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Groups urge updates to teacher preparation programs

Teachers equipped with digital-age skills will best serve today's students.
Teachers equipped with digital-age skills and teaching strategies will best serve today's students, a new paper argues.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) are calling on teacher education programs to update their curricula to better prepare future teachers to integrate 21st-century skills into their instruction.

The groups released a paper on Sept. 23 seeking to establish a shared vision for infusing digital-age knowledge and skills into teacher preparation programs and spark a meaningful discussion among higher-education leaders about how to implement this vision.

“New teacher candidates must be equipped with 21st-century knowledge and skills and learn how to integrate them into their classroom practice for our nation to realize its goal of successfully meeting the challenges of this century,” said Sharon P. Robinson, AACTE president, and Ken Kay, P21 president, in the paper’s introduction.

The document seeks to create an ongoing dialog about how to update teacher preparation for a new era in which students are digitally connected and are accustomed to learning in new ways—and employers are looking for candidates who can use digital tools to communicate effectively, collaborate on projects, solve problems, think critically, and innovate.

“One of the main goals of the paper was to outline how educator preparation programs can support 21st-century educators and students,” said Julie Walker, executive board and strategic council chair for P21 and executive director of the American Association of School Librarians. “It is incredibly important for preparation programs to go beyond the ‘transmission method’ of teaching and instead offer educator candidates experiences that help them develop rich, applied learning opportunities that will ensure 21st-century readiness for all students.”

AACTE and P21 developed a set of core principles to help integrate 21st-century skills and teaching strategies into educator preparation programs. Those principles include:

  • PreK-12 education will prepare all students with 21st-century knowledge and skills.
  • PreK-12 teachers and administrators should possess, teach, and assess 21st-century knowledge and skills.
  • Educator preparation programs will prepare graduates to possess, teach, and assess 21st-century knowledge and skills.
  • New teachers will be prepared to become change agents for embedding 21st-century knowledge and skills in all preK-12 subjects, according to national and state standards.
  • Higher-education leaders will work with leaders in preK-12 schools and local communities to inform the redesign of educator preparation programs to more effectively meet the needs of 21st-century learners.
  • Each educator preparation program will develop a 21st-century blueprint for transforming itself into a 21st-century program.
  • Educator preparation programs will be recognized as sources of leadership in developing 21st-century education and learning strategies.
  • Educator preparation programs will be at the forefront of research and evaluation of 21st-century education strategies.

Many teacher preparation programs already are employing strategies such as recruiting career changers to build the teacher workforce, creating year-long teaching residency programs for teacher candidates, and partnering with urban schools to prepare teacher candidates to teach in urban environments with large numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

AACTE’s teacher preparation reform efforts include gathering evidence that teachers who were taught at member institutions have a positive effect on student achievement; preparing teachers to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners; and giving teacher candidates extensive clinical experiences, with mentoring support that requires performance evaluation tied to the teacher licensing process.

Teacher preparation programs must do a better job of imparting digital-age skills and teaching strategies to future educators so they, in turn, are prepared to equip students for success in college and the workforce, many experts agree—and recent research supports this belief.

For instance, in one recent national survey, while a large majority of aspiring teachers (82 percent) said collaborative tools such as blogs and wikis are important instructional tools, only one in four are learning how to use these technologies in their courses on teaching methods. Instead, the primary technologies being taught in these teacher-education classes are productivity tools such as word processing, spreadsheet, and database software, respondents said.Another national study found that younger teachers who are newer to the profession were no more likely to use technology than teachers with 10 or more years of experience.

“Newer teachers might very well use technology more in their personal lives, but when it comes to frequency of technology use in classrooms, they don’t seem to have any edge over veteran teachers,” the report notes—and one possible explanation is that they are coming out of teacher preparation programs unprepared to integrate technology effectively into their lessons.

While there already exist achievement gaps between low- and high-performing students and economically disadvantaged and affluent students, another achievement gap is growing by the day, according to AACTE and P21: the “global achievement gap between U.S. students … and their international peers in competitor nations.”

Changes in the economy, jobs, and businesses demand new skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, and innovation—and students who enter the workforce with these skills have a leg up on their competition, both domestically and internationally.

AACTE and P21 argue that educators must:

  • Successfully align technologies with content and pedagogy and develop the ability to creatively use technology;
  • Align instruction with standards, especially those standards that embody 21st-century knowledge and skills;
  • Balance direct instruction with project-oriented teaching;
  • Use a range of assessment strategies;
  • Participate in learning communities;
  • Act as mentors and peer coaches with fellow educators;
  • Use a range of strategies, such as formative assessment, to reach diverse students and support differentiated learning and teaching; and
  • Pursue continuous learning opportunities.

Educator preparation programs can respond to those imperatives by aligning essential elements of 21st-century instruction with related conditions and outcomes in their pre-service teaching curricula. The paper points to the Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) for Educators as one resource that can help with this. TPCK is a framework that helps teachers understand the kinds of knowledge needed to effectively integrate technology in various content areas.

To create an effective 21st-century teacher preparation program, schools of education might integrate the TPCK framework and ensure that instruction integrates inquiry-based models and extensive clinical experiences that tie real practice to theory. Educators then would leave the program able to act as facilitators of learning, using 21st-century teaching strategies to deliver digital-age skills.

Strong leadership is essential as teacher preparation programs remake themselves to produce educators who are capable of preparing students for competition on a global scale, according to AACTE and P21.

“Because of the interdisciplinary and interdependent nature of educator preparation within institutions of higher education, implementing a 21st-century vision will be much more successful if it is part of a college- or university-wide transformation,” the paper states.

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