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by Erica Fischer on Feb 10, 2016

Cultivate 21st Century Skills in Your 21st Century Classroom!

Welcome back! Last week, #langchat joined forces with #GlobalEdChat for a chat on the importance of 21st century skills for world language students. Instructors first discussed challenges to integrating these skills into classrooms. Participants then considered how to promote life, career, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills to prepare students for a global society. Instructors also shared some of their favorite resources for teaching 21st century skills. Finally, they reflected on ways to promote creativity, as well as information, media, and technology skills to prepare students for life beyond the classroom. The quick pace of this chat left some ready for a #langnap (@SraSpanglish). In case you missed a beat, we bring you some of the highlights!

Thank you to all of the Langchatters and GlobalEdChatters who weighed in on this relevant topic. We would also like to thank our Thursday moderators: Amy (@alenord) and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), as well as Laura (@SraSpanglish) who doubled up and led the #SaturdaySequel with Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) too – thanks ladies!

Question 1: What are some of the biggest challenges to integrating 21st century skills into the classrooms?

Certain obstacles can complicate integration of 21st century skills. Participants cited limited or no access to technology, a lack of time, students with immediate interests, and instructors who are unprepared to support 21st century skills as notable challenges.

  • Gaining Access to Technology: As @SECottrell noted, at a “rural school with no [technology], sometimes [the] 21st [century] seems ‘a world away.’” @la_sra_hinson added that, even when classes do have access to technology, school restrictions can greatly limit use: “[We do] not [have] many iPads…but those we have can’t download [applications] so [they are] used like [computers].” @MlleSulewski echoed this point, writing, “[Our] school blocks [YouTube]! Talk about frustrating.” @ProfeCochran summarized the situation: “[There are so] many barriers and blockades to useful collaboration sources and sites, and that’s IF you have access to [technology].”
  • Finding the Time: Others commented on a constraint that teachers are all too familiar with: time. @caranowou mentioned “[time and] the [teachers] being required to focus on standardized testing.” Similarly, @ProfeCochran cited “[limits] to schedules and interruptions [and] unrealistic timelines for grades” as obstacles.
  • Getting Students on Board: @SraSpanglish wrote, “[Getting] inherently self-centered adolescents to focus on something global [can be a challenge].” She added, “You want to use [students’] interests, but sometimes their passions are not so…global.” Along these lines, @bjillmoore mentioned “students with a very limited knowledge of life beyond their immediate interests.” @alenord framed this as a difference in how teachers and some students understand learning: “[We have to] get [students] to LEARN rather than grub for points, complete rather than consider [things] assignments [and] tasks.” While it may be difficult to get students on board, the rewards can be amazing, as @Meriwynn pointed out: “[But] the cool thing about global is that once you crack that nut there are endless possibilities.”
  • Training Teachers to Support 21st Century Skills: @Morgandanielk wrote, “[Teachers] who don’t model being 21st century learners or global educators… everyone here being the exception [represent another challenge].” @CatherineKU72 pointed out a major issue, namely, the fact that teachers do not receive training in this area: “Many teachers are not aware of the resources that support 21st [century] skills. [These are not] ‘taught’ at [educational schools or in professional development] for [world languages].”

Question 2: How do we promote life, career, and critical thinking skills that prepare students for a global society?

Participants recognized the value of endless questioning and community connections in supporting students’ life, career, and critical thinking skills.

  • Question, question, question! @SraDentlinger suggested, “Create units with essential questions, not [just] list of [vocabulary]. Give [students] a question to answer!” @caranowou added, “[In] addition to giving [students questions], encourage [and] challenge [them] to want to ask their own [questions] every day.
  • Community Connections: Several instructors highlighted the role of community connections in supporting student curiosity, critical thinking, and development. @ProfeCochran wrote, “Inquiry-based service learning programs can be a real win for all things 21st [century].” @SraSpanglish agreed, writing, “YES! Service to a real, tangible community [makes students’] community global!” @Meriwynn reiterated this point: “Global issues are present in [our] own communities; we need #empathy to see ourselves in others.” @MbiraAbby offered another way to help students cultivate empathy and community connections: “[Plan] your unit to first invite [the] community into [your] classroom as [a real audience] #classroomisrealworld.”

Question 3: How do we promote communication and collaboration skills that prepare students for a global society?

Participants acknowledged the importance of training students in good communication and collaboration skills inside the classroom before they engage with the world beyond.

  • Train Students in the Classroom: @alenord observed, “We have to get [students] to be better communicators to each other, [face-to-face] FIRST.” She added, “[This is small], but [it’s important to train] kids to use [the target language] to talk to each other [the] way they do in [their first language]. BE REAL PEOPLE just in Spanish!” Instructors suggested ways to guide students in their interactions. @Anamaria_Knight wrote, “Keep asking ‘why?’, ‘how else?’, from a place of wanting to learn, not judgment . [Never] stop the inquiry,” and @cvaughanlee said, “Encourage diverse points of view with students.” @tchlrnchnge added, “Communication [and] collaboration requires listening to develop perspective consciousness. Learn from, not just about [people].”
  • Help Students Practice Communication and Collaboration Beyond the Classroom: Following in-class practice, @MlleSulewski suggested, “Introduce [students] to people from [the] target cultures! Give them a reason to care!” @MsbatistaL recommended “projects that promote collaboration [and] communication,” encouraging instructors to “hand over the teaching to [students and have them] go outdoors for [real-life observation].” Others mentioned connections with classes abroad. @AHSblaz wrote, “[This year we] began [communicating with] penpals [from] France who will visit [us] in 2017. [We will] go there [in] 2018. Talk about motivation [and] relevancy!” Others pointed out that connections with classes abroad could be forged online without ever leaving the classroom. @caranowou suggested, “[Make] connections [with] classrooms in other cultures [through] social media, [via places] such as @SkypeClassroom.” @hsingmaster commented, “Time differences can be a big barrier, but there are some new asynchronous platforms coming out now.”

Question 4: What are some of your favorite resources for teaching 21st century skills?

We bring you a sampling of instructors’ go-to resources for supporting 21st century skills!

  • Pinterest: @SraSpanglish wrote in favor of Pinterest, noting, “[There are so] many global perspectives right there for the taking!” @learnsafari commented, “Pinterest is awesome! But I get totally lost in it and next thing I know, dinner is on fire!”
  • AJ+ Español: @SraDentlinger said, “I love @ajplusespanol to help find new material for my classes. GREAT inspiration!”
  • Asia Society: @TaraNuth wrote, “Asia Society’s Educating for Global Competence is a [favorite] resource of mine!” @ProfeCochran also wrote in favor of Asia Society, commenting that their “Global Competence Matrices are AWESOME.”
  • Immigrant Archive Project: @SrtaSpathis said, “Immigrant Archive Project videos are excellent resources to give insight into the immigrant experience.”
  • News Media: @VTracy7 recommended “[comparing] different news media [sources] while keeping the audience in mind.” Speaking of news platforms, @MlleSulewski mentioned a favorite: “I love TV5Monde. ‘World’ is right in title.”
  • @TPRSPublishing: @SraDentlinger wrote, “I love @TPRSPublishing for helping me make my classroom more globally minded! Thank YOU!”
  • Real People: @jdeborahklein noted, “The best resource for learning languages is real people and an urge to connect!”

Question 5: How do we promote creativity skills that prepare students for a global society?

In order to promote creativity, participants recognized the importance of first knowing how students define it. They also acknowledged the need to help students embrace uncertainty.

  • Know What Creativity Means to Students: @SraDentlinger wrote, “In order to teach [students] new creativity, [we] must understand what they think is creative [first].” @TaraNuth wrote, “Connect with kids’ [favorite] forms of creativity and expression. My classroom is covered with MEMES!” In an effort to support individual creativity in design, @ProfeCochran wrote, “Always, always, always offer choice in the end product.”
  • Help Students Embrace Uncertainty: @William_Caze suggested taking “baby steps to encourage [students] to accept, even embrace uncertainty,” adding, “[There’s] no standards-based rubric for life!” @alenord agreed, noting that students should understand “that creativity REQUIRES the willingness to try, fail and try again!”

Question 6: How do we promote information, media, and technology skills that prepare students for a global society?

Participants recommended training students in how to use technological resources to support their learning. Many instructors thought that personal technological devices could have a place in the classroom if students were instructed in appropriate use. @SraDentlinger wrote, “I think NOT banning cell phones is a great place to start but [things could get] out of our control.” @alenord advocated for “[putting students’] smart devices to good, appropriate use in [the] classroom, [finding] ways to use them for LEARNING.” @ProfeCochran recommended that instructors “[give] students a real reason to use [their devices], and use them well—[to] research, argue, solve problems.” Similarly, @srtamartino suggested that instructors “show [students] how they can use social media for [language and culture] learning, [applications], sites that are reliable and/or authentic.” Additionally, @nicola_work advised discussing “[Internet and] online safety” and showing students “how to find information [and] evaluate it.”


Participants recognized challenges to integrating 21st century skills into the world language classroom, but they also shared lots of ways to support students’ development as critical thinkers, communicators, collaborators and global citizens who possess technological skills, creativity, and empathy. As @8rinaldi wrote, “No matter the obstacles, we have to move forward and implement new [technological] skills to empower our [students] to create and share globally.” @jdeborahklein added, “A #langchat teacher told me recently she sees every challenge as an opportunity to educate her community. Optimism is key!”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone in our global network who contributed to this chat on educating students for a global society. Participants themselves expressed thanks to ACTFL for helping foreign language instructors to develop a global vision for students. @SraDentlinger said, “I’m SO thankful @ACTFL does this work for us! Other subjects aren’t so lucky!”

We hope that you continue to join us on #langchat once or twice a week! We will be online and ready to chat on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET AND Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET! Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have an topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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