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Learner Skills for Kids in the 21st Century

For our children be successful when they get out into the real world, they will need more than a report card with good grades. They will need a number of intangible skills that we often refer to as “soft skills” or “21st century skills”. At our school, we call them “learner skills”.

To help us and our children wrap our heads around these abstract ideas, our school has presented us with a learner skills chart. On it are 5 over-arching skills that are broken down into three strands. To measure their progress on developing each strand, there is a descriptive ladder with five rungs ranging from being aware all the way up to exceptional.

As we all know, life is a continuous journey of learning and development. The children are not expected to reach the top of every ladder by the time they graduate from school. I highly doubt that there are many adults that can claim they have reached the top of every ladder. The purpose of these skills ladders is to help the children develop their own awareness of their journey.

Learner Skills

Learner Skills

Think Differently

Learn Together

Be Resilient

Ask Questions

  • Questions and Conclusions
  • Evaluate and Improve
  • Organisation

Get Involved

  • Respect and Personal Values
  • Wider World
  • Our Community

What do these skills development look like?

The following skills ladders help us and our children measure their progress in their developmental journey. The descriptive nature of the ladders helps them identify areas of improvement they need to work on.

Think Differently: Solving Problems

  • Exceptional: I am able to effectively solve increasingly complex problems. My solutions fit within organisational constraints and are likely to be accepted by others. My solutions stand up to testing and are continuously monitored. My solutions can adapt to future changes and evolve based on a continuous feedback loop.
  • Advanced: I can effectively refine my strategies and generate alternative solutions. I am able to select the best solutions by considering potential unanticipated problems and the likelihood of success.
  • Developing: I can break down problems into more manageable steps and work logically through them. I can then evaluate my approach to see how successful it has been.
  • Emerging: I can ask good questions of a problem to help me to understand what has caused it. I plan and suggest solutions based on my understanding.
  • Aware: I can define a problem. I can then start to come up with some ideas of how it could be solved.

Think Differently: Imagination and Innovation

  • Exceptional: I can develop ideas into inspiring, imaginative and innovative solutions that have a real impact in the world. I can show that my innovations are accepted and recognised beyond my peers and my school.
  • Advanced: I can create a personal space that allows me to be innovative and imaginative. I communicate ideas as part of a developmental process and I am happy to take risks. I understand that exposing weaknesses and flaws in my ideas will lead to improvement.
  • Developing: I can create detailed, imaginative and innovative solutions to problems I have identified. I can identify ways to test my ideas and then effectively evaluate them.
  • Emerging: I am inspired by something that I have seen or imagined and can identify a real way of developing or improving it. I can use my knowledge and imagination to create and share these ideas.
  • Aware: I can use my observations and my imagination to come up with ideas to invent something or improve something that already exists.

Think Differently: Taking Risks

  • Exceptional: I am an advocate for risk-taking as a learning process. I show this in my actions and encourage it in others. I ensure that this is a formative learning process and I can demonstrate how I have developed knowledge, skills and understanding through my openness to risk-taking.
  • Advanced: I can share my thoughts or ideas during a risky process before it has been completed. I understand that this is often where feedback is most useful and I am not afraid to be vulnerable. I can use this to increase my chance of success.
  • Developing: I can take risks using judgments which I can fully justify. I can back up my actions with evidence. I can take risks despite opposition or personal doubt because I know that it is worth a try and I will learn from it.
  • Emerging: I am aware of the emotional effect that trying things that are out of my comfort zone could have on me but I can still go ahead and take the risk.
  • Aware: I can be brave and choose something new that will challenge me and could go wrong.

Learn Together: Building Team Strengths

  • Exceptional: My actions and behaviors place the goals of my team before my personal goals. I can identify why a team is not working well and act appropriately to help make improvements. I can adapt to personal feedback and make positive changes. I empower the members of my team and make sure no individuals dominate. I can also resolve conflict and can mediate to implement an effective resolution to the satisfaction of the group.
  • Advanced: I build the esteem of my team members by giving positive examples and celebrating successes. I can identify team members having difficulties with a task and offer help and advice. I offer solutions during disagreements and make sure everyone is listened to.
  • Developing: I celebrate the achievements and successes of others in the group I can contribute to ensuring that everyone has equal rights and responsibilities. I show that I value what other people say and think.
  • Emerging: I can contribute my ideas appropriately. I understand that there may be some ideas, including my own, that aren’t as good as others.
  • Aware: I make sure everyone in my group has a chance to speak and is listened to. I can stop and think before acting.

Learn Together: Leadership

  • Exceptional: I can effectively lead a team or group to a high level of success. I can break down a vision into clear and concrete plans of action. I can use direct and indirect influence to inspire others and can distribute tasks and accountability effectively. I can monitor progress and hold team members to account whilst also providing support structures for all individuals to succeed.
  • Advanced: I can lead a team or group to be successful by utilising the skills and self interests of others. I can directly inspire team members. I can effectively support team members by understanding what motivates them. I can prioritise tasks and hold team members to account for their work and performance.
  • Developing: I can lead a group or team effectively by recognising my own strengths and those of others. I can be persuasive but also be persuaded. I can give direction and purpose to our team through clear communication.
  • Emerging: I can lead a group or team by demonstrating to others what is possible. I am confident and can generate enthusiasm and energy.
  • Aware: I can lead by example when working in a group or team. I listen to others and show respect for their ideas.

Learn Together: Communication

  • Exceptional: I can communicate my ideas in an original, engaging and professional manner. I can use highly effective methods to present my ideas that have been carefully selected for purpose. I have presented/shown my work to new and relevant audiences that are outside of my immediate community.
  • Advanced: I can engage an audience creatively and informatively to communicate learning and knowledge. I communicate with clarity and accuracy. I am aware of the context and needs of the audience to whom I am communicating.
  • Developing: I can change the way I communicate to suit the audience and can use different methods and styles. My points are clear, organised and persuasive.
  • Emerging: I can communicate clearly and with confidence to an audience. My chosen method is well organised and appropriate.
  • Aware: I can clearly communicate my ideas to others in a way that they can understand.

Be Resilient: Determination

  • Exceptional: I have chosen to persist with an interest or goal over a long period of time. This perseverance has resulted in a substantial achievement in my specialist field. I seek and encourage feedback on my performance from a range of people at numerous points during the process. I can demonstrate how my reflections upon feedback have led to a high level of success.
  • Advanced: I can take up a challenge that requires long-term determination, drive and commitment. I can study or train independently for a period of time. I can clearly define challenges and long-term goals and can identify the difficulties I may face. I demonstrate I have the drive and perseverance to overcome substantial challenges.
  • Developing: When approaching any task or project I accept there will be problems and setbacks. I can identify and explain the strategies that I use to overcome these problems. I can recognise when I need help and can seek it out. I am flexible and can adapt the way I do things based on feedback.
  • Emerging: I listen to, and respond to, feedback. I can change how I am doing something, after thinking about what might be going wrong or not quite working.
  • Aware: I can stick to a task that I find very difficult. When I attempt a task or activity I can keep trying even if it doesn’t work the first time.

Be Resilient: Healthy Lifestyle

  • Exceptional: I set an example in the healthy choices that I make. I firmly believe in helping others to make positive lifestyle choices and have led or designed projects relating to the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. I am seen by others as being an expert in this field.
  • Advanced: Over an extended period of time I have actively shared my enthusiasm for a healthy lifestyle within the school community and my efforts have helped others understand how to make healthy balanced choices.
  • Developing: I can accurately and honestly evaluate my own lifestyle and can plan how to make it more balanced and healthy. I create and seek new opportunities to improve my health in different ways over and extended period of time.
  • Emerging: I take responsibility for building a healthy balanced routine. I can make informed health choices and have a good knowledge of what a healthy lifestyle involves.
  • Aware: I can explain why a healthy balanced diet is important and I can make healthy food choices. I choose to be involved in healthy activities in school and in my own time. I take part in some physical activity and know why it is good for me.

Be Resilient: Managing Emotions

  • Exceptional: I can successfully manage my emotions in high pressure situations with clear thought for my personal well-being and with empathy for others. I strengthen relationships through my own behaviours and recognise the emotional needs of others. I place value in reflecting on shared experiences, both positive and negative. I see improvement and growth as important in their own right.
  • Advanced: I can act and make decisions empathically. I can manage the emotional demands of my life without allowing them to negatively affect my relationships with friends, family or peers. I can anticipate and manage threats to my emotional well-being and that of others.
  • Developing: I can recognise and manage signs of stress. I am not afraid to ask for help if necessary but I can also take steps to independently overcome and recognise emotional setbacks. I can maintain positive relationships and consider the feelings of others as well as my own. I know that my behaviour can affect the emotional well-being of others.
  • Emerging: I can remain calm and thoughtful when I find something challenging. I can find ways to make myself feel positive again after being in difficult situations. I embrace positive emotions and recognise that they are good for me. I can support my friends when they are feeling negative emotions.
  • Aware: I can use the right words to talk about my own emotions. I know what makes me happy, sad, angry and upset. I celebrate my achievements. I can recognise when I am having negative emotions and ask for help if I need it.

Ask Questions: Questions and Conclusions

  • Exceptional: I can create and undertake detailed, wide-ranging independent research and investigation. I can synthesize reliable data from a wide-range of both primary and secondary source material. My research and resulting work has been recognised as being of a high quality by an external agency.
  • Advanced: I can develop well formulated and effective research questions. I can use advanced techniques to find reliable source material, both on and offline. I can recognise counter arguments to the ones I put forward but can still make well argued and clear conclusions.
  • Developing: I can develop good research questions that lead to interesting investigations. I can locate and select a range of source material and assess it for reliability. I can draw clear conclusions that are backed up with evidence.
  • Emerging: I can break big questions down into smaller questions to help me find relevant information. I can use both digital and non-digital resources to select useful information.
  • Aware: I can show curiosity by asking questions and finding information by myself. I can choose what I would like to find out and know where I can look to find it.

Ask Questions: Evaluate and Improve

  • Exceptional: I have a clear and detailed understanding of my strengths but recognise that I can always improve further. I can show an evidence-based understanding of my areas of development. I am able to plan and implement SMART actions to improve both areas of strength and development.
  • Advanced: I can recognise my strengths and celebrate them but am still able to articulate some next steps for improvement. I always make use of feedback from teachers and peers. I can effectively and critically evaluate my own performance and make improvements.
  • Developing: I can clearly explain the next steps for improvement across a range of learning opportunities at school. I can make basic action plans that result in improved performance, using both teachers and my peers to help me.
  • Emerging: I can listen to advice and act upon it to better understand my strengths and areas for development across all aspects of my learning at school.
  • Aware: I know what I am good at and why. I can also talk about things I need to improve.

SMART Actions are:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

Ask Questions: Organisation

  • Exceptional: I can organise big and complex events using all relevant and available resources. I can carefully manage money/people/tasks – with careful planning and time frame considerations – to ensure a successful outcome.
  • Advanced: I can organise myself and others to plan and execute a successful event. I can ensure that relevant resources are used and all aspects of planning are carefully considered. I still maintain a healthy school / life balance.
  • Developing: I am skilled at using a range of methods to organise myself. I am able to create clear timelines which allow me to manage a number of deadlines at any one time. I plan my learning well in advance, being realistic about what is achievable. I have a balanced approach to life.
  • Emerging: I keep my own record of learning tasks and project deadlines so that I don’t fall behind. I plan ahead and I can prioritise.
  • Aware: I can successfully use a diary or calendar to help me organise myself for school.

Get Involved: Respect and Personal Values

  • Exceptional: I can take deliberate action to influence or promote social harmony. My actions are recognised by an external organisation and lead to a policy review or change within one or more institutions. My actions reflect the values to which I am personally committed and I make decisions based on these.
  • Advanced: I can independently identify a social issue in my school community which I feel needs development. I can plan and deliver school-wide action that leads to measurable improvement. Through my actions I demonstrate a commitment to my own values even if I have to make difficult decisions.
  • Developing: I can understand the value of empathy and show this through my actions. I can make a positive impact on promoting respect and empathy amongst my peer group. I understand the importance of understanding my own values and acting in line with them.
  • Emerging: I can respect the opinions and beliefs of others and celebrate other people’s strengths and successes. I make good choices based on right and wrong, helping to resolve minor disagreements by listening and seeking a fair solution.
  • Aware: I can play and learn with others. I listen to other people and care about their needs and feelings. My actions and behaviour show that I treat other people the way I like to be treated and I understand the difference between right and wrong.

Get Involved: Wider World

  • Exceptional: I can lead or organise a large scale project around an important issue. This will raise awareness and have a substantial sustainable impact. The project is recognised by an outside agency or a community outside of my own.
  • Advanced: I can independently lead, or collaborate to organise, a successful and sustainable project which addresses an important issue. The project has a measurable positive impact within my community.
  • Developing: I can identify an issue I feel strongly about and can demonstrate a deep knowledge and understanding around it. I can take action by committing to an organisation or group that deals with this issue.
  • Emerging: I can identify and investigate an issue. I can explore the different views people may have around it and I can decide what my own views are.
  • Aware: I can show an understanding of issues in the world around me. I can talk about them confidently and identify how people can act to make a positive change.

Get Involved: Our Community

  • Exceptional: I can inspire, lead, organise and run a program or project that benefits our school community on a large scale and over a sustained period of time. I can plan to ensure that this lasts beyond my own time as a student at this school.
  • Advanced: I can lead and organise an event or program that has a clear purpose, a successful outcome and that benefits our school community.
  • Developing: I can show that I have been selected to represent the school nationally or internationally based on my efforts, enthusiasm or talent. My attitudes and behaviours during these times have demonstrated the values of our school community.
  • Emerging: I can show that I have been selected or have volunteered to represent the school locally. I can do this proudly and make valuable contributions.
  • Aware: I can actively and enthusiastically take part in a variety of CCAs and other opporunities that the school offers.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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