Whole Child Symposium

Transforming Schools to Become Innovation Ready

Post written by Laura Varlas

Because tests don't require connection and collaboration, classroom education is being driven in one direction, while technology enables creation, curation, and connection.

Educators are up against a global achievement gap, Tony Wagner explained in his 2014 ASCD Annual Conference session, "Graduating All Students 'Innovation Ready.'" That is, the gap between the skills students need and the skills that are driven by the testing culture dominating U.S. education.

"Increasingly, we have one curriculum—test prep," Wagner said. "Cheap multiple choice tests say nothing about career, work, citizenship, or learning readiness, let alone teacher effectiveness."

Despite this disconnect between what students need and what influences school curriculum, Wagner is encouraged that for the first time, the skills students need for work and for citizenship are converging. Wagner called these skills the "seven survival skills" and discussed how they can reorient education to graduate all students innovation ready.

The seven survival skills are

  1. Critical thinking and problem-solving: Asking really good questions.
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence: Education is still one of the most isolated, modern professions. Wagner wondered, how are we, who work alone so much of the time, going to teach our kids to collaborate?. How do we teach kids to appreciate differences, among mixed teams? "Innovation is a team sport; isolation is the enemy of improvement."
  3. Adaptability and agility: Wagner asked attendees to contrast this ideal with the regularities of school, "where this year looks a lot like last year."
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship: Wagner said setting stretch goals and failing at most is more valuable than setting a low, achievable bar. "Innovation demands that you take risks, fail, and learn from those mistakes. There is no innovation without trial and error."
  5. Effective oral and written communication: Most importantly, he said, kids need to know how to write with voice.
  6. Accessing and analyzing information: Education needs to move away from low-level tasks that require memorization and recall.
  7. Curiosity and imagination: We have to become the world's number one manufacturer of ideas, Wagner urged.

To prioritize these seven essential skills, Wagner recommended several shifts for U.S. education:

  • Teach and assess what matters (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creative problem-solving).
  • Kids need a digital portfolio that follows them through school.
  • Schools need a coherent set of performance standards, not content standards.
  • Federal, state, and district funders need to incentivize research and development in education. Wagner recommended turning the professional development budget into an innovation fund for site-based educators to develop their own model courses, curriculum, and formative assessments.
  • Incorporate the concept of "Google Fridays" into kids' work. Give kids protected time to develop whatever ideas they want to. This gives kids the opportunity to explore, innovate, and make mistakes without penalty. "Make time for mistakes," Wagner reminded. "They're what we learn the most from."

Follow the Whole Child Symposium conversation here on the blog, share your thoughts in the comments and by e-mail, and pose your questions on Twitter using the hashtag #WCSymposium2014.

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