In school, children learn their 1, 2, 3s and their A, B, Cs. They learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide while also learning how to construct sentences, paragraphs, and a strong thesis statement.
These academic, or cognitive skills, are important for success later in life. If students learn all the right knowledge, so the conventional wisdom goes, they can go on to college and careers ready and able to achieve. The smarter you are, the more prepared as well.
However, a growing number of educators have begun to focus on the flip side of the skills coin. Yes, cognitive skills like reading, writing and math matter. But so do the non-cognitive skills like hard work, resilience, diligence, and conscientiousness.
These non-cognitive skills, or what many educators refer to as social emotional intelligence, can prove just as strong or even stronger predictors to a student’s success in school and career.
Importance of Non-Cognitive Skills
Think about the most successful people in a specific industry. Likely, these are smart people with plenty of brains. Almost as likely is that the most successful people aren’t always the smartest people in the room. Those with the most brains and intellect often work elsewhere within the company.
The most successful people are smart, yes, but they have something even more important: non-cognitive skills. They can lead, inspire others, solve problems collaboratively, and are likable.
Several studies have found links between these non-cognitive skills and success and attainment later in life. From these studies, those with high levels of conscientiousness — defined as having self-control, responsibility, persistence and grit — have the highest levels of attainment later in life.
Non-Cognitive Skills in the Classroom
A growing number of educators and educational institutions are placing a focus on developing non-cognitive skills in students alongside more traditional academics. Most commonly called social emotional intelligence in K-12 settings, the movement begins in the earliest grades.
In kindergarten and younger grades, students begin to learn how to put words to their emotions and negotiate emotional experiences such as their interactions with their parents or peers. In middle and high school, the attention turns more toward collaboration, team work, and conflict resolution.
Schools initially turned to teaching these skills in response to bullying and other issues in school, but many schools have found that academics, school climate and outcomes after high school improve alongside a reduction in bullying.
Growing the Trend
Students need to learn these valuable non-cognitive skills early and understand how they relate to success just as much as learning academic content. Several organizations and school districts are leading the way.
Edutopia, the education foundation founded by George Lucas, has focused on social emotional intelligence for more than a decade. The foundation supports research, provides lessons, and links to experts to help schools teach these skills.
Even the new Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states, includes several non-cognitive standards and markers. For example, the standards include engaging in collaborative discussions, preparing for assignments, and developing an awareness of audience as critical skills.
Kindergarteners all over will continue to sing the alphabet song, learn that one plus one is two, and master tying their shoes. The importance of those cognitive tasks won’t disappear.
But increasingly, they will also learn the non-cognitive skills that will help them become successful later in life.