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Importance of the ‘Three Rs’ and ‘Four Cs’ in Education Today

By Dr. Darrell G. Floyd on March 17, 2020 hst Print

Rigor, Relevance and Relationships

These three words roll off the tongue easily in an alliterative manner. But what do they mean for education in today’s world – and why are they important?

Dr. Bill Daggett, founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education, has spent years touting these Three Rs and the concepts surrounding them.

Many contend that the Relationship piece must come first. Secondary educational leaders (teachers, coaches, athletic directors, activities directors, fine arts directors, principals, superintendents, board members, etc.) have all heard the old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know…until they know how much you care.” And that is true. Once a student knows that the educator truly cares, is truly taking an interest in what is happening in his or her life, and truly has the student’s best interest at heart, only then will that student begin to work hard, do whatever is asked, begin to attempt to succeed individually – and then begin to eventually help others to succeed as well.

High quality Relationships make Rigor and Relevance possible. Once a positive relationship is established between an educator and a student, or a coach and a student-athlete, then the Rigor piece can begin to be implemented. That means setting the bar high enough that it stretches students to achieve at levels they didn’t realize they could ever achieve.

Once positive Relationships are in place, and once the proper Rigor is in place, then the student might ask, “What is the Relevance of this, why do I need to learn it and how am I ever going to use it?” It is the job of the educator to answer those questions for the student. Real-world applications are the most effective and most useful. If an educator can cite for the student some real-world examples, and show the student the Relevance of what he or she is doing, then the learning is more likely to stick with the student for a longer period of time.

There is a large body of research surrounding the Three Rs, and more and more school districts across the country have come to adopt this framework in an effort to coordinate curriculum, instruction and assessment along two dimensions of higher standards and student achievement. It helps the district adopt and facilitate appropriate and effective tools and strategies to meet the needs of students’ emotional needs, cognitive needs and social/ interpersonal needs.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) seems to be a frequent catch phrase and buzz word in today’s educational world, but school districts that have adopted the Three Rs framework have been working on SEL for years as both a conduit to and outcome of high-quality interactions and relationships.

So, once schools have built a positive Relationship with students, set the proper level of learning Rigor, and provided them with real-world examples to the Relevance of what they are learning, what skills should students possess once they leave our hallways at graduation time?

The Four Cs of 21st Century Learning: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity

These are the skills that today’s employers yearn to see in the candidates they interview and hope to hire. As a result, it is incumbent upon schools to provide students with the necessary opportunities to explore, model and learn these skills before they graduate from high school. And every educator (regardless of their position) plays a part in fully preparing students for the real world in each of these four areas.

Numerous educational entities and thinktanks around the nation (including Common Sense Education.org and K12 Thoughtful Learning.com) have adopted the Four Cs as a necessity to fully prepare young people for what is needed in today’s world, regardless of whether the high school graduate is entering the workforce directly, is entering the world of career/tech or is entering the world of higher education.

And studies have shown that students who participate in sports or other activities are among the best prepared for careers after high school thanks to the use of these skills in their chosen sport or activity.

Communication is about sharing thoughts, questions, ideas and solutions effectively.

Collaboration is about working together (in both small groups and large groups) to reach a common goal by putting talent, expertise and intelligence together. Student-athletes on sports teams have to collaborate to execute plays in a successful manner.

Critical Thinking is looking at problems in a new way and linking learning (and problem- solving) across the curriculum, across subject areas and across disciplines.

Creativity is trying new approaches to be able to get things done, which entails incorporating skills of innovation and invention.

Why are these skills essential to success?

a) Communication and Collaboration promote confidence. Developing effective communication skills through fun and collaborative methods fosters a sense of positive self-esteem, enables healthy emotional development and encourages teamwork.

b) Critical Thinking skills increase motivation. Students with strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills are more likely to be motivated to achieve academically and less likely to be negatively influenced.

c) Creativity provides a healthy emotional outlet. Students who express themselves creatively show less frustration, develop a joy for learning and acquire an appreciation for other perspectives.

d) The Four Cs help build executive function skills. Examples of executive function skills are planning, organizing, motivating, coordinating, evaluating and strategizing. These skills help students develop self-regulation and work their memory and cognitive flexibility skills (which encourages them to learn new ideas and develop their social-emotional capabilities).

e) Employers highly value the Four Cs. Hiring managers pay close attention to a job candidate’s abilities to communicate, collaborate, and think critically and creatively. So, encouraging young people to build these skills can help set them up for future success.

How can schools best incorporate the Four Cs into what they do on a daily basis?

Step 1: Prompt Communication and Collaboration. After students have completed their individual activities, have them turn to a classmate or small group to share their ideas. This activity requires students to take something written/internal and make it spoken/external. It makes students begin to think critically and creatively with each other – the very definition of communication and collaboration.

For example, a teacher could ask student pairs to select one idea from each student. Then have the opposite partner advocate the idea, presenting reasons to support it. Or, ask a student group to select an idea and create a rapid prototype of the concept via a drawing, model, program or other representation of how it might work.

Step 2: Prompt Critical and Creative Thinking. After introducing and modeling a new concept, begin to prompt students to think critically and creatively about it. For example, a teacher could ask the student to list different ways that a problem could be solved. Or, they could ask the student to represent a concept visually via a sketch, diagram or symbol.

Step 3: Presentations. After students have communicated, collaborated and thought critically and creatively, have them share their group’s ideas with the whole class. One person could be chosen to be the main presenter, but all members must participate in some way. This step requires more critical and creative thinking, more effective communication and more collaboration. It also cements the concept being taught. When students know they will need to share what they have learned, they have a reason to care about the work they are putting in.

By incorporating Steps 1-3, teachers aren’t just teaching a subject. They are engaging students in a way that deepens understanding and helps students be better Communicators, better Collaborators, and better Critical and Creative thinkers.

Obviously, there is no ONE way to success. But if teachers, coaches, athletic directors, activities directors, fine arts directors, principals, superintendents and school board members all work together in an attempt to successfully incorporate the Three Rs and the Four Cs into the day-to-day operations of what we do in education today – in the classroom and in the athletics realm – then hopefully they will be providing students with a leg up on what the “real world” will require of them moving forward.