Any student or parent can tell you that a person is more than a number from a test, a set of rotely memorized facts, or a set of high school transcripts. In fact, recent research from the nonprofit Transforming Education shows that important key indicators of overall success, in education as well as life, are “soft skills.”
What are Soft Skills?
Often called “non-cognitive” skills, soft skills are abilities that aren’t routinely measured by standardized testing or report cards. Ranging from determination and self-confidence to social and emotional smarts, these are a set of abilities that affect how students tackle their homework, work with others, and perceive ability. Students with higher levels of determination, who perceive ability as something acquired through work and determination, and who are able to work well in groups, often have more significant long-term success than those who have high intelligence quotients or simple content knowledge.
Tough to Teach But Worth the Investment
Soft skills are difficult to teach and measure, but a variety of projects and designs can help develop them. A number of different assignments, from consistent revision strategies to group projects, require and hone soft skills such as time-management and growth mindset. Additionally, deliberate student and parent attention to these skills can help create better students before college.
My Top Soft Skills and How to Learn Them
There are several important soft skills I want my students to have, particularly time management, grit, and an ability to work in groups. These lead to overall success in the college classroom and make the entire educational experience better. Often, my coursework is deliberately designed around encouraging students to work on developing these skills while also learning course content:
At the K-12 level, projects are often scaffolded into smaller assignments and teachers handle time-management, telling students what to do and when to do it. In college, time-management is done by the student. Learning to set and stick to a homework schedule, to break projects down into a smaller series of tasks, and hold yourself accountable is essential to overall academic success.
2. Grit and Growth Mindset
Often we look at the talented people around us and think they must havesofe been born that way, but success in academics is borne from challenge and failure rather than natural aptitude. Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth are credited with important research in growth mindset and grit, and the most important thing to remember from their work is that our capacity to perform as students is helped tremendously by our commitment despite challenges. For some students, the rigor of college will be a surprise. If you get a lower-than-expected grade, use it to recommit to your studies. Colleges often offer peer tutors, writing centers, and other tutoring services. Reaching out to those institutional support services is not failure but dedication.
In college I loathed group projects, yet as an adult I spend great deal of time doing group-oriented work. Learning to work in and with a team is a significant skill that businesses want from their professionals and college is a great place to work on that. If you are a natural leader, take group projects as an opportunity to learn to co-lead or even follow. For quieter students, college is a great safe space in which to find your voice. Don’t be afraid to take a leadership position in group work. Think of it exactly as you would consider studying for a final: something you may not enjoy, but that will pay off in the long run.