Saturday, November 14, 2015

Teaching the skills they really need to succeed

A student swipes in at her hospital internship.
Last weekend I read this report called "Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success."

To sum it up, when it comes to success, non-cognitive skills are just as important as cognitive skills: "Conscientiousness predicts years of schooling with the same strength as measures of intelligence." And most significantly for us at the Depot, non-cognitive skills appear to be more malleable than cognitive skills once adolescence has been reached.

And according to this report, the best way to teach non-cognitive skills appears to be programs that include a workplace and mentoring component.

Bingo. That's the Big Picture model.

The Depot staff and I have recently begun trying to measure both types of skills with our new Competency Rubric. This trimester, we asked the students to pick one Competency from the rubric that they will focus on (in addition to Communication), for the Exhibitions. It's interesting that most of the students so far have picked Career Skills or Life Skills, which both have indicators related to the Big Five non-cognitives, like collaboration, responsibility, adaptability, self-monitoring, social skills, curiosity, and goal-setting.

During their Exhibitions, which consumed the entire week, students had to present evidence that they have been mastering these skills. Usually, this means discussing their internships and other real-world experiences.

One student told detailed stories about the brake job he'd helped complete at his job shadow, how he worked independently to remove a differential gear, and how he collaborated with other students to figure out how to speed up the breakfast cooking process on Friday mornings at the Depot.

Another showed pictures from his shadow day at a The Vanilla Bean: his kimchi prep work was a meticulous work of art.

One shared the schedule she developed for the toddlers at the daycare where she interns (and where she is absolutely loved by the staff). She shared how she is learning to deal with misbehavior by redirecting students, rather than "saying 'No'."

One student shared about how he has been installing hydrogen fuel systems in cars at his internship, and has been asked by his mentor to get involved with a new business he is starting. Another has been repairing computers, completing some repairs on her own.

Many of these students struggle with completing their "schoolwork" at the Depot, but thrive in their internships. One told how she adjusts and adapts to new environments constantly at the middle school she works at, switching from PE class to social studies to literacy, helping prepare lessons and making classroom motivational posters that are in high demand. She mentioned to me yesterday that her mentor at the middle school is the person who has had the greatest positive impact on her life.

Though we have a lot of work to do measuring and teaching non-cognitive skills, I'm excited that we're on the right track. As Kautz, et al. wrote (emphasis mine):
"Adolescent remediation is possible for children who grow up in disadvantaged environments in their early years. The available evidence suggests that the most promising adolescent interventions are those that target non-cognitive skills as well as programs that off er mentoring, guidance and information. Many adolescent programs that focus on academic skills or temporarily change a participant's environment are only successful in the short run although the short-term results can often appear to be spectacular. Workplace-based programs that teach non-cognitive skills appear to be e ffective remedial interventions for adolescents. They motivate acquisition of work-relevant skills and provide for disadvantaged youth the discipline and guidance which is often missing in their homes or high schools. Successful interventions at any age emulate the mentoring and attachment that successful families give their children."

Of course, we can't neglect cognitive skills, and we won't, but if Kautz et al. are right, they're only half the story, and we need to be intentional and rigorous about teaching all of it.

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