Learning and Innovation Skills–The 4Cs


This week, as a cohort, we dug into 21st century learning, what that looks like and how we can support it as teachers and coaches. Partnership for 21st Century learning developed a framework defining 21st century learning to help “define and illustrate the skills and knowledge students need to succeed in work, life and citizenship, as well as the support systems necessary for 21st century learning outcomes.” While exploring the framework, I felt drawn to explore learning and innovation skills and the 4Cs.

The 4Cs are vital learning skills that can be facilitated and supported in many ways. In the article “Is There a Best Way to Develop the 4Cs in All Students” John Larmer states that giving students opportunities to build competence in these skills can mean as little as tweaking an existing lesson, creating new assignments or ensuring that students exhibit these skills through their own projects.


Communication 4cs_738_733517bc6f068e737d1969144a568e0cec14be00

  • Communicate clearly
  • Articulate thoughts and ideas
  • Use multiple medias and technology


  • Work effectively with diverse teams
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness
  • Assume responsibility for shared work

Critical Thinking

  • Reason effectively
  • Use systems thinking
  • Make judgements and decisions
  • Solve problems


  • Use a wide range of creation techniques
  • Work with others to communicate ideas effectively
  • Implement innovation



(An Educator’s Guide to the 4Cs)

The article mentioned above references the book PBL for 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity which guides teachers in planning, implementing and developing these skills by presenting them under 3 driving verbs. I found this organization helpful to drive my thinking from recognizing this skills to application in the classroom:


Design projects intentionally to provide opportunities for the 4 Cs.

    • Create Driving Questions for projects that promote critical thinking by using words like “most effectively” or “best,” which require students to establish and use criteria to arrive at an answer.
    • Design the types of projects that emphasize critical thinking: mock trials or debates, scientific investigations, interpreting events in history or literature, or design challenges.
    • Consider the authentic reasons why students should work in collaborative teams on a particular project, rather than having them work in teams by default.
    • Find ways for students to interact with adult experts and communicate to real-world audiences in a project.
    • Encourage creativity and innovation with projects that involve design and invention challenges, problem-solving tasks, and arts integration.


Develop student skills for a project by helping them understand what the each of the 4 C’s looks like and by providing scaffolds.

    • Have students think of real-life examples of how people think critically, work in teams, communicate with an audience, and use creativity to create products or solve problems.
    • Teach students how to follow a problem-solving process and evaluate sources of information and possible answers to a Driving Question.
    • Form project teams strategically, encourage shared leadership, conduct team-building activities, establish norms for collaboration, and teach students how to make decisions as a team.
    • Encourage active speaking and listening, teach students how to talk with adult experts, use communication technology, and plan and practice presentations.
    • Foster a classroom culture that supports creativity by encouraging “wild” ideas and making it OK to fail; teach them how to brainstorm and use critique protocols to improve rough drafts and prototypes.
    • Help English learners access the project by thinking carefully about the language functions called for in specific 21st century learning activities; place them in supportive teams; provide models such as sentence starters and graphic organizers to help with collaborative discussions.


Determine results of project work by assessing how well students have learned the 4 C’s with a balanced approach.

    • Provide rubrics that describe each of the 4 Cs (see examples at bie.org) to guide students, from the beginning to the end of a project.
    • Have students keep a project journal to record and reflect on their use of 4 Cs skills during a project.
    • Help students reflect on how they have demonstrated increased competence in the 4 Cs at the end of each project.
    • Incorporate the 4 Cs into project grading systems.

(PBL for 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity via http://www.p21.org/news-events/p21blog/1249-is-there-a-best-way-to-develop-the-4cs-in-all-students)


Identifying the 4Cs and recognizing their importance in the classroom is the first step to supporting these 21st Century Learning Skills. They are easy to name and discuss, but applying the skills into learning in the classroom is the important next step for full facilitation in the classroom. There are a plethora of resources out there, but these summarized above have definitely given my the skills to identify, define and apply the 4Cs in the classroom and/or in a peer coaching relationship.



An Educator’s Guide to the 4Cs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2016, from http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/A-Guide-to-Four-Cs.pdf

Framework For 21st Century Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2016, from http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework

Is There a Best Way to Develop the 4Cs in All Students? (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2016, from http://www.p21.org/news-events/p21blog/1249-is-there-a-best-way-to-develop-the-4cs-in-all-students

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