The 4 Cs: From Buzzword to Reality

By: Amy Pavelich, Zulama Copy Editor

There’s an exciting change taking place in today’s classrooms. More and more teachers are incorporating the 4 Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) into their lesson plans and it’s making a huge difference in the way students learn and how teachers instruct.

For this post, we talked with a dynamic teacher who’s committed to the 4 Cs. She’ll share a bit about how she applies them to students and herself. And at the end, we’ve got some great resources and inspiration for using the 4 Cs in your classroom and life.

4 Cs Refresher

But first, a quick review of each of the 4 Cs:

Critical Thinking: viewing problems from different angles

Communication: sharing ideas, questions, and possible solutions

Collaboration: achieving goals by working together

Creativity: courageously trying out new ideas

How does encouraging the 4Cs impact your students? Well, the possibilities are endless. Students will learn empathy through collaboration and communication. They’ll make important connections through relationships centered on valuing different perspectives. They’ll become critical, and in many cases divergent, thinkers, by exploring different ways to come up with super creative solutions to problems. And with the world they’re inheriting, all of these life skills will come in handy as kids set out on their paths to good citizenship and continuous learning.

With the 4 Cs a student can become a:

4 Cs Graphic

Advice from a 4 Cs Teacher

So, as a teacher, how can you successfully implement the 4 Cs in your classroom? And, just as importantly, for yourself? We asked Courtney Sears, a second-grade teacher who’s a champion of maker spaces and a genuine thought leader in education. (Check out “Taking the Time for Making,” where she discusses how she designed a maker space in her classroom that incorporates STEAM challenges!) She gave us some really useful ideas that will hopefully inspire you in your own quest for cultivating the 4 Cs.

Using Projects to Cultivate the 4 Cs for Your Students

Courtney uses projects to help her students cultivate the 4 Cs. She’s found that the most engaging assignments and student work come from projects that blend all four elements together. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. “Each second grade class in our school has a classroom maker space. Each week the kids have time to work on self-directed projects. We use the time to teach communications skills and habits of mind such as optimism, flexibility, and persistence. Kids build forts, light-up tiaras, doll houses with working elevatorsyou name it! They couldn’t complete these projects without using all of the 4 Cs.”
  2. “For a unit on weather, my students worked in small groups to design a weather manual that explained how different weather instruments worked. My students had to use Google Docs to write and publish the book. They used the comments feature to give each other feedback on their work and they had to help each other solve problems.”

“Explaining to them that all of their names went on the cover and that no one would know what particular work each kid did really helped them see the importance of working together to create a product they could all be proud of.”

Cultivating the 4 Cs for Yourself

The 4 Cs are valuable for teachers, too. Courtney has found that one great way to practice using the 4Cs herself is by connecting with other educational professionals, establishing a support network where she can seek out fresh perspectives and collaborate.

“I do all of my planning with my second-grade teamwe accomplish so much more by working together. Pushing myself to try new things and seeking out opportunities to grow professionally help a lot. My teacher fellowship helped me develop relationships with policymakers, advocate for teachers and students through writing, and dig more deeply into the world of teacher-led professional development.”

The 4 Cs of Professional Learning Networks

Courtney has also developed a robust online community, aka a Professional Learning Network (PLN). She’s a big fan of PLNs as an avenue to the 4 Cs. There’s an abundance of creative ideas you can learn from others to try out with your students and opportunities to connect and collaborate with other educators who are rethinking learning space, refocusing curriculum to be project driven, and connecting more than ever with their students.  

Courtney has had a lot of success using Twitter to build her PLN:

“Twitter connects me with blog posts and online articles from orgs like Teaching Tolerance and EdWeek. I also participate in Twitter chats. I connect with teachers and authors I would never have the chance to work with in my school or district.”

Since it can be tough to get started developing your own PLN, here’s her advice to teachers who are new to it:

“To get connected on Twitter, follow the curricular leaders in your district, the authors of professional books and blogs that have most influenced you, and take part in Twitter chats. Be generous with your follows, comments, and retweets so that others can get to know you and see what you are about. Make sure that you follow a diverse group of educators. Beyond Twitter, seek out enriching professional development and networking opportunities that will push you to do better and help you make connections beyond your school and district. Finally, share your story with others. There are many education publications eager to share the voices of classroom teachers.”

Personalized Professional Development Source: EdSurge.

A Parting NoteThe 5th C?

We think it’s worth acknowledging that among the 4 Cs, a 5th C exists: connection. It is inherent in everything you do to achieve the 4 Cs, and some of the best experiences that come from them. As famed researcher, Dr. Brené Brown says, “People are hardwired for connection.” But to make that connection truly meaningful, valuable, impactful, purposefulwe must continuously engage our students in practicing the 4 Cs both in and outside our classrooms.

Courtney Sears is a second-grade public school teacher in 1:1 classroom in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is National Board Certified and a 2015–2017 North Carolina Hope Street Group Fellow. She has been teaching and learning with young children for 18 years. She is passionate about cultivating classrooms with growth mindsets so that children can confidently take the lead in their learning.

Resources:

Check out these useful resources for more information on the 4 Cs and ways to incorporate them in your classroom!

  • Critical Thinking: Self-awareness and metacognition are discussed for helping improve learning.
  • Communication: In STEM fields, empathetic communication is a fundamental ingredient for success . . . If students learn to express ideas in a persuasive way and respond gracefully to reactions to their opinions, they’ll be able to promote innovation and social change through fields like bioengineering or video game design.”
  • Collaboration: This P21/Pearson Paper explores what good collaboration looks like and how to design collaborative activities in your classroom.
  • Creativity: “The process of having original ideas that have value” (The Element, 2009). This is a must-see Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson on “Changing Education Paradigms.” Even if you’ve already seen it, it’s worth watching again! And there’s a featured RSA video animation as a bonus.  
  • Common Sense.org’s video provides example ways to incorporate the 4 Cs into classrooms using technology.
  • Teaching Thought gives 10 reasons for why developing a PLN is important for teachers.

Want to spice up your curriculum this fall? Bring game design and computer science into any class, at any time with our Short Courses.

Are You Meta-curious?

By Lily Taylor, Community Advocate

Metacognition, Growth Mindset, Meta-curious

Discovering Metacognition

Elementary school teacher Karin Morrison was teaching the numbers 1 through 10 to the children in her class. This counting exercise was a suitable challenge for some of her students. Other students, were immediately disengaged. One boy, who wanted to be an astronaut, was counting in “light years” rather than counting to 10. Creative, but Karin was unsure about how to focus him on counting to 10.

Her student was thinking about numbers in a way that was meaningful to him rather than addressing the assignment. She decided to try to understand why he was thinking about math in the way that he was. “How can I help him think more about his own thinking?” she asked herself.

“Thinking about one’s own thinking” is also known as “metacognition.” Like many other educators, Karin stumbled upon the concept of metacognition without learning about it formally.
She began to design activities around metacognition. When her students reflected on how they were thinking and why, they engaged with and refined their personal learning process. Later in her career, Karin co-authored a book on the subject —
Making Thinking Visible— with Project Zero’s Ron Ritchhart.


On a Zulama hangout, Nikki Navta and Karin Morrison dove into how to develop metacognitive skills
in the classroom. Their practical strategies for educators who want to “engage students in thinking about their own thinking” are below.

Metacognitive Tools

The Iterative Process

The iterative process consists of a cycle of prototyping, testing, and refining. Students can reflect on which strategies worked, which did not, and why. This cycle emphasizes systems thinking and focuses on how a solution is reached, rather than the solution itself. Zulama students use the iterative process to build and continually improve their game design projects.

Collaborative Project-Based Learning

Consistent collaboration helps students view problems from the perspective of their teammates, embrace new ideas, and learn strategies from one another.

Embracing Failure

When failure is embraced as essential to the learning process, students learn to view failure experiences not as barriers to learning but as ongoing opportunities to understand how they think and learn. They see failure as the beginning of their learning, not an endpoint.

Student-Centric Classrooms

In student-centric classrooms, teachers act as facilitators and mentors who encourage student inquiry and discovery. This classroom paradigm encourages students to develop their own strategies for learning and thinking.

Metacognition Meets Growth Mindset

In implementing these tools, it is helpful to be aware of the intersection between metacognition and the growth mindset. A growth mindset is an understanding that, with effort, one can always grow and improve. Metacognition is the ability to reflect on one’s own learning process and strategies.

When a growth-minded teacher gives encouraging feedback, they remind students that hard work and grit lead to growth and improvement. For that feedback to be helpful, students need to understand what kind of “hard work,” or learning strategies, are most effective for them. To discover personal learning strategies, students must be able to reflect on the strategies that have (and haven’t) worked for them in the past. They must be able to think about their own thinking.

Meta-curiosity

The first step to effectively developing a growth mindset and metacognitive skills is to be “meta-curious” — a term that Nikki coined during the hangout. Being meta-curious could mean that you are curious about metacognition, or it could mean that you are curious about your own curiosity. If you fit into either category, try out some of the tools listed above, keep reading about metacognition, subscribe to the Education Innovation podcast on iTunes, and get in touch with us on Twitter @ZulamaLearn.

Watch our “Understanding Metacognition” Hangout here or listen on iTunes.