Tuesday, August 17, 2021

More than Content: Teaching Employability Skills and Making Student OWN it!

I believe it is my job to teach MORE than my content. It is my job to help students practice the skills that will be necessary in the work place. I tell all of my classes on the first day of school that I will try, as much as possible to treat them as someone in the "adult working world". 

Side note: I've always hated the phrase "real world" when talking to teens. I HATED it when I was in high school and someone told me to "wait for the real world..." Like my world wasn't real. So I make it a point to refer to the "working world" or "adult world". 

What does that look like? 

  • I allow for natural consequences to take place. If I provide time to work during class and a student makes the choice to work on another class than mine or play Pacman on their Chromebook, the consequence of that is homework or a lower grade due to a poor quality assignment. I will redirect them. I will tell them how their actions are being perceived by me. I will not get into an argument with a kid on whether or not they're on task. I don't have time for that. And teachers never win those anyway... 
  • Student feedback on the activities, lessons, projects, and organization of class is expected, asked for regularly, and taken seriously. Real-time changes and additions are made based on student feedback.
  • They will have a voice and choice in the classroom on the types of projects/activities they do and the rubrics that score them. 
  • Group projects will come with contracts where duties are outlined, consequences are spelled out, and being "fired" is a real option. 
  • Activities, lessons, and projects will be aligned with the employability skills that the class wants to focus on. 
This blog post is going to focus on that last bullet. "Activities, lessons, and projects will be aligned with the employability skills that the class wants to focus on." This is probably one of the best things I've added to my classroom in the last year, and I totally stole and adapted the idea from another amazing educator I had the privilege to work with. Follower her on Twitter @cadyjackson

This is an activity that I do on the first day of class. It follows the same general procedure as the Capturing Kid Hearts Social Contract. But instead of creating a contract in which we are all going to socially abide by... we're going to identify the employability skills that are most needed by students today. Spoiler...in order to learn and apply the skills that they choose, they will naturally have to abide by the typical social contract aptitudes of respect, responsibility, empathy, etc... By creating an Employability Skills Contract this makes that process more relevant and provides automatic buy-in from the students who took ownership of the list.

I start out by handing out a paper copy of the employability skills chart that was created by our Kansas Department of Education in collaboration with various employers across the state. The list is massive and very overwhelming to students at first. (Find the list here) I direct them to focus on the "Competency" column. While the entire chart does provide good information and can initiate great conversation, I'm also bound by time. The "Competency" column gets us right to the one or two word skills that matter. 

I do a reverse of "I do - We do - You do" scaffolding strategy. I call it "You do - They do - We do" Students start individually by writing down 10 skills they personally think are the most important or that they struggle in the most. I usually walk around answering questions and defining skills like "assertiveness" and "networking". 

After a couple minutes of alone time, I ask them to have a conversation with their team members about the skills they all wrote down. Where do they agree? Where do they disagree? Why? And then create a group list of 8 skills they can all agree are needed outside the walls of academia.

Then comes the "We do" part of the activity. I call on a group to share their list. As they read aloud the skills they chose, I write them on the board. I pick the next team to share their list. If a skill is repeated, I put a check mark. By the time each team has shared their list it becomes obvious which skills are the ones the majority of the class wants to focus on. 

***Here's where I sell it*** 
This group of young-adults, many of whom will be walking out into the "working world" in little over two years has just told me the skills THEY want to work on. The aptitudes THEY feel are the most important for their future. And it becomes my job to create lessons, activities and projects that include these important competencies while also teaching the necessary history curriculum. I post them on the wall and I refer to those skills anytime we do something that includes practice in those areas. I make sure to remind them that THEY were the ones to choose those skills not me. It's very important that I make it known in class when we are focusing on specific skills that they chose. I do this after activities, discussions, and I include the "skills of focus" on projects (as seen in the image above). 

***And here's my secret***
I was already doing this in the classroom years before we did this activity. These skills were being taught consistently to my 7th and 8th graders at Cheney. It has always been important for me to make sure to include those in my activities. The only difference now is that the students have OWNERSHIP over the selection process and more BUY IN to the reasoning. It's a win-win. 

ANNNNDDDDD they always choose the skills I want them to. Every time. 


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