The superintendent of our district offered to purchase copies of Tony Wagner‘s The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need – And What We Can Do About It. (That’s a mouthful) The deal was, he would provide the book for us with the expectation that we would participate in face-to-face books talks and contribute to a group created on Edmodo. I have just finished the book and wanted to take this time to give my thoughts about this book.
In summary, Wagner writes that in the “new world of work,” there are Seven Survival Skills that must be taught to our students because they matter for work, learning and citizenship. More and more jobs are being outsourced, not because they’re necessarily cheaper, but because, many times, the employees are better prepared.
The Seven Survival Skills that Wagner presents are: (here is his TEDxNYED talk about these skills, too)
1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
2. Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
3. Agility and Adaptability
4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
5. Effective Oral and Written Communication
6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
7. Curiosity and Imagination
When I first read these skills, I thought to myself, “duh.” We, as educators, recognize that these are skills that are vital for our students to learn. Wagner unpacked each of these in relation to what is the current “norm” in classrooms across the country. I realize that this list of skills is not an epiphany, but we have to think about why classrooms are not effective in teaching these skills….enter, standardized testing. Wagner claims that with the pressures of schools making Adequate Yearly Progress, (yes, I’m using Wikipedia as a source – that’s for another blog topic) teachers are stressed and spend more time “teaching to the test.” This doesn’t leave time, resources, and energy to engaging students in the survival skills.
Wagner does a good job of not putting sole blame on teachers. I think we’ve had enough of that. However, there is blame to be had….even towards educators. If anything, this book has encouraged me to ditch the weeks of ISAT prep. I need to embed the skills and knowledge they need for this yearly test into my everyday curriculum. What should I focus on? Writing and Research. These two topics were cited in the book as the skills that freshman in college wished they had more of in high school.
I teach elementary school. The book focuses on high schools; however, there’s a clear trickle down effect going on. Elementary school is where the foundational skills are taught and practiced. Maybe, the foundational skills need to be revised a bit? Obviously, reading, writing and math are the focus of elementary classrooms, but, the specifics about each should probably be revised. We should be adding more research and oral presentations. Students need to be able to speak in front of their peers and adults in a clear and concise way. These are things I can be working on in my classroom.
Overall, I gave the book a 4/5 stars on Goodreads. The writing was a bit dry in places. Chapter 6 focused on schools that were doing it right and I gleaned a lot of ideas and encouragement from this chapter. I think educators, parents and administrators should read this book. Educators that want a change in how students are schooled in the U.S. will be encouraged; parents will see how they can help their students at home, and administrators can also be encouraged to take risks and really prove themselves to be student-centered.