Develop Non-Cognitive Skills to Assure Students’ Success

I spent five days in Phoenix, AZ at NAGC’s 62nd annual conference. I came back with some innovative new ideas, fresh ways of thinking, and helpful strategies to share with my students and my colleagues.

NAGC-2015-logo-webOne session in particular stands out in my mind. The title was Developing and Assessing Non-Cognitive Skills Among Gifted Learners given by Katrina Weimholt. She is the Program Director for the Civic Education Project at the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

This session stood out from others for me for a few reasons.  First, it was information that I thoroughly resonate with and have been preaching about (although using different words) for years now. Second, it was based on a recent research project titled Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners, that was done at the University of Chicago in 2012. And third, it is information that is applicable in all of our classrooms, at all levels, everywhere.

The most valuable takeaway from the session Developing and Assessing Non-Cognitive Skills Among Gifted Learners was that the research shows that the best indicators of success are not high GPA and high grades. Think about that. The best indicators of success are not GPA and grades! The X factor is non-cognitive skills.  And a very important point is that educators play a crucial role in developing these skills in students.

What are these non-cognitive skills, and how can we develop them in our students, in order to assure their success? These are the five categories of non-cognitive skills:

  1. Academic Behaviors such as attendance, preparedness and organization, doing homework, and studying.
  2. Academic Perseverance such as grit, delayed gratification, self-discipline, and self control.
  3. Academic Mindsets such as feeling like “I belong in this academic community” and “My ability grows with my effort” and “I can succeed at this” and “This work has value for me”.
  4. Learning Strategies such as study skills, metacognitive skills, self-regulated learning, and goal setting.
  5. Social Skills such as interpersonal skills, empathy, cooperation, assertion, and responsibility.

OK, so how do we help develop these skills in our students?

First of all, we have to be aware of these factors and relay the information to our students. If a student is lacking in one or more of these areas, then we need to provide an intervention to get them on track. And then we need to monitor that intervention and see if it is making a difference.

Specifically, what does this look like?

We need to help them develop these “soft skills” by setting up some ground rules in our school, or classroom, to begin with. Is there an honor code that sets the tone for how we work together? If not, create one. Then use team building activities so that students will gain a sense of belonging and promote relationship building with diverse groups in the school community.

Make sure they are interacting and working toward goals together, in a collaborative way. Provide them with support through any transition periods in their lives, such as moving from middle school to high school, or from high school into college.

Make sure the instructional classroom practices include choice and relevance so they will be motivated to work. Then provide ongoing feedback of their work, and provide out of school programs like mentoring and service-learning that help them be a part of the bigger picture.

How do we assess these non-cognitive skills to know that they are working?

We can give them attitude surveys, observe their behaviors, give them a student performance rubric that establishes clear expectations and asks them to self-assess how well they are achieving in each of these five areas.

For example, a rating scale could be determined that uses these benchmarks: beginning, developing, proficient, advanced. Give them examples to demonstrate each rating, such as what it would look like if they achieved a “proficient” status, or an “advanced” status.

As the instructor, you should be keeping notes, using assessments, and recording specific examples of your student’s behavior, as well, in addition to providing them with specific feedback at intervals, to provide them with opportunities to grow. This rubric can be a tool which helps them grow their non-cognitive skills, which will, in turn, help them to be more successful learners.

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