I had a request to facilitate a team of high school teacher leaders and administrators who were exploring the possible implementation of a graduation portfolio or capstone project that would document students’ skills in the 4Cs: collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking.
In the same week I received a message from an international contact who was a managing director at a Fortune 500 company. She has worked as a volunteer in the hiring practices of recent graduates and in an HR assessment center. She shared that many candidates were missing the “soft skills” frequently defined as 21st century skills. She was interested in the training of high school students in these important skills.
On the Glossary of Educational Reform website:
Capstone projects are described as ……..
“ generally designed to encourage students to think critically, solve challenging problems, and develop skills such as oral communication, public speaking, research skills, media literacy, teamwork, planning, self-sufficiency, or goal setting—i.e., skills that will help prepare them for college, modern careers, and adult life….. Capstone projects also tend to encourage students to connect their projects to community issues or problems, and to integrate outside-of-school learning experiences, including activities such as interviews, scientific observations, or internships.”
Capstone projects goals are commonly…
…Increasing the academic rigor of the senior year.
…Increasing student motivation and engagement.
…Increasing educational and career aspirations.
…Improving student confidence and self-perceptions.
…Demonstrating learning and proficiency.
The International Baccalaureate Program for primary grades (PYP) culminates with an exhibition for students prior to entering the middle grades.
The exhibition unit takes place under any transdisciplinary theme at the discretion of the school. Students are required to engage in a collaborative, transdisciplinary inquiry process that involves them in identifying, investigating and offering solutions to real-life issues or problems. The central idea selected must be of sufficient scope and significance to warrant a detailed investigation by all students.
Compare these desired outcomes of exhibition to the capstone outcomes above.
*for students to engage in an in-depth, collaborative inquiry
*to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate independence and responsibility for their own learning
*to provide students with an opportunity to explore multiple perspectives
*for students to synthesize and apply their learning of previous years and to reflect upon their journey through the PYP
*to provide an authentic process for assessing student understanding
*to demonstrate how students can take action as a result of their learning
* to unite the students, teachers, parents and other members of the school community in a collaborative experience that incorporates the essential elements of the PYP
*to celebrate the transition of learners from primary to middle/secondary education.
Here are the questions I used with the leadership team to examine their beliefs about current practices and the need for change:
1 How important do you believe it is for students to develop their skills in the 4Cs of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking? Why?
2 Where are the 4C’s currently practiced in the learning activities in which students are engaged?
3 How aware are students of their current skill levels in in 4C’s? How much feedback do they receive?
4 How might the implementation of a capstone project or graduation portfolio that focused on the 4Cs impact teaching and learning?
5 What do you believe are critical elements that must be considered when designing a strategy for requiring the practice, assessment and documentation of 4C skills?
What might emerge from exploring these questions with your staff? What skills would you like to document that students possess exiting from your elementary, middle, and high schools? How might an exhibition, capstone, or portfolio help focus teaching and learning?