There is growing interest – and I would also argue growing confusion – about all the skills and dispositions that aren’t academic content areas. They are often lumped together under the phrase “non-cognitive.” I fully agree with Andy Calkins that the term “non-cognitive” is problematic. In fact, I would say it is downright silly and makes us sound like we don’t know anything about learning and brain science when we suggest higher order thinking skills are not part of a cognitive process.
However, I don’t think the answer is in finding the right terminology, but in understanding how all these skills and dispositions relate to learning and to the development of young people into what we have called college and career ready. There is significant difference between dispositions such as grit or perseverance and skills related to self-knowledge such as self-control, not to mention skills used in projects and work such as collaboration and communication, and thinking skills such as analysis or evaluation used in almost every academic pursuit. I’m not quite sure where creativity goes at all …perhaps it is a category unto itself.
It’s important to understand these differences and think carefully about how they are nurtured, what they look like developmentally that might be structured as benchmarks, and how they are assessed. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating for formal summative assessments. It doesn’t make sense to me to try to have NAEP monitoring grit at this point in time unless we really understand how all these dispositions and skills fit together. And until we determine which ones, if any, are important to measure. It’s much more important for us to figure out how schools and teachers, working with community partners, develop and assess as a cycle of learning and development.
The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research has just released an absolutely groundbreaking developmental framework that could help us on our way of understanding how these concept fit together. The report, Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework, provides a two-tier framework (captured in this infographic). The authors propose that young adults will be successful when three key factors are in place: agency, integrated identity, and competencies. According to the report, “These factors capture how a young adult poised for success interacts with the world (agency), the internal compass that a young adult uses to make decisions consistent with her values, beliefs, and goals (an integrated identity), and how she is able to be effective in different tasks (competencies).” Underlying the key factors are four foundational components: self-regulation, knowledge and skills, mindsets, and values.
The authors define these factors as:
Agency is the ability to make choices about and take an active role in one’s life path, rather than solely being the product of one’s circumstances. Agency requires the intentionality and forethought to derive a course of action and adjust that course as needed to reflect one’s identity, competencies, knowledge and skills, mindsets, and values. (more…)