Teaching Soft Skills

I think I write about this a lot because I think it’s honestly the most important thing we can teach.  Soft skills mean different things to different people.  Some think of them as skills like critical thinking and collaboration.  Some think about them as being resilient (or having grit).  Anya Kamenetz outlined some of these different skill sets in an article a few months ago.  Likewise, schools have implemented programs to specifically teach some of these skills.  Louisville Collegiate School created The Edge, outlined in this NAIS article with classes taught by the Administrative Team.

Recently, we’ve been updating our standards for our curriculum map.  As part of that, we, too, outlined a set of soft skills that we think should be included.  We had some discussion about whether to actually put these into the map as something teachers would list.  Some in the room said that it should just be a given that you’re doing these things and that they would be checking every soft skill box for every lesson.  Or some said it should be relegated primarily to advising.  And I sort of agreed, but as I worked with my two CS classes this week, I started to think that 1) not everyone teaches these skills or has these skills in mind when they’re teaching and 2) there are ways to explicitly teach these skills or set up assignments in ways that teach them.

For example, we have on our list Reflection as a skill.  We mean, of course, reflecting on the past in order to make an action plan for the future.  And this can be reflecting on what your learned, on how much you studied for the test, or how many extracurriculars you signed up for and thinking about whether or not that was a good idea.  I can’t imagine that every lesson includes this.  Or maybe not even every unit.  You have to create the space for students to do that reflection, in written form, through class discussion, or through one-on-one conversation.  It has to be intentional.  You can’t assume.  I’m having my students do this in blogs, which can be found here and here.

Some of our other skills include

  • Self-assessment
  • Perseverance
  • Resourcefulness
  • Flexibility
  • Self-regulated Learning
  • Internal Motivation

I specifically assign things that require students to assess themselves.  And perseverance and resourcefulness are just par for the course.  I often jump into teaching things I know little about.  My project-based learning approach basically requires all these things in order to be successful in the project.  I don’t outline the steps to take or give them every resource they’re going to need or tell them if what they’re doing is right or wrong.  What I tell them I grade is the process they go through, which they document for the blog, and I tell them I’m looking for all these things in the whole of their process.  I’m looking for them to not just be going through the motions, but to be really asking themselves hard questions and sharing their successes and describing how they got there that shows what they learned and what they had to overcome to get there.

Yesterday, as we were laser cutting some recursively-created designs, one of my students said, “Yay, it didn’t work!  Now I have something blog about!”  (Check out our blogs for more on that.)

So while I think most teachers have these concepts in the back of their minds and may think they’re approaching their lessons in a way that incorporates them, I think it’s worth being explicit about it and really asking yourself as a teacher if the lesson, the unit, or the whole course is really structured to teach these skills and if not, what pieces could be added so that they’re included.