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Theory into Practice: 21st-Century Learning and the Learner Profile

By Maritte Moskovics
Theory into Practice: 21st-Century Learning and the Learner Profile

Teaching and learning in these times is exciting and challenging in equal measures. Gone are the days when transmitting knowledge and expecting students to regurgitate it ad verbum was what schools were all about. Besides, we are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist. What we should be doing—and this is what makes Uruguayan American School (UAS) stand out—is to teach the whole person and equip every student with the skills needed to go beyond the knowledge they acquire in school. It is only then that the children of today will be happy and successful adults tomorrow. This holistic approach has given birth to the UAS learner profile, which is a true reflection of our core beliefs as a team of professionals. In brief, we all worked together as a community of educators, students, and parents to create the conditions that will help our students be globally aware, creative, emotionally intelligent, and collaborative critical thinkers. Over the course of the year, students work on a wide range of different activities, which not only address their various learning styles, needs, and interests but also allow them to advance their learning in true Vygotskyan fashion. A good example of this is the project one group of Grade 7 English students embarked on, producing a trailer for a movie based on the novel Holes. Once expectations for the final project were clarified, students understood that in order to succeed they would have to analyze the plot, characters, and themes of the novel, synthesize what they knew, and work collaboratively. They had to decide together not only what to include in the trailer but also how to present it, all while meeting deadlines. As an authentic project-based learning experience, student autonomy, cooperative learning, and critical thinking were at the center of this activity. Students thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. To ensure that the activity was effective, they were taught the necessary skills at each step along the way and were provided with plenty of opportunities to reflect on their performance. A few weeks after the project wrapped up, students completed a survey to determine the activity’s enduring effect and to serve as a bridge to subsequent activities. The ultimate test to any activity is the degree to which it challenges participants and contributes to their progress toward becoming more efficient, accomplished, and engaged learners. In this respect, their responses to the first question were validating. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the project you did a few weeks ago? “It was fun and creative. I really liked it. It was cool to be able to incorporate aspects of the book to a movie trailer.” — IM, Grade 7 “I think of cooperation, teamwork and creativity. I also thought it was fun.” — MP, Grade 7 “Joy is the first thing that comes to my mind as well as excitement of working with others.” — TR, Grade 7 “I think it is a really good project because it made us work all together in a group with many ideas coming from different people.” — LS, Grade 7 In a follow-up exercise, we reviewed the UAS learner profile and discussed ways it might translate in the real world, making these principles more meaningful to this particular age group. Students were asked to write down specific traits this project had helped them develop. Unsurprisingly, collaboration and creativity were at the top of the list, thought it was notable that all traits were identified by many students in the class. Being globally aware was only mentioned by 20 percent of the students, with one of them stating that he had learned about being globally aware as everyone in his group “had different ideas and most came from a different background and people think from where they come from.” Not only does this statement show the incipient ability to think critically, but it is also a testament to the rich and unique learning environment we all help to create at the UAS. Maritte Moskovics is currently a Middle and High School English Teacher at Uruguayan American School. She has previously taught English, French, and Spanish at independent schools in England and the United States.

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