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Essential, Core Academic and Technology Skills

Although there are many skills that students should have, the three that are most critical are reading comprehension, information literacy, and critical thinking. The Common Core State Standards require our students to move toward more independent learning through the years. Furthermore, students in higher grades are acquiring information by reading it from various resources online more today than ever before. Therefore, in order for students to deepen their understanding of ideas and concepts, they will need to be advanced readers (and writers) so they may explore connections to the subjects they are studying in class by accessing multiple resources and reading multiple nodes of information now available thanks to the advent of the Internet.


To be a 21st Century learner requires a mastery of information, media, and technology skills. Since the wealth of information now available to students has increased exponentially thanks to the Internet, students must be provided with direct instruction regarding how best to identify and evaluate information they come across online. Of course, simple Web searches will reveal answers to many questions but to access academic and advanced resources and content, students must know about much more than just how to compose keyword searches.

For example, if a student is asked to conduct research on the Spanish missions of Southern California, they will be able to learn about the topic by simply typing [California missions] into a search engine. But to access more authoritative and academic resources on the topic, a student should know how to use operators such as site: or filetype: or techniques like negative narrowing to compose search queries such as [“California missions” site:edu filetype:jpg –Wikipedia]. In this example, the student will access images of California missions that have been published by universities and not sourced in Wikipedia.

Next, critical thinking skills are essential for students if they are to be successful in their academic careers. Too often, the routines of elementary learning promote a passivity in some students as they are regarded as kids who need to know new things. But my opinion is that learning is more critical than knowing and as such, it is important to foster critical thinking skills such as inquiry, problem solving, questioning, and collaboration.

To nurture deep learning, students should work through processes associated with cross-curricular investigation and coalescence. We must model techniques such as open-ended questions and the ability for students to answer their own questions through discussion. It’s too easy to give students answers to their problems. Instead, we must turn their problems back onto them and ask them to solve problems that are developmentally appropriate. Finally, we must actively involve elementary students in their learning through varied and flexible collaborative processes and projects.

As discussed above, core academic skills such as reading, writing, and critical thinking are essential for students to ensure their academic success. But in the secondary setting, there are a number of more complex and challenging technology skills that students will need to acquire. These include their ability to demonstrate creative thinking by applying existing knowledge to generate new ideas and products through the use of technologies, the ability to use digital media environments to communicate and work collaboratively, their understanding of human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology (e.g. ethical behavior, digital citizenship), and their ability to demonstrate an understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations.

In the middle school years, students should learn how to solve routine hardware and software problems. They should know how to use collaborative electronic authoring tools (e.g. Google Docs) to explore curriculum content, and know how to use data-collection technologies such as GPS systems, scientific probes, and hardware. Moreover, they should know how to create original videos that document local, community, or school events as well as their understanding of academic content.

In the high school years, these skills are ramped up. For example, students should be able to use various technology and media tools to identify global issues and apply a systematic plan of investigation that will lead to innovative sustainable solutions for such issues. They should know how to design and deploy a website that meets accessibility requirements. They should also know how to create rich-media presentations to demonstrate their digital skills as well as their understanding of the academic content they are learning.

The International Society for Technology in Education has developed an extensive set of standards that are widely in use in many school districts across the country. They have also created a set of grade-span-specific profiles that may guide educators in designing comprehensive learning units for students so they may acquire not only the subject-specific content but the critical technology skills they will need to be successful in college and their future careers.

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