Beyond “Book Learning”

(aBooks) Analog BooksI’ve been a strong advocate of the idea that “book smarts” will only take you so far. Since the beginning of my teaching, I have always built my classes to incorporate skills other than the direct ones I’m teaching. I put students in groups to learn to work together. I set up assignments that have students trying to find their own information and directing their own path. I want students to not just learn writing or programming. I want them to learn empathy, resilience, and how to come up with their own creative solutions. Research has continually backed up this approach. The OECD is continuously assessing the kinds of skills students need to be successful:

These days, schools need to become better at preparing students to live and work in a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people from different cultures, and appreciate a range of ideas and perspectives; a world in which people need to trust and collaborate with others despite those differences, often bridging space and time through technology; and a world in which individual lives will be affected by issues that transcend national boundaries.

Strong academic skills will not automatically also lead to strong social skills. Part of the answer lies in giving students more ownership over the time, place, path, pace and interactions of their learning. Another part of the answer can lie in fostering more positive relationships at school and designing learning environments that benefit students’ collaborative problem-solving skills and their attitudes towards collaboration. (

Some schools try to teach these outside the classroom, through advising programs, leadership courses, sports, etc. All those extracurriculars are important, but to really have an impact, we need to incorporate the teaching of these skills alongside the content. The content, in fact, must be taught within the context of getting these other skills across. Too often, we approach learning content through a lens of compliance rather than through a lens of fostering a broader skill set. We need to foster “imagination, inquisitiveness, persistence, collaboration and self-discipline.” Students will need to be empathic, adaptable, and develop trust in others. We can’t create these skills through traditional lecture, testing, separating the disciplines, and focusing on individual achievement.  We will need to do more.

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