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Making the Four Cs Come Alive – in Any Kind of Classroom

Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking as our best allies

So, teachers…. How’s it going?

And here we thought teaching was complicated before COVID-19…Hah! Little did we know how good we had it!

Yet here we are, ready to face whatever challenges, changes, or emergencies come our way. This time let’s arm ourselves with a secret sauce that will make the curriculum come alive, whether it be face-to-face, remote, or in a hybrid: the Four Cs. When used purposefully and thoughtfully, these Four Cs – Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking – can liven up your lessons and your students’ work in any subject, at any age, fostering lifelong skills that they will remember and use long after graduation.

How do you know if you need some of the Four Cs?

Check the box if you:

  • Have been teaching the same subject for a while, and feel a little bored
  • Suspect that your lessons and assignments have become a bit predictable, and your students have learned all your “tricks”
  • Get energized seeing your students excited and motivated, and you want to facilitate that energy more often
  • Want to develop 21st-century skills – yours and your students – while teaching any subject
  • Need more fruitful interaction with your colleagues

The 4Cs are not new to education, but they are innovative. Teachers have always used elements of the Four Cs, and chances are, you too use them every day. What can change is your awareness of how, when, and why they can be used. What can change is how deliberate you become in incorporating them into every classroom activity. The Four Cs can overlap and intertwine, bringing layers of depth to your students’ understanding of content and their ability to learn how to learn.

“But I’m not good at this!”

Who told you that? Where does that belief come from?

The ingredients of the Four C’s are free, easy to use, and do not necessarily require any special talents, tools, or equipment. What they do require, though, is a mindset that teachers can cultivate, first by applying it to ourselves, and then by creating opportunities for our students.

Let’s break it down.

Communication

It embraces the verbal, the nonverbal, the analogic, and the digital. It goes from how we communicate with ourselves  – our self-talk, our journaling, our self-expression through words or artistic endeavors – to how we talk with others.

It’s speech, dance, writing, painting, singing, acting.

It involves communicating with peers, with adults, with strangers, with future employers, in front of a large audience in that terrifying experience called Public Speaking. Even in other languages 😉

It’s how we use movement, melody, tone, rhythm, facial expressions, gestures, and even silence. It requires an awareness of register: casual, informal, formal, technical jargon, slang, consultative.

How many ways can communication be brought to the forefront in your classroom? Have you ever stopped to reflect on it deeply with your students?

Collaboration

Classrooms have traditionally encouraged individual work, and many teachers have worked hard to make student collaboration a reality in the classroom. Let’s not let Covid-19 discourage us, there are millions of opportunities we can create to foster cooperation among students, colleagues, families, and the larger community.

Covid-19 has shown us just how interconnected and interdependent we are. Without sharing information, ideas, research, and even conflicts, we cannot find adequate solutions to our present and future challenges. We cannot learn how to be good partners. We cannot benefit from a sense of community.

Creativity

Without creativity, there would be no books, no technology, no research, and no self-expression. Creative activities also help us relax, express difficult emotions, stay flexible, and open.

Creativity requires simple things that are hard to find: curiosity, an open mind, an absence of judgment.

Is creativity just about painting and doing theater? Oh no…

Our civilization is changing right before our eyes. Our students are preparing for jobs that do not exist. They will be asked to rebuild economies, societal structures, and policies that reflect today’s challenges and tomorrow’s solutions.

If you can’t imagine it, you can’t achieve it!

Critical Thinking

The Society for Human Resource Management found that 37% of employers considered problem-solving and critical thinking one of the skills that employees lacked.  Critical thinking is fundamental – in buying the best car, in turning your creative ideas into something concrete, in choosing what information is reliable… and what is fake news.

Our dependence on information technology means that we need to process a great deal of information and choose what is useful, important, factual. But how can we teach our students to learn how to learn?

Make it happen!

Once you start recognizing how the 4Cs are woven into your course content, it’s time to develop these skills with purpose. Take a topic, no matter how big or small, and write it in big letters in the middle of your paper. Let your thoughts flow onto the paper in no particular order about all the ways in which one of the 4Cs – or even all of them if you have a big sheet of paper – are connected to this topic. Here’s an example of how I brainstormed Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet while reflecting on Communication, and in about 4 minutes I came up with this:

I then looked at these ideas and reflected on how I could group them (using my critical thinking) and what skills I felt my students could work on and combine with Communication. I came up with:

  • Rewrite in pairs the famous balcony scene in today’s teenage “slang”
  • Recite scenes by changing tone, silence, and volume in different ways, noticing how the meaning of the words can change.
  • Act out a scene only using body language
  • Have groups delve into the use of language as reflected in literary devices. persuasion or even misleading “fake news” in Romeo and Juliet’s time.
  • Create Instagram accounts for the various characters. What stories would they post?
  • Compare Shakespeare’s language to the lyrics of the Dire Straits in their 1980 hit, Romeo and Juliet. How does the musical crescendo contribute to the emotion of the message?

You can imagine how many interesting conversations were sparked, how many creative projects, how deeply we all felt about this timeless story of love, passion, despair, and sorrow.

Have you explored your course content using the Four Cs as your compass? What were your experiences? What worked, and what would you like to work on? Please include your comments, questions, and successes in the comments box below.

Also, if you would like to know more about the 4Cs, check out my new self-paced online course:

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