Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Transferrable Skills Conundrum


Growing up in Pennsylvania keystones were part of my life. In my home town there were several beautiful stone bridges crossing the Brandywine Creek. I learned that the keystone was the load bearing point of the bridge. The uniquely shaped stone is were the two halves came together.

In Proficiency Based Education you can think of the Transferrable Skills as the keystone that bears the weight of a student's academic life and their career life. These skills are not the content skills like being able to calculate the area of a circle or being able to apply a particular technique in drawing. They are a mixture of hard and soft skills that tend to make students and adults successful and productive.


That is the simple version. From here on out it gets confusing. Unfortunately in order for us to implement a Proficiency Based Education System we are going to have clear up that confusion, at least for ourselves. In a proficiency based system students would have to demonstrate that could do the content and the transferrable skill. It will no longer suffice to just know how to calculate the area of a circle, student will have to do more with skill. This is where it gets complicated.



Vermont has developed a set of transferrable skills to give us a starting point. These skills are derived from a skill set that has been around for some time, 21st Century Skills. The indicators below range from "Use evidence and reasoning to justify claims" (hard skill) to "Demonstrate ethical behavior and the moral courage to sustain it." soft skill.










This following synopsis from Ed Glossary sums the problem up fairly well.

While there is broad agreement that today’s students need different skills than were perhaps taught to previous generations, and that cross-disciplinary skills such as writing, critical thinking, self-initiative, group collaboration, and technological literacy are essential to success in higher education, modern workplaces, and adult life, there is still a great deal of debate about 21st century skills—from what skills are most important to how such skills should be taught to their appropriate role in public education. Given that there is no clear consensus on what skills specifically constitute “21st century skills,” the concept tends to be interpreted and applied in different ways from state to state or school to school, which can lead to ambiguity, confusion, and inconsistency. 

Vermont has tried to clear things up with their list and it does help. If you look at just the Framework for 21st Century Skills you can get quickly overwhelmed by the stuff of being a 21st century citizen. However in PBE we need to be able to separate out our more measurable skills from our habits of work. As a teacher it is easier for me design an assessment and measure a science student's proficiency in "Developing and using models to explain phenomena" than it is to measure "perseveres in challenging situations". I a may know it when I see it, but seeing it may take more of knowing the kid than knowing the content.


So this is the work we need to do. Both the transferrable skills and the habits of work need to remain the keystone between our students' academic lives and their career lives. Vermont's list of Transferrable Skills is going to need some delineation between what are skills we measure and what are habits we observe. We will still report out to families and students on both of these, but the skills we identify will be tied to content assessments.

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