Andrew Miller

21st Century Skills and the Common Core Standards

Twenty-first century skills are quickly becoming taught and assessed in schools across the United States. Whether through explicit instruction or models like project-based learning, educators are realizing that lower-level content comprehension is not enough. The Whole Child Initiative calls for tenets that rely on these skills. Educators create a safe environment through collaboration. Critical thinking creates rigor and challenge. Communication can create engagement with the community. When we pair 21st century skills with content, we can create powerful and meaningful learning. The Common Core State Standards explicitly call for these skills, so through uncovering the 3 Cs in the Common Core standards, we can see how educators must teach and assess them.


In every grade level of the English language arts standards, you will find the common standard that calls for "collaborative discussions." I do mean every! This means that at each grade level, we must not only teach and assess the skill of collaboration, but we also must think about how it looks different from grade level to grade level. We know that group work and collaborative work can be effective, but now collaboration is more than just an instructional tool. It is a skill that needs to be taught and assessed.

Critical Thinking/Problem Solving

Roland Case has done some great work on unpacking the concept of critical thinking into high-quality indicators. One of these high-quality indicators is perseverance—being able to complete a challenge and work through the obstacles. In the mathematics standards, specific mathematical practices are mentioned. One of these is, "make sense of a problem and persevere in solving it." This is an explicit call in the Common Core standards to teach and assess one facet of critical thinking. In addition, as you unpack the standards, you will teach thinking skills and related language for critical thinking. From being able to “evaluate,” "reflect," or "analyze," the focus is on higher-order thinking skills that require that critical thinking be taught to all students and assessed.


Across each grade level in the English language arts standards, communication—both written and oral—is evident. The standards call for students to communicate effectively and through a variety of media. Digital tools are mentioned as well as oral and written skills. English teachers have always been responsible for this skill, but now all subjects are being called to teach and assess communication skills.

Unpacking the Common Core State Standards allows us to see the need to teach and assess 21st century skills to our students. When we look at the Whole Child Tenets, we can see alignment between them and 21st century skills. Perhaps the Common Core standards will leverage the need to teach to the whole child.

Andrew K. Miller is an educator and consultant. He is a National Faculty member for ASCD and the Buck Institute for Education. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.

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