Models can be schematics, diagrams, visual representations, or concrete objects, and they also be metaphors and formulas. Additionally, teachers are much more regularly requiring students to explain and justify approaches and solutions. Modeling, explaining, and justifying are critical skills in all content areas.
- Our teachers of AP courses are eagerly following the College Board’s redesigns (2018) that will result in a greater emphasis on inquiry, reasoning, and communication skills and a better balance between breadth and depth. As we strive to increase equity and access, we are working to ensure that the sheer quantity of content to cover in advanced courses does not compromise the success of some students and limit the future success in specific disciplines of all students.
Since the shift toward common standards (initially at the state level) prompted by A Nation at Risk (1983), this more recent shifts toward skills applied to content as opposed to the simple acquisition of content knowledge may represent the most significant curricular change we’ve experienced in 35 years.
We all must make a commitment to thinking and doing differently in our teaching within content areas and courses so that our students are prepared for the realities and demands of today’s society and workplaces. Knowledge and skills are inextricably linked.
If we want students to apply what they learn in K-12 when they enter college and a skilled career, it’s common sense that we must model, teach, and provide opportunities to apply and employ reasoning skills. It’s common sense that we have a better balance of content and skills.