Fostering the 4Cs in the primary English classroom

We English teachers do so much more than teach English.  I won’t attempt a definitive list for fear of breaking the internet, but one of the other things we do is to teach our students transferable skills which will be useful to them wherever they end up. The 4Cs of Critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration have been recognised as the ‘learning and innovation’ skills that separate students who are prepared for life in the 21st century from those who aren’t: how can we help nurture these skills? In this blog post I’d like to begin to take a look at these questions which I will be looking into in more detail in my webinar on the topic.

Critical thinking is something of a hot topic these days with the advent of phenomena such as fake news. Tellingly, in a study by Stanford University, 80% of teenagers couldn’t tell ‘sponsored content’ (advertisements) from news articles in a magazine. How can we get our students to think clearly and make reasoned judgements? Well, it’s clear that critical thinking can mean different things at different ages and require different approaches. At primary school we might consider activities like categorisation, which promotes critical thinking as it requires learners to understand and apply a set of rules logically. Very young students can do this and we can move towards our students proposing the categories themselves and indeed guessing each other’s categories.  Questions that have more than one possible answer will also help. For example: What’s the best animal for a class pet and why? Rather than lots of questions to find out our students preferences, what about questions to find out the best option or solution to a problem, supported by reasons?

Creativity: you sometimes hear teachers ‘don’t have time’ for it but it’s not a time wasting free-for-all and it doesn’t have to involve being ‘artistic’ (although it can!). It doesn’t come out of thin air – our students will need a stimulus and a model. Allowing our students to be creative by putting something of themselves into their work can really enthuse them, and we might look at being creative ourselves to serve as a model. It’s not for nothing that creativity sits atop bloom’s taxonomy: analysing and evaluating an idea are comparatively easy: proposing a better one can be genuinely difficult.

Communication: well, that one’s just what we do as language teachers, right? Certainly we’re well placed to develop this skill given our ‘school subject’, though we might still ask ourselves how much of our lessons are ‘communicative’ – ie how much time do our students spend using language for a real or realistic purpose? We often use information gap activities or games to practice discrete language points, but it’s just as important to focus on communicative outcomes as it is to focus on linguistic ones. Granted there is a time for controlled practice, but obsessing about getting them to use a target structure should often take a back seat to more open activities which engage our students around a genuine communicative goal.

Collaboration: of course our students should be working together in school, if that’s what they’ll have to do once they leave, right? If our students work collaboratively they’ll start to see each other as a resource (rather than just the teacher) and they’ll become more competent socially. Simple ways to build in collaboration are in the ‘see what they know’ stage of a lesson by using a think-pair-share dynamic, rather than getting them to call out one at a time, or in the post-reading phase when they don’t understand words – can they solve misunderstandings in groups before asking the teacher? This is to say nothing of the possibilities that more advanced research projects offer.

If the 4Cs are something that interest you or you’d like to get practical ideas to help build them into your teaching, sign up for Michael Brand’s webinar on 21st February, part of Pearson’s series of training webinars for primary teachers ‘Empowering primary learners for the future.’

For further information on these webinars click here and to register for the sessions click here. To get a taster of Elena Merino’s webinar on games, click here.

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