Reading, writing, arithmetic… Isn’t it time for a modern shift — one that truly meets the needs of today’s tech-savvy learners? That’s the idea behind the current shift toward teaching 21st-century skills. A new book from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), The i5 Approach, provides a systematic approach to modernizing existing lessons and advancing overall curriculum planning for modern students.
Inquiry skills are the foundation of the i5 approach, and the ultimate goal is to guide students toward applying 21st-century skills and their use of technology to their academic learning, the way they do in their everyday lives. It’s through the processes of inquiry that students can make connections between technology and their learning.
The quickest way to get started with the i5 approach is to integrate the 5 i’s into existing lessons. The book provides a simple system of questions for this purpose.
How would information assist students in better understanding the topic?
How would images/visuals assist students in better understanding or going deeper into a topic?
How would interacting with the outside world provide more understanding or deeper connections to a topic?
How would using inquiry foster student engagement, learning, or deeper connection?
What innovative ideas or products could students make to demonstrate understanding of this topic?
Information: Previous generations relied on textbooks and encyclopedias for examples of knowledge. Finding and chasing information was a lengthy part of the learning. Conversely, today’s students can Google anything and within half a second receive thousands of relevant texts, photos, videos, and information. If a teacher is doing a lesson on Edgar Allan Poe, students now have instantaneous access to endless biographies, analysis, videos, and information. That changes the game. Information is readily available, but the thinking skills needed to process and assess it are even more important.
Images: According to The i5 Approach, “researchers say that 70 to 90 percent of the information that comes to the brain is visual. Because 40 percent of all nerve fibers connected to the brain are linked to the retina, the brain can process visual information 60,000 times faster than it processes text (Visual Teaching Alliance, n.d.). Visuals are a key component to deeper learning, and with access to the internet and its myriad visual media, it’s never been easier or more imperative to use visuals to help students learn.
Interaction: Learning can’t happen in a vacuum, and as our socially technological world evolves, collaboration has become a fundamental skill students must learn. The internet makes connecting with experts and getting assistance or advice accessible to all. In-classroom interactions are important too — building the capacity for teamwork, feedback sharing, collaborative design-thinking, and discourse have become dominant necessities.
Inquiry: When children are young, they naturally ask millions of questions. As they get older, that habit lessens as school teaches them that asking a question means you don’t understand or do not have the answer. Inquiry-based learning reframes questioning away from a deficit-model tool to a exploration tool. Inquiry encourages learners to go beyond being receivers of content to become active participants in learning. It tasks learners with asking questions as a catalyst for deeper learning.
Innovation: Writing essays, doing a science experiment, making a poster — these are all perfectly fine learning demonstrations, but over the course of 13 years in school, how many posters does a student make? And are these projects allowing for deeper learning and preparing students to be 21st-century citizens? Giving conscious thought to development and rigorous, creative, and innovative demonstrations of learning helps develop skills and make learning last.
If you’re looking to advance your teaching practice and prioritize 21st-century skills learning — even in your existing curriculum — The i5 Approach provides a clear framework for lesson planning. Check out the book to get an in-depth view of making the shift.
Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also cofounder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation, and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.