Something to Think About: Labels and 21st Century Students

A colleague shared an email that was sent to her school faculty by a fellow educator today.  The brief note indicated this was “something to think about”, and it contained two lists from a 1989 professional journal that described the differences between two types of students/learners. Take a look below and see if you can come up with a label that would distinguish List A from List B:

The actual labels given to these two lists were A Bright Child (List A) and A Gifted Learner (List B), and the original source for the lists was cited as Janice Szabos, Challenge Magazine, 1989, Issue 34 Tennessee Association for the Gifted:

As I read down the two lists, my first thought was, “I wonder what a list would look like for just regular kids who aren’t labeled either bright or gifted.”  My second thought was, “Are these characteristics of ‘Gifted Learners’ exclusive to the gifted, and do gifted learners also exhibit some of the characteristics of bright children?”.

Aren’t these lists full of characteristics that all students should strive for? Aren’t these the characteristics and dispositions we are trying to develop in all of our 21st century students? The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, and the ISTE Standards call for all students to be able to ask questions, be highly curious, look beyond the group, discuss in detail, elaborate, draw inferences, initiate projects, deal with complexity, and more. Certainly some kids get there quicker than others, but most students can and will develop these characteristics when provided with engaging and meaningful (to them) learning opportunities, the right learning environment and tools, and adults and classmates who care.

The other pair of phrases that caught my attention was “Enjoys school” vs. “Enjoys learning”. Are they mutually exclusive? I hope not. Isn’t the point of school to learn? If one enjoys learning, should they not also enjoy school (usually) and vice versa? If not, then what is the difference between school and learning?

With all the movement toward blended learning, individualized online learning and students building their own personal learning environments (here’s another video about PLE’s) maybe we need to re-think this notion of “enjoys school” vs. “enjoys learning”. Maybe it’s time to get rid of the term “school” altogether. We should just call them “Learning Spaces”, and they can be accessible 24/7. That’s not so far-fetched an idea.

99.7% of college students, 83% of high school students, 61 % of middle school students, and 18 % of elementary students have cell phones. Why not take advantage of these growing trends for learning? Just look at this cool new mobile browser for kids or these great math apps where kids can learn anywhere, anytime. And this is just a tiny sample of the tools and technologies that can help all kids connect and learn in the 21st century.

A new age of education is upon us. Isn’t it time to strip away some of the old labels we’ve placed on students and start seeing them for the bright, gifted children they all are and can be?


About Deb Hanson

Always a endless seeker... educator, biologist, dreamer, innovator, mom, wife... Located in Portland, OR.
This entry was posted in Education, Learning, Technology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Something to Think About: Labels and 21st Century Students

  1. whatcantheyteachus says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Deb. In this age of innovation and possibilities, it’s hard to believe we’re still asked to box our kids in.

    • Deb Hanson says:

      Thanks for your comment Nicole. Imagine all we could do for kids today if we eliminated labels and encouraged an atmosphere of innovation and creativity!

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