Education for an Unpredictable Future
Teens Feel Ready for College, But Not So Much for Work
A new poll found that 74 percent of high school students think they’ll have a job in 20 years that hasn’t been invented yet. How do schools prepare students for that future? In Waldorf education we focus on helping students develop creativity and problem solving skills, communication, teamwork, and empathy, as well as the ability to take their ideas and put them into practice in the real world. These skills are foundational, and prepare students to successfully navigate the unpredictable and rapidly changing world of work and the diverse paths to higher education.
This piece was originally published by Alyson Klein in Education Week
High schoolers believe that their educational experience is getting them ready for college. But they’re less certain that their coursework is preparing them for the world of work.
That’s one of the big takeaways from surveys published recently by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropy based in Kansas City, Mo. The survey found that 81 percent of students felt that high school got them “very” or “somewhat” ready for college, compared with just 52 percent who felt it prepared them for the workforce.
“People are coming out of this sort of either-or,” said Aaron North, the vice president of education at the Kauffman Foundation. “You’re going to college, or you’re not. You’re getting a job after high school or you’re not. I think that’s not reflective of the reality of what’s on the other side of that graduation stage for them.”
He expects that, in the future, many students will transfer in and out of the workforce, gaining both educational credentials and on-the-job experience.
The survey also found that students and adults in general expect that technology and computer science jobs will be a major growth industry, with 85 percent of adults and 88 percent of students saying they expect those gigs to be in “much” or at least “somewhat more” in demand in the next decade.
And 74 percent of students think they’ll have a job in 20 years that hasn’t been invented yet.
Students “have only grown up in an age of really accelerated tech evolution,” North said. “I think that’s just the world that they are in. It is a world of creation. It is a world of change.”
‘Practical Connection’ Needed
Overwhelmingly, students, parents, and employers surveyed thought high schoolers would be better off learning how to file their taxes than learning about the Pythagorean theorem. At least 82 percent of parents, students, and employers thought schools should focus more on the 1040-EZ form than on that fundamental concept in geometry.
And 81 percent of students said they thought high school should focus most closely on helping students develop real-world skills such as problem-solving and collaboration rather than focusing so much on specific academic-subject-matter expertise.
“I think what that highlights is this idea that there needs to be this practical connection between what and how you are learning when you’re in school and what happens when you’re not in school,” North said. “So that doesn’t mean it has to be directly related to your everyday life, but it does mean that there could be a balance between things that may be applicable to a very narrow number of fields and things that are highly applicable to your life no matter what field you go into or what path you choose.”
Employers are also more likely to rate employees highly if they have completed an internship in their industry and have technical certifications than if they only have a college degree, the survey found.
But at the same time, 56 percent of employers surveyed felt that someone with only a high school degree would be held back from success in life because of their education. Students were even more convinced of the benefits of college, with 63 percent saying that having only a high school education would be a roadblock to success.
Still, most adults—59 percent of those surveyed—said they can’t connect what they learned in high school to their current jobs. That’s especially true of workers in blue-collar jobs, 61 percent of whom say that their jobs weren’t relevant to their high school educations, compared with 52 percent of white-collar employees.
“Parents who have experienced a noncollege pathway understand that those pathways are viable and they can lead to really good options,” North said. “A huge percentage of our population ends up not getting a college degree. And so there are millions and millions of people out there navigating the nondegree world, without much of a road map, the kind of road map we’ve provided around college. So I think that’s reflective of people who have found that and are understanding that, whether it’s for themselves or for their own kids.”
Old Strategies, New Jobs
Similarly, a separate report released last week by the RAND Corp., found that the needs of the workforce have transformed dramatically thanks to technological changes, globalization, and demographic shifts. But K-12 schools, postsecondary institutions, and job-training organizations are preparing students for jobs using essentially the same set of strategies they’ve been relying on for decades.
At the same time, employers are struggling to find workers with so-called “21st-century skills” such as information synthesis, creativity, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork. Yet the path forward is not easy for workers looking to upgrade their skills because of automation or shifting consumer demands.
“Employers are saying they can’t find employees with the skills they need, and on the other end, you have workers whose jobs have been made less relevant,” said Melanie Zaber, an associate economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
The blame shouldn’t be all on schools, the RAND report emphasizes. Employers and education and job-training institutions don’t do a great job of systematically sharing information with schools that would allow them to better prepare students for the changing needs of the workforce. Plus, funding for K-12 education isn’t equally distributed and often neglects the areas that need strong pre-career training the most.
What also makes progress difficult is that high school principals rarely get to see how their students are doing years after they leave the classroom, Zaber said. “Letting high school principals see what happens when students leave their doors can help inform policy for where the gaps are, where the barriers are, where students are being let down,” she said.
How Kids Fall In Love With Reading
Since the 1980’s there has been a double digit decline in the number of kids who say they read for pleasure. What accounts for this? A standardized test-driven shift towards textual analysis, where students increasingly are asked to dissect small and out-of-context segments of text, and where reading aloud and reading entire stories have fallen by the wayside. In Waldorf education, we take the opposite approach. We start with engaging the children’s imaginations through storytelling and reading aloud. We know that love of reading starts with a love of stories, and that a love of reading opens up a lifetime love of learning.
This article was originally published in The Atlantic in March, 2023
These days, when I explain to a fellow parent that I write novels for children in fifth through eighth grades, I am frequently treated to an apologetic confession: “My childdoesn’t read, at least not the way I did.” I know exactly how they feel—my tween and teen don’t read the way I did either. When I was in elementary school, I gobbled up everything: haunting classics such as The Witch of Blackbird Pond and gimmicky series such as the Choose Your Own Adventure books. By middle school, I was reading voluminous adult fiction like the works of Louisa May Alcott and J. R. R. Tolkien. Not every child is—or was—this kind of reader. But what parents today are picking up on is that a shrinking number of kids are reading widely and voraciously for fun.
The ubiquity and allure of screens surely play a large part in this—most American children have smartphones by the age of 11—as does learning loss during the pandemic. But this isn’t the whole story. A survey just before the pandemic by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that the percentages of 9- and 13-year-olds who said they read daily for fun had dropped by double digits since 1984. I recently spoke with educators and librarians about this trend, and they gave many explanations, but one of the most compelling—and depressing—is rooted in how our education system teaches kids to relate to books.
What I remember most about reading in childhood was falling in love with characters and stories; I adored Judy Blume’s Margaret and Beverly Cleary’s Ralph S. Mouse. In New York, where I was in public elementary school in the early ’80s, we did have state assessments that tested reading level and comprehension, but the focus was on reading as many books as possible and engaging emotionally with them as a way to develop the requisite skills. Now the focus on reading analytically seems to be squashing that organic enjoyment. Critical reading is an important skill, especially for a generation bombarded with information, much of it unreliable or deceptive. But this hyperfocus on analysis comes at a steep price: The love of books and storytelling is being lost.
This disregard for story starts as early as elementary school. Take this requirement from the third-grade English-language-arts Common Core standard, used widely across the U.S.: “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.” There is a fun, easy way to introduce this concept: reading Peggy Parish’s classic, Amelia Bedelia, in which the eponymous maid follows commands such as “Draw the drapes when the sun comes in” by drawing a picture of the curtains. But here’s how one educator experienced in writing Common Core–aligned curricula proposes this be taught: First, teachers introduce the concepts of nonliteral and figurative language. Then, kids read a single paragraph from Amelia Bedelia and answer written questions.
For anyone who knows children, this is the opposite of engaging: The best way to present an abstract idea to kids is by hooking them on a story. “Nonliteral language” becomes a whole lot more interesting and comprehensible, especially to an 8-year-old, when they’ve gotten to laugh at Amelia’s antics first. The process of meeting a character and following them through a series of conflicts is the fun part of reading. Jumping into a paragraph in the middle of a book is about as appealing for most kids as cleaning their room.
But as several educators explained to me, the advent of accountability laws and policies, starting with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and accompanying high-stakes assessments based on standards, be they Common Core or similar state alternatives, has put enormous pressure on instructors to teach to these tests at the expense of best practices. Jennifer LaGarde, who has more than 20 years of experience as a public-school teacher and librarian, described how one such practice—the class read-aloud—invariably resulted in kids asking her for comparable titles. But read-alouds are now imperiled by the need to make sure that kids have mastered all the standards that await them in evaluation, an even more daunting task since the start of the pandemic. “There’s a whole generation of kids who associate reading with assessment now,” LaGarde said.
By middle school, not only is there even less time for activities such as class read-alouds, but instruction also continues to center heavily on passage analysis, said LaGarde, who taught that age group. A friend recently told me that her child’s middle-school teacher had introduced To Kill a Mockingbird to the class, explaining that they would read it over a number of months—and might not have time to finish it. “How can they not get to the end of To Kill a Mockingbird?” she wondered. I’m right there with her. You can’t teach kids to love reading if you don’t even prioritize making it to a book’s end. The reward comes from the emotional payoff of the story’s climax; kids miss out on this essential feeling if they don’t reach Atticus Finch’s powerful defense of Tom Robinson in the courtroom or never get to solve the mystery of Boo Radley.
Not every teacher has to focus on small chunks of literature at the expense of the whole plot, of course. But as a result of this widespread message, that reading a book means analyzing it within an inch of its life, the high/low dichotomy that has always existed in children’s literature (think The Giver versus the Goosebumps series) now feels even wider. “What do you call your purely fun books for kids?” a middle-grade author recently asked on Twitter. A retired fifth-grade teacher seemed flummoxed by the question: “I never called a book a fun book,” she wrote. “I’d say it’s a great book, a funny book, a touching book … So many books ARE fun!!”
And yet the idea that reading all kinds of books is enjoyable is not the one kids seem to be receiving. Even if most middle schoolers have read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it’s not making them excited to move on to more challenging fare. Longer books, for example, are considered less “fun”; in addition, some librarians, teachers, and parents are noticing a decline in kids’ reading stamina after the disruption of the pandemic. You can see these factors at play in a recent call for shorter books. But one has to wonder whether this is also the not-entirely-unsurprising outcome of having kids interact with literature in paragraph-size bites.
We need to meet kids where they are; for the time being, I am writing stories that are shorter and less complex. At the same time, we need to get to the root of the problem, which is not about book lengths but the larger educational system. We can’t let tests control how teachers teach: Close reading may be easy to measure, but it’s not the way to get kids to fall in love with storytelling. Teachers need to be given the freedom to teach in developmentally appropriate ways, using books they know will excite and challenge kids. (Today, with more diverse titles and protagonists available than ever before, there’s also a major opportunity to spark joy in a wider range of readers.) Kids should be required to read more books, and instead of just analyzing passages, they should be encouraged to engage with these books the way they connect with “fun” series, video games, and TV shows.
Young people should experience the intrinsic pleasure of taking a narrative journey, making an emotional connection with a character (including ones different from themselves), and wondering what will happen next—then finding out. This is the spell that reading casts. And, like with any magician’s trick, picking a story apart and learning how it’s done before you have experienced its wonder risks destroying the magic.
The Power of Problem Solving
The ability to problem solve is one of the most important skills for students to learn, not only for their academic journey but for their future careers and lives in an ever-changing world. Waldorf Education encourages the development of problem-solving skills through an approach that emphasizes systems thinking and critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and in-depth subject knowledge.
This piece was originally published by the Institute of Competition Sciences.
From solving complex algebra problems to investigating scientific theories, to making inferences about written texts, problem-solving is central to every subject explored in school. Even beyond the classroom, problem-solving is ranked among the most important skills for students to demonstrate on their resumes, with 82.9% of employers considering it a highly valued attribute. On an even broader scale, students who learn how to apply their problem-solving skills to the issues they notice in their communities – or even globally – have the tools they need to change the future and leave a lasting impact on the world around them.
Problem-solving can be taught in any content area and can even combine cross-curricular concepts to connect learning from all subjects. On top of building transferrable skills for higher education and beyond, read on to learn more about five amazing benefits students will gain from the inclusion of problem-based learning in their education:
Problem-solving is inherently student-centered.
Student-centered learning refers to methods of teaching that recognize and cater to students’ individual needs. Students learn at varying paces, have their own unique strengths, and even further, have their own interests and motivations – and a student-centered approach recognizes this diversity within classrooms by giving students some degree of control over their learning and making them active participants in the learning process.
Incorporating problem-solving into your curriculum is a great way to make learning more student-centered, as it requires students to engage with topics by asking questions and thinking critically about explanations and solutions, rather than expecting them to absorb information in a lecture format or through wrote memorization.
Increases confidence and achievement across all school subjects.
As with any skill, the more students practice problem-solving, the more comfortable they become with the type of critical and analytical thinking that will carry over into other areas of their academic careers. By learning how to approach concepts they are unfamiliar with or questions they do not know the answers to, students develop a greater sense of self-confidence in their ability to apply problem-solving techniques to other subject areas, and even outside of school in their day-to-day lives.
The goal in teaching problem-solving is for it to become second nature, and for students to routinely express their curiosity, explore innovative solutions, and analyze the world around them to draw their own conclusions.
Encourages collaboration and teamwork.
Since problem-solving often involves working cooperatively in teams, students build a number of important interpersonal skills alongside problem-solving skills. Effective teamwork requires clear communication, a sense of personal responsibility, empathy and understanding for teammates, and goal setting and organization – all of which are important throughout higher education and in the workplace as well.
Increases metacognitive skills.
Metacognition is often described as “thinking about thinking” because it refers to a person’s ability to analyze and understand their own thought processes. When making decisions, metacognition allows problem-solvers to consider the outcomes of multiple plans of action and determine which one will yield the best results.
Higher metacognitive skills have also widely been linked to improved learning outcomes and improved studying strategies. Metacognitive students are able to reflect on their learning experiences to understand themselves and the world around them better.
Helps with long-term knowledge retention.
Students who learn problem-solving skills may see an improved ability to retain and recall information. Specifically, being asked to explain how they reached their conclusions at the time of learning, by sharing their ideas and facts they have researched, helps reinforce their understanding of the subject matter.
Problem-solving scenarios in which students participate in small-group discussions can be especially beneficial, as this discussion gives students the opportunity to both ask and answer questions about the new concepts they’re exploring.
At all grade levels, students can see tremendous gains in their academic performance and emotional intelligence when problem-solving is thoughtfully planned into their learning.
Waldorf Schools are Media Literacy Role Models
Waldorf education emphasizes thoughtful, intentional and developmentally appropriate technology use. We advocate for an experiential, relationship-based approach in early education, followed by a curriculum for older students that helps them understand tech as a tool, and engages them in conversations around digital ethics, privacy, media literacy, and balanced use of social media and technology. Our approach gives Waldorf graduates the tools and knowledge they need to be independent, creative, and ethical digital citizens. At Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor, Cyber Civics is a required class in grades 6-8 and Computer Science and Programming are taught at the high school level.
This post was written by Soni Albright and originally published on cybercivics.com
As we celebrate Media Literacy Week… it’s hard to believe that Waldorf schools in North America have been leading the way when it comes to Media Literacy education.
What’s that? Waldorf schools and “Media” Literacy?
Do you mean those schools that are notoriously low-tech, and focus on things like face-to-face communication, hands-on learning, the great outdoors, and an art/music/movement integrated curriculum?
Yep, those schools!
Cyber Civics was founded at a public charter Waldorf school —Journey School—in 2010. Since its inception, most Waldorf schools (private and public) in North America, and many more internationally, have adopted the Cyber Civics program in their schools, and the vast majority have been teaching the lessons—which include digital citizenship, information literacy, and media literacy— since 2017.
Fast forward to 2021. The United States and most of the world is just now talking about the ‘need for digital citizenship’ and the importance of ‘educating our youth’ about media use, misinformation, balance and wellness and, most importantly, how to use tech ethically and wisely.
People worldwide are asking themselves “How do we control this Pandora’s Box after the pandemic? What can we do to help our kids help themselves in the digital landscape?”
All the while, Waldorf schools have been quietly holding this conversation with intentionality and patience: asking families to be thoughtful, mindful, discerning, and slow with media access for children. Not to deprive them, but rather to give children the gift of childhood—the endless opportunities that come with downtime, boredom, and unscheduled freedom. To favor face-to-face interactions over abstract experiences. To work on self-regulation, problem solving, physical movement, and social-emotional regulation.
By the time Waldorf students get to middle school, even though many aren’t using digital media at the same level as average kids their age, most are participating in weekly Cyber Civics lessons ranging from simple concepts such as what it means to be a citizen in any community and how to apply that to the digital world to more advanced topics such as: privacy and personal information, identifying misinformation, reading visual images, recognizing stereotypes and media representations, and ethical thinking in future technologies.
While many middle school students know their way around the device / app / platform, they haven’t been trained much in ethics, privacy, balance, and the decision-making aspects actually needed to survive and thrive in the digital age during adolescence.
We are so grateful for all the Waldorf schools that recognized the need for this important curriculum years ago, and who have grown with us over the years. We have learned with you, about our young people and what they need from us as examples and digital citizens.
Thank you for paving the way for this curriculum to be brought to so many other schools and community groups beyond the Waldorf sphere—public and private schools... Catholic, Hebrew, Montessori, and more.
And please take a bow for being the Media Literacy role models the world so desperately needs.