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About the Author

Kristen Hinckley worked as a kindergarten teacher in Peru and then as an education policy researcher for the Peruvian Ministry of Education implementing a national study on early childhood education. She is a current Master’s student in International Education Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. kghinckley@gmail.com

Measuring 21st Century Skills

A Systems Perspective

by | Sep 23, 2021

Educators everywhere are talking about how we need to be teaching “21st century skills.” But what do these skills include exactly? While different stakeholders have different definitions of “21st century skills,” many frameworks include critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. The state of our current world requires these skills. The world today is uncertain, technology-harnessing, and extremely connected. Our students and future generations need these skills in order to thrive in our world and in the future.

However, there exists a problem—how can we measure 21st century skills? Although different experts have created tools and assessments to measure these skills, the measurement of such skills remains a challenge in the field.

This is where ALBA comes in. ALBA is a “system of learning for the 21st century based in play and inspired by nature.” ALBA has created unique learning experiences for primary school students in Mexico to offer them opportunities to foster adaptability, collaboration and creativity so that they are ready to confront social and environmental 21st century problems and participate responsively in their communities.

As an intern with ALBA over the summer through the DRCLAS Remote Summer Program, I had the opportunity to take a deep dive into ALBA’s system. Two aspects of ALBA stood out to me most and changed my perspective about education. The first was the organization’s use of nature. The second was its the evaluation system.

ALBA believes that nature can teach humans many lessons by learning from nature’s strategies. For example, is there a connection between germination of tree seeds and brainstorming ideas for projects in our daily lives? At first when I thought about this association, I struggled to see the connection. However, it then became clear—just as the trees spread a large number of seeds knowing that only some will germinate, we too, as humans, follow a similar strategy. When we brainstorm ideas or solutions for a project, we start with many ideas and narrow it down to the ones that “germinate.”

Before beginning my internship with ALBA, I had imagined that the system we would create to measure the 21st century skills being taught in ALBA’s curriculum would be a traditional evaluation system. However, I was pleasantly surprised when we worked as a team to create this system that turned out to be everything but traditional. ALBA prides itself on focusing on systems thinking, particularly about how each part of a system leads to an action in a different part of the system. By applying this type of thinking to evaluation and measurement of 21st century skills, we designed an evaluation system that was based on formative feedback. In this way, the student feedback received by ALBA and by the teachers is utilized in order to create more personalized learning experiences for the students.

The process of creating this feedback-focused evaluation system was far from linear. In our creative brainstorming sessions, we bounced around ideas and built on the ideas of team members. However, when creating concrete plans for some of our ideas, we found areas that needed adjustment. This design process was not only iterative, but it was also circular in that we were always improving our idea of the evaluation system throughout the entire internship.

One of the biggest challenges that we faced was how to create an evaluation system that takes advantage of data, but is also inclusive of different learning modalities, especially remote settings. These considerations brought to the forefront the importance of aligning systems with organizational goals and priorities. Another important lesson that arose throughout the creation of this evaluation system was the importance of keeping the teacher’s perspective at the forefront. It was vital that, for every decision we made, we thought about how this would make the teachers’ lives easier, not harder.

This internship experience strengthened my belief in the importance of using the data that we collect. Many times, across the education sector and beyond, we collect various different pieces of information and data that get forgotten and sit in Excel documents. The work with ALBA broke this norm. ALBA prioritizes the importance of using the data and the feedback that is received in order to improve and personalize students’ learning experiences. If we are going to collect data, we must use it. And, we must use it in a way that improves students’ experience and learning processes.

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