Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

21st Century Skills: A "thorny problem" in the classroom

CJ Westerberg, April 11, 2013 7:16 PM


A Classic from The Daily Riff
Video Below

Daniel Koretz, Professor of Education at Harvard, gives a balanced portrayal of the "thorny problem" posed when the need for teaching and learning higher order thinking skills clashes with the need for accountability through high-stakes standardized testing.

Koretz explains how schools are generally not very good at teaching higher order skills  - such as critical thinking and problem-solving  - because they are not only difficult to teach but they are difficult to test.  Koretz gives examples such as how most high schools' science  "experiments" are really "demonstrations," because they are "rigged" for the right answer, thereby disqualifying them as true experiments where outcomes are unknown. 

Video runs five minutes with a commercial.

Let us know what you think -


  • Brian, think there are a number of initiatives that are addressing this issue:

    Check out Tony Wagner's book, The Global Achievement Gap. In it, Wagner cites some examples: College Learning Assessment (CLA); College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA); the ETS iSkills Tests; School-based Teacher-led Assessment Reporting System (STARS); among others.

    There are also more inquiry-based assessments. You may want to check out http://www.thedailyriff.com/articles/hacking-school-ratings-rankings-343.php and

    Also, will digital portfolios begin to tranform assessments? What is the work that a student can produce outside of a test?

    These are all examples but we are not there yet, for sure.

    Can anyone share their experience with any of the above assessments or have other suggestions?

  • John, a friend recently attended a high school science fair where a student actually Googled an answer to a question he had asked him on his mobile phone right there on the spot (which wasn't a difficult one, either, that was related to his exhibit). Argh! Will debaters start pulling out their mobiles to find an answer mid-debate? I think in our quest to incorporate the new realities of technology and globalization into schooling, we may be falling into a trap of another absolute or extreme stance, at least in conversations. Do I think Koretz was advocating skipping lower order skills or memorization in this video chat? No, I don't, but his message could be mis-construed - at least that's my take.

    I taught tennis for many years and you can't play a match unless you know the basics. You won't get better without practice. On the flip side (supporting Koretz's intended point?), I witnessed so many students who could hit perfect strokes in

    drills and then who fell apart when they had to put it all together in a real match.

    I'd sometimes think, "How could this be the same student?" Think Koretz was warning us of the pitfalls of one kind of assessment. And aren't we short-changing students if we only assess them one way, or worse yet, if we only expose them to tennis drills without ever really playing the game?

    Thanks for your thoughts - you may also find our recent post about copying of interest. You made me think of another post related to your comment that I'll post in the next week or two - have to dig for it.

  • appreciate the reply and your points are well taken. Look forward tor reading the related links you mentioned.

  • Low order bad, high order good! It seems to be forgotten by those that advocate the merits of higher order thinking skills that learning at this level comes on the back of a good deal of ground work in lower order skills. Lower order skills are still very necessary, need to be practised and are the foundation for progress to higher order skills. The notion that low order skills are just a Google away has been repeated so often it has acquired the status of a fact. There is nothing low order about using a search engine in a discerning manner, there is nothing low order about the dissection of a heart or a flower in a Bio class. Developing higher order thinking comes on the back of well developed learning cycles that include progression. Mature learners with their own highly developed pedagogy need (to cut the students a break) to understand that their learning journey nears completion but that of the student has just begun. Students need to experience the demonstrations and secured outcome experiments so that they are equipped with the skills necessary to carry out the high order investigations. This is a time consuming process and takes most of high school to complete. If you want student to think ‘think outside the box’ they first need to know what’s in the box. If their work is unconnected to the box, it will lack meaning and usefulness. In school we teach kids through learning cycles to connect the lower order skills to the higher order skills in a meaningful way so that their work has value, not random guess work, which is unconnected. higher order skills are ‘good’ they’re great, it’s the basis of human progress and achievement but only because they are connected.

  • Interesting. Thought-provoking. Resonating.

    But just one of many.

    I get what we have to do. What I'd like to hear is someone suggesting specifics on how we do it.

blog comments powered by Disqus
It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
Leonardo da Vinci
Follow The Daily Riff on Follow TDR on Twitter

find us on facebook


Cool Smart Teen: Changing the conversation about building stuff

SMW, 11.04.2013

Not just building an app to play with . . . but a test for cancer

Read Post | Comments

Riffing good stories

Stanford.design-thinking. innovation.jpg

Video: What is the link between "design-thinking" and creativity?

SMW, 11.03.2013

Creative Confidence: Must-Watch Interview on Charlie Rose

Read Post | Comments
early education.preschool.jpg

How Much Do Early Years Lead to Student Success?

CJ Westerberg, 11.03.2013

"The idea being that wasn't necessarily to create little engineers everywhere, though that would be great for us. The idea was to take advantage of the natural learning process and curiosity that children have at that age . . ." Tamika Lang, Boeing

Read Post | Comments

NEW: Weekend Reading

SMW, 11.03.2013

Looking for Intimacy in the Age of Facebook is a higher education course (yes, you heard right). Interestingly, social media may inhibit creativity and innovation

Read Post | Comments

The New Resume

SMW, 10.31.2013

A picture is worth a thousand words. A video game-like format is worth . . .

Read Post | Comments

Noam Chomsky: The Purpose of Education

CJ Westerberg, 10.31.2013

"Education is really aimed at helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own. . . "

Read Post | Comments

Noam Chomsky: In the news again, this time about Twitter and High Schoolers

SMW, 10.31.2013

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at MIT, "father of linguistics", political commentator.  From bio: "Besides his work in linguistics, Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most critically engaged public intellectuals alive today":               ...

Read Post | Comments

Choke: Test-taking - - - a different way to look at test-prep?

CJ Westerberg, 10.28.2013

"Most students will not find a steady diet of test-prep drills and worksheets to be particularly meaningful, and accordingly, they will not put forth optimal learning effort."

Read Post | Comments

Does your school have a beehive?

CJ Westerberg, 10.27.2013

"If we want children to be inventors, we have to give them opportunities to invent." - 5:00 mark, Mission Hill video

Read Post | Comments