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21st Century Learning: Preparing Students Today

student preparationToday, we live in a world dominated by technology. Our interactions with the world and with one another are mediated by computers, tablets and smart phones. The answer to practically any question you might have, at any moment, is a few keystrokes and fractions of a second away. In the same way that print changed how humans perceive information, now technology has once again flipped the world on its head.

“We should seriously consider the claim that we are now undergoing one of the most significant technological revolutions for education since the progression from oral to print and book based teaching.”

-Dr. Douglas Kellner, UCLA, New Media and New Literacies: Reconstructing Education for the New Millennium

Preparing students for today’s world demands that education be delivered in a vastly different manner than what we see today in U.S. schools. In this world where information creation and discovery are taking place faster than we can bring that information to our classrooms, true 21st century learning must involve more than information literacy alone. Certainly, the traditional “3 Rs” – a shorthand way to talk about traditional content areas like reading, writing and arithmetic – play a core role in the 21st century classroom. (For the sake of argument, let’s have the 3 Rs include other traditional content domains like social studies and history.) But in this new world, those “content domains” become avenues for imparting a whole array of 21st century skills – skills that will allow students to function, learn and adapt throughout life in this post-modern world.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), one of a number of organizations advocating for a revamped educational system, says that for our young people to be able to compete in the global economy, they need more than the 3 Rs; a new “4 Cs” are also required: Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation.

Similarly, the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science in Washington DC breaks the same idea down into three areas (2012):

  • Cognitive skills: critical thinking and analysis
  • Interpersonal skills: teamwork and communication
  • Intrapersonal skills: resiliency, reflection and contentiousness

In the same way that handwriting is a skill that crosses every domain, likewise our students need these essential 21st Century skills if they are to be successful.

P21 has taken the lead to construct and advocate for the adoption of a complete framework for teaching 21st century skills that has become a touchstone among education leaders nationwide. This framework offers an expansive vision that brings core subject knowledge together with creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills; life and career skills; and information, media and technology skills. (2011)

While they are not in the majority, many districts and schools – public as well as private – have taken the lead and implemented 21st Century teaching and learning. What do these settings really look like?

According to 21st Century Schools, such settings “will be laced with a project-based curriculum for life aimed at engaging students in addressing real-world problems, issues important to humanity, and questions that matter.” (2012) When true 21st Century learning is taking place:

  • Schools stop being buildings defined by walls and times of day; they transform into community “nerve centers.” Walls become porous and transparent, and teachers and students become connected to the outside world, from the immediate surrounding community to people and knowledge across the planet.
  • Teachers stop being dispensers of data and become something more akin to coaches, imparting skills that help students become not just content experts, but expert learners.
  • Learners are excited by flexible, open-ended, project-based, real-world learning situations that not only teach content skills, but instill curiosity (fundamental to lifelong learning), develop communication and teamwork skills, and the freedom and responsibility that comes from taking charge of their own learning. (2012)

When we can look at a school and see these things happing in sync, we can be confident that the students are getting the great education they’ll need in the future. Creating 21st Century classrooms, schools and districts is no small order, but it is being done across the nation.

If you are one of those forward-thinking people who is reading this and saying, “It sounds amazing, but it’s just too much to undertake given our resources,” think again. If you are an educator, what one small change could you make that might transform the student experience?

Might you try grouping students more often for more team-based learning? Or embed the teaching of a math skill within the hands-on study of pond ecology? Or study an aspect of Chinese culture by setting up a virtual student exchange connecting students with their counterparts in Asia via Skype?

Once we begin to consider the possibilities of the 21st Century classroom, our schools become more than just places for preparing students for the next level of education. They become places where we truly prepare students for lifelong success and personal fulfillment.

And as educators, isn’t that our real goal?


Related reading:

The Making of a 21st Century Educator: 5 Ways to be a Better Teacher in Today’s Classroom

Creating a New Culture of Teaching and Learning with Alan November

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Introverted Students in the Classroom: Nurturing Their Hidden Strengths

student introversion

When it comes to dynamic, busy environments, today’s school classroom is one of the busiest. Most teachers must manage upwards of 25 learners, sometimes 30 or more, and help them all move together towards specific learning goals. In such environments, academic ability is only one part of the equation determining a student’s ability to function and succeed.  The rest depends to a significant degree upon aspects of temperament, such as whether the learner is an introvert or extrovert.  

Extroverts – simply because they are outgoing, social, and talkative – tend to be more visible to their teachers and classmates. They shine brightly. They are often natural leaders and may be the first ones to raise their hands and speak up with quick answers. While such a desire to interact is an excellent asset, it can also result in responses that are not fully thought through. The extrovert might be the first one to enthusiastically jump into a project, but may do so before gaining clarity on direction and goals. But when it comes to staying energized to learn, interacting with others gives them a real, palpable boost.

But what about introverts?  Because they can be quiet in a bustling group setting, they may not be as visible to their teachers and classmates.  However, they bring much to the table. In fact, the introverts’ perspective has the potential to bring quiet leadership and methodical perspective to the classroom dynamic that – if we’re not tuned in to it – can go untapped. The more we can understand their outlook on the world, the more effectively we can implement strategies to nurture their strengths.

Often described as having sensitive temperaments, introverts need to find comfortable ways into stimulating social situations. In classrooms, such students take their time to get acclimated to new settings or new people. They might not speak up in large discussions, but they work well on their own and often excel in small groups. Unlike extroverted individuals, introverts recharge by taking quiet time to process their experience away from the group.   Their reflectiveness can be a significant strength, taking learning deeper.

According to neuroscience researcher and psychoanalyst Marti Olsen Lany, Psy.D., there is a biological basis for the differences between introversion and extroversion. She explains that the dopamine that our brains produce in situations like parties tends to give extroverted people a pleasurable feeling. In introverted people, on the other hand, the same stimulation can create a sensory overload. 

Is one type more common than the other? Education Week reports that 50 percent of us are extroverts and 50 percent are introverts – an even split. Thus, the essential question for educators to consider is how can we help harness the hidden strengths of both kinds of students in the same learning environments?

So, how can we best support all students – introverted as well as extroverted – in the classroom?

  • At the beginning of the year, make it a goal to get to know each student individually to develop a feel for where they land on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.
  • Plan for a flexible classroom environment that allows introverted students the space they need to get acclimated to the group.
  • Without singling anyone out, explain to students the differences between introversion and extroversion to help foster self-awareness and allow each individual to take better charge of their own learning. 
  • Balance classroom time between large groups, small groups and independent work to create multiple environments where both kinds of students can think, learn and express themselves effectively.
  • Place an equal value on interactive discussion and thoughtful independent work.

Although our culture values extroversion, introverted students cannot simply change the way they experience and interact with the world. As educators, we need to learn to recognize them and to focus our energies on seeing their strengths, so that we can teach them to harness and cultivate their abilities. In doing so, we will help our introverted learners develop the self-confidence and self-knowledge they need to successfully pursue their dreams.  And that’s a benefit for all of us. 



For further reading:                      

Raising an Introvert in an Extrovert World

Studies Illustrate Plight of Introverted Students

Don’t Call Introverted Children ‘Shy’

Related reading

Creating Safe Learning Environments: How Classroom Management Influences Student Performance

Building Your Child’s Self-Confidence

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Categories: Reading & Learning

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Common Core Reading Recommendations and the Role of the Teacher

role of the teacher

Like many people around the world, these last few weeks I’ve spent a little time watching the Olympics. What struck me as I watched this pageant of super human athletes was often the person the camera focused on next—the coach. The coach, the one who worked day in and day out to inspire, lead, support, and challenge the athlete was right there.  The coach was living this once in a lifetime moment alongside his/her athletes. What an amazing feeling that must be to watch your team making its way onto the Olympic field knowing that you helped them get there.

As a former classroom teacher I often wonder, would we all be better off if we began to think of ourselves a little bit more like Olympic coaches? Would we be more apt to push, challenge, inspire?  Take, for instance, Tim Shanahan’s recent post about the Common Core’s reading recommendations around text difficulty vs. the widely used Guided Reading methodology developed by Fountas & Pinnell.  I read this post with great interest because I taught using Guided Reading as my preferred approach for reading. Yet unlike many of the responses posted by other Guided Reading advocates, I found myself completely aligned with Shanahan’s views.

The Common Core take the position that students should be consistently challenged by the texts presented to them so that by the time they leave high school they are able to competently handle the texts and tasks of advanced study and the modern workplace. The Guided Reading approach also aims to present students with challenge, but at the same time it limits students’ exposure to difficult texts that are at a student’s frustration level, those that students would read with less than 90% accuracy on a cold read.

It makes me wonder. If we were coaches, not teachers, would this be a non-issue? What coach do you know who gives you a practice workout every day that is 90% attainable? Maybe she lowers the difficulty on your “rest day” but most of the time the workout is a stretch, your muscles hurt, and you are very tired when it’s over.  Usually, you notice that after a couple of days of feeling challenged the task starts to get easier. And if you have a good coach, probably right at the moment when you’re feeling like you’re getting the hang of things, she ups the challenge once again.

Reading is a lot like training for the Olympics—the challenge is real, the rewards are great. Our good readers become champions of academic success and later become leaders in the workplace.

No matter your approach to reading instruction, as teachers—I mean “coaches”—we need to teach students to tackle their frustrations head-on, coach our students through it so that we get world-class learning outcomes. I know not one teacher who wouldn’t trade a medal ceremony over a graduation ceremony any day.



Elizabeth Kline is the Sr. Director of Instruction at Scientific Learning. She began her career in education as a Teach for America corps member in Los Angeles. For the last 10 years she has worked at publishing and software companies building the tools to help great teachers, or “coaches” as she prefers to call them, everywhere.

Related Reading: 

5 Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use

Why Prosody Matters: The Importance of Reading Aloud with Expression

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Back to School with the Summer Olympics: 3 Reading and Writing Activities for the Classroom


I remember being in the fifth grade in Upstate New York where the Winter Olympic Games were about to be held in Lake Placid, NY.  How exciting that they would be so close!  I got the opportunity to go on a field trip to Lake Placid in order to participate in a small part of this monumental event.  I will never forget that moment!

So while watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, I wondered how educators could apply watching the Olympics to the classrooms?  How could my teacher back in 1980 have incorporated our visit into her classroom?   How can we ignite the excitement of learning? 

For those of you heading back to school this week, here are a few ideas to get your students excited about being back in school.

  1. Ask your students to research countries that are participating in the Olympics.  What are their customs/traditions?  What are their strongest sports?  Where are the countries located around?  What language(s) are spoken there?  Have students write a summary of what they find out and report their findings to their classmates.
  2. Ask your students to write a biography about their favorite Olympic athlete.   Have them research the person and explore place of birth, age, practice schedule, and role models. 
  3. Encourage your students to become sports writers – they can begin as they are watching their favorite sport.  Here are a couple of tips to get them started:
    • Encourage them to listen for good quotes to include in their article
    • Challenge them to think of an interesting title for their article
    • Demonstrate how to show, not tell, what is happening as they write their news story.

Using the Summer Olympics as a learning tool can help engage your students in writing and reading while nurturing their interest in sports and exploring cultures around the world.   Help your students explore the possibilities today! 



For further reading:

Top 12 Olympic Lessons & Classroom Activities

Gold medal learning: the Summer Olympics as a teaching tool

The Summer Olympics start today!

Related reading:

Using Fiction Writing Activities to Develop Creative Thinking in the Classroom 

Using Poetry to Teach Reading: Rhythm, Rhyme, and Choral Reading 


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The Flipped Classroom: A Pedagogy for Differentiating Instruction and Teaching Essential Skills

differentating instruction

Summer is almost over and some educators, when thinking about the upcoming school year, may be considering “flipping their classroom” as a new method for instruction of essential skills.

A flipped classroom is one in which the background learning of a particular topic or skill occurs outside of class time - utilizing technological tools like videos and podcasts to teach the essential skills. This leaves class time free to work collaboratively on the higher-order thinking needed to utilize these skills. 

In other words, class time is now free to spend working with the students because everyone has already received the background instruction that takes up so much time in the traditional classroom.

For example, let’s say you are teaching the Pythagorean theorem. This is how a “flipped” lesson about the theorem might go:

  • The students are instructed to watch the instructional video and then post one question about the theorem on your online classroom message board.

  • The question acts as both a record of participation and to guide the discussion in tomorrow’s class.

  • In tomorrow’s class, you already know who grasped the concept and who is still struggling, based on their questions.

  • Collaboratively, the class answers these questions, hopefully using some real-world examples.

Opponents of flipped instruction point to the widening “digital divide” and how our disadvantaged students might not have an opportunity to get on a computer and participate in the online components of the class.  For those students, you may have to alter your expectations for turnaround time to allow for them to make it to the library or a computer lab. You may also want to modify your online components to be used on a cell phone.  Many kids who do not have computers or internet at home have a phone that can meet the requirements of online coursework. 

Opponents also worry that flipped classrooms are a precursor to a school where teachers are obsolete, replaced by computers and other technologies. If anything, the teacher is more important in a flipped classroom. Only a trained educator can differentiate the class time instruction that makes the method effective. Teachers frequently feel that their class time gets eaten by paperwork and other obligations. Flipped classrooms are a way of taking some of that time back, making you a more efficient teacher.



Scott Sterling is an education writer and commentator from St. Petersburg, FL. He spent five years teaching English/Language Arts in Title I middle and high schools.

For further reading:

Bill Tucker, The Flipped Classroom, EducationNext, Winter 2012, Vol. 12, No. 1

Ramsey Musallam, Should You Flip Your Classroom?, Edutopia, October 26, 2011

Alan November and Brian Mull, Flipped learning: A response to five common criticisms, eSchool News, March 26,2012.

Watch Salman Khan’s TED talk, Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education

Related reading :

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools  

Students who Struggle in the Mainstream: What their Homework Patterns May Tell You

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