Seven 21st Century Skills Students Desperately Need, K-12

Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, conducted research beginning with conversations with several hundred business, nonprofit, philanthropic, and education leaders. With a clearer picture of the skills young people need, he then set out to learn whether U.S. schools are teaching and testing the skills that matter most. Wagner observed classrooms in some of the nation's most highly regarded suburban schools to find out whether our "best" was, in fact, good enough for our children's future.

He included some of his research findings in a recent article published in October's Educational Leadership. In the article, titled Rigor Redefined, Wagner concluded that students of this generation are not unmotivated; they're just differently motivated. "They're multi-taskers, they are drawn to graphics, they like instant gratification, they use Web 2.0 tools to create, and they love collaboration," he said. "If we can figure out how to grab their interest in learning, they'll become great thinkers and be eager to learn the basics."

In the article, Wagner shared a list of seven "survival skills" that students need to succeed in today's information-age world, taken from his book, The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need--And What We Can do About It. "It's a school's job to make sure students have these skills before graduating", he said. The seven skills are:

1. Problem-solving and critical thinking
2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
3. Agility and adaptability
4. Initiative and entrepreneurship
5. Effective written and oral communication
6. Accessing and analyzing information
7. Curiosity and imagination

Wagner's conclusions have much in common with the Iowa Core Curriculum's 21st Century Skills Essential Concepts and Skills. Both seem to agree that preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society--and technology can be the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom.

To access the full article, Rigor Redefined, go to