I keep meaning to post something up on my blog, but as I originally feared life gets in the way! Anyway, I’m going to try to commit to posting something new every month. I think I’ll start by posting it here on the first page and then move it to another part of the site once I’ve got something else to put up – let’s see how that works. So, here’s a new post – enjoy 🙂

Earlier this year I was surprised at the IATEFL Conference in Glasgow when I went to see a panel discussion talking about key ideas for teaching in the 21st century. The panellists started talking about the 4 ‘Cs’ – what are these, I hear you ask? Communication, Creativity, Creative Thinking and Challenge. Now, I don’t think anyone would disagree that these are important concepts in pretty much all subjects, and not just English Language Teaching – but I still have a number of issues with the use of these words.

Let’s start with Communication. My understanding is that the idea that language is used for the purpose of communication had been around for quite a long time. I mean, just reaching up to my bookshelf I can find Communicative Language Teaching – Littlewood (CUP, 1981) and Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching – Brumfit (CUP, 1984) and these were by no means the first books on this topic. And even the work of behaviourists in the 50s, the idea of a functional / notional syllabus in the early 70s etc, mentioned communication.  So what makes this key for the 21st century?

Creativity – is there anyone who disagrees with the need for learners to be creative? Now, there might be a question as to whether creativity can be taught, but we can certainly provide opportunities for our students to show their creativity. We can encourage it and we can reward it.

Challenge – again any disagreement? The only disagreement would be over what constitutes challenge, the level of the challenge and what is actually challenging. But, stop! – let’s think for a minute. Won’t this depend on the individual students? Trying to set levels, define what challenge is … these are red herrings! What we should be addressing is why challenge isn’t already included in teaching, if it isn’t.

And finally that brings me to Creative Thinking. My first worry with this concept is that it seems to be a jump too far. I think we need to step back and ask ourselves: what about thinking? Again, I’m not sure how much we can ‘teach’ thinking. We can certainly provide opportunities for it to take place. We can look at different strategies and different ways of thinking about something. But surely, what we are doing is making students aware of the different possibilities and giving them the space in which to think. Of course, Creative Thinking goes back to theories such as Bloom’s taxonomy – nothing wrong with that, but why is this something special for the 21st century?

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2 Responses to Welcome

  1. Phil Ball says:

    I guess the problem here Adrian is that you don’t really give much context or information as to the orientation of the ‘4Cs’ debate/talk you saw. The 4Cs is normally associated with CLIL (Do Coyle’s model) and it’s also coming under increasing scrutiny as a valid conceit, but it would seem that the neat package is spreading to other domains and can stand for a separate raft of concepts.

    The problem with these ‘sets’ is that we have to decide if they’re valid as a package, or valid as a set of individual components. Coyle’s individual components (Content, Communication, Cognition and Culture, originally) are all fine on an individual level – as you say, why would you seek to NOT have these things (the things in the Glasgow 4Cs) in your system? The problem arises when you consider them in more gestalt terms, as something that makes sense as a cluster. And of course, Coyle’s immediately fall apart.

    The Glasgow case seems to be the opposite. Individually you dismiss them as old hat, but then you fail to consider them as a package – which is possibly what the proponents were originally doing. We don’t know. You fail to inform us.

    So…I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to say. Perhaps you have 4Cs, 4Ds or 4 whatevers that you’d like to propose as alternatives?

    And by the way, I do actually think that Creative Thinking is something special for the 21st century. Before, we used to think of it as mental exercise, as an offshoot of a literary competence, etc. Now we’ve realised that as a race (I mean Homo Sapiens) we’re probably going to be pretty shafted without it. So I would say it is by far and away the most important competence to develop in 21st century education.

    Phil Ball

    • Hi Phil,
      Thanks for the link to Coyle – interesting. As for the context, I’m pretty sure you can still go online and see the debate as it was recorded in Glasgow by the British Council (although it was a couple of years ago). However, the concepts certainly weren’t treated as a cluster – the panelists were all arguing that the ‘one’ they had picked was the most important and that you should ‘vote’ for them.
      As for being shafted without creative thinking, I still feel that we should start with ‘thinking’ first. Many educational systems around the world try to ‘teach’ (force) conformity rather than encouraging creativity.

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