Bridget Call’s class at Matewan High School in Charlestown, W.Va., isn’t your ordinary English class. From producing a play about the county’s local history to embracing classic literature, West Virginia’s 2006 Teacher of the Year relies on technology and creativity to help students become critical thinkers.

Call demonstrates the innovative classroom skills that the West Virginia Board of Education believes the state’s 20,245 teachers need to prepare students for the 21st century, according to a recent Associated Press (AP) report. As educators nationwide consider ways to address the need for 21st-century learning, West Virginia appears to be ahead of the curve and could serve as a model for other states to follow.

“As educators, our challenge is to provide instruction that is not only relevant, engaging, and meaningful, but that also includes the world-class rigor necessary to prepare our students to be competitive in the 21st-century workplace, state Superintendent Steve Paine told AP.

“Teaching students is not about how many facts can be memorized. Instead, students must be able to comprehend, problem solve, and communicate solutions if they are expected to compete on a global level.”

Paine said today’s graduates need to be effective communicators who are proficient in core subjects such as English, math, science, and social studies. But they also need to master learning and thinking skills, global awareness, and literacy in technology, finance, economics, and civics, he said.

“As the world becomes more competitive and complex, our nation’s future depends on the education of our young people,” Paine said.

West Virginia has a highly experienced teaching corps, with 96 percent of its teachers considered “highly qualified” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, AP reported. The average teacher in the state is about 46 years old, with approximately 18 years of classroom experience. A majority hold a master’s degree or higher, according to the wire service.

Although content knowledge is essential, the state Board of Education believes teachers need training to help them blend subject mastery with the skills needed in today’s digital world, AP reported.

“The critical element of all this is professional development,” said Assistant State Superintendent Jorea Marple. “We need to make sure we have enough support for teachers. This kind of teaching requires a lot more time for teachers to create lessons [that are] highly interactive and engaging.”

To achieve these goals, the state Board of Education in December adopted the 21st Century Learners Strategic Work Plan, a series of 17 tasks and action steps it plans to take to support 21st-century learning.

The board also has updated its goals for professional development and is revising content standards and objectives to increase rigor and include higher thinking skills. In addition, the board reportedly is redefining its assessments at every grade level.

“The board’s most important improvement program this year is the implementation of 21st-century skills,” said board President Lowell Johnson. “Fifty years ago, I could say I’m going to work in the factory my dad did. Well, that factory is not there anymore. And those jobs are in other countries.”

Last November, West Virginia joined a partnership that marries business interests with classroom instruction to educate future workers. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has 26 members, including Adobe Systems Inc., Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, Dell Inc., Ford Motor Co., Microsoft Corp., and Time Warner.

Since then, the West Virginia Department of Education, at the board’s direction, has sought input from teachers statewide to shape the vision of the 21st-century classroom.

The state’s teachers largely agree that students should be concerned with solving problems and communicating solutions instead of how many facts they can memorize.

Teachers want access to technology and resources, including computer workstations at their desks and tech support in the schools, AP reported.

The state Department of Education and West Virginia Public Broadcasting have launched an online professional development program called West Virginia eLearning for Educators. The program reportedly is part of a nine-state project funded through a $22 million, five-year U.S. Department of Education grant.

The eLearning web site will serve as a clearinghouse that teachers can turn to for lesson plans, ideas, and other help, said Karen Huffman, director of professional preparation for the state Department of Education.

The state Office of Professional Preparation also will soon launch an online orientation for teachers that will be used to help identify what they want and need, AP reports. And, professional development efforts are being coordinated with West Virginia’s eight Regional Education Service Agencies, Huffman said.

“What this will do is help teachers integrate technology into instruction so that they can move away from historical facts to making learning come alive using technology,” she said.

“Schools are in the same role in preparing children for the futurebut the future has changed.”

Links:

West Virginia Department of Education
http://wvde.state.wv.us/

West Virginia Public Broadcasting
http://www.wvpubrad.org

Partnership for 21st Century Skills
http://www.21stcenturyskill.org