How the 4 Cs prepare students for the real world

As our world continues to become more connected through technology, today’s students have boundless access to a wealth of information. But, to effectively leverage these resources, students need to be able to make meaning of them.

According to educator Thomas Hoerr, the very notion of intelligence has changed. We no longer rely on the limits of our single mind to access the information resources we need to solve problems. Problem solving has always involved teamwork and cooperation. Today, however, open source programs, wikis, blogs, and other Web 2.0 technologies enable total strangers divided by space and time to collaborate.

Successful problem solving in the 21st century requires us to work effectively and creatively with computers, with vast amounts of information, with ambiguous situations, and with other people from a variety of backgrounds.

There will always be a growing need for people who can effectively analyze, problem solve, and work constructively with others. All of these actions require four competencies, also known as the 4 Cs: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.


In my experience, educators agree the 4 Cs are important, but have expressed concern for effectively putting them into practice. It’s not uncommon to encounter a series of isolated activities offered to students so teachers can check the box of one of the four competencies. The connection to the world beyond classroom walls is often missing.

If we don’t give learners an opportunity to gain these critical skills in grades K-12, they will struggle to navigate college and the workforce. To ensure students are prepared for life beyond high school, educators must proactively incorporate the 4 Cs throughout curriculum.

Critical thinking

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers and Achieve, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are two key areas in preparing students for college and career readiness.

Modern society requires us to be active critical thinkers. We must sift through a vast array of information regarding financial, health, civic and even leisure activities to formulate plausible plans of action.

In the workplace, employees must employ critical thinking to better serve customers, develop better products, and continuously improve themselves within an ever-changing global economy.

Students need opportunities to question data, consider different perspectives of issues, evaluate information and present their points of view with logical reasoning. Critical thinking begins in the early years and continues throughout life – it’s not reserved for a special population, time of day or location. Critical thinking is needed in all walks of life.

Sandra Love, Ed.D., Director of Education Insight & Research, Mentoring Minds

Sandra Love, Ed.D., is author of Critical Thinking in the Classroom: A Practitioner’s Guide and Director of Education Insight and Research for Mentoring Minds. Dr. Love develops practical resources for teachers and principals to help them impact students and build thinking-centered learning environments. A recipient of the National Distinguished Principal Award, Dr. Love spent 37 years in public education both as a teacher and principal, where she gained experience at the elementary, middle school, and higher education levels. She has authored numerous articles and develops educational resources on critical thinking and instructional strategies.

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