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21st Century Skills

**Pellegrino, J. W. & Hilton, M.L. (Eds.) (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century (Summary). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Available at

This executive summary synthesizes the research literature on the teaching and learning of 21st century skills and other “deeper learning” behaviors. Pulling together findings from all areas of social science, the authors discuss the influences of cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal competencies on educational, career, and health outcomes. The committee finds positive correlations between cognitive competencies and desired adult outcomes. While it concludes that more research is needed on the effects of non-cognitive competencies, it does find positive effects of conscientiousness and negative effects of anti-social behavior. Furthermore, the committee finds strong representation of cognitive competencies in the Common Core State Standards but uneven coverage of the interpersonal and intrapersonal domains. Finally, the authors offer recommendations for how curriculum developers, foundations, and government agencies can support instruction geared toward developing 21st century skills and deeper learning.

Saavedra, A. R. & Opfer, V. D. (2012). Learning 21st-century skills requires 21st-century teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(2), 8-13. Available at

The authors of this practitioner-oriented article argue that the traditional model of education in which teachers transmit factual knowledge to students is outdated and does not prepare students to transfer knowledge to new situations, creatively solve problems, or communicate their understanding of complex ideas. Drawing from research on teaching and learning, the authors discuss nine ways that pedagogy can support students’ learning of 21st century skills. Their suggestions include teaching skills associated with the production of knowledge in a given discipline, reversing the way students spend their time on homework and in the classroom, addressing misunderstandings directly, and explicitly building teamwork into assignments and classroom activities.

Binkley, M., Erstad, O., Herman, J., Raizen, S., Ripley, M., & Rumble, M. (2010). Defining 21st century skills [White paper] (pp. 1-36). Updated version available at

This white paper from the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) research project synthesizes the research on the role of standards and assessments in teaching and learning 21st century skills. The authors also discuss principles for designing 21st century standards and assessment systems, including incorporating adaptability and unpredictability, using largely performance-based tasks, and providing actionable, useful feedback for all stakeholders. They analyze existing assessment systems from around the world and the extent to which the systems provide measureable descriptions of ten 21st century skills identified by the authors. These skills fall into four categories: ways of thinking, ways of working, tools for working, and living in the world. Sponsored by Cisco, Intel and Microsoft with involvement from Australia, Finland, Singapore, the United States, Costa Rica, and the Netherlands, ATC21S aims to produce resources for educators and policymakers, including learning progressions, example tasks, and a policy framework. More information can be found at their website:

Kyllonen, P. C. (2012). Measurement of 21st century skills within the Common Core State Standards. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, K-12 Center. Available at

The author, a member of the National Research Council Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills, builds on the committee’s comparison of 21st century skills and the Common Core State Standards in its report Education for Life and Work. He suggests that reluctance of current standards efforts to incorporate 21st century skills may reflect distrust in the ability of available tools to accurately measure 21st century skills, particularly in the interpersonal and intrapersonal domains. The author reviews existing methods for measuring 21st century skills, discusses challenges and weaknesses of current approaches, and synthesizes research on promising advancements such as biodata badges, self-ratings with anchoring vignettes, and performance activities involving collaborative problem sovling.

**This document is considered a priority reading.