HARD THINKING ABOUT SOFT SKILLS

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soft skills

The 21st century skills, social emotional learning, character strengths, habits of mind, habits of the heart -

these are some of the terms used to describe non-cognitive soft skills.
Claxton, Costa, & Kallick have done some hard thinking about the soft skills. They have chosen to categorize them under the term DISPOSITION. Below is an excerpt from the Article "Hard Thinking about Soft Skills" from the March, 2016 Educational Leadership issue.

…A Better Term: Dispositions
So what should we call these essential learnings? We suggest thinking dispositions. The word disposition is now preferred by many education leaders
(Costa & Kallick, 2014; Ennis, 1996; Nelsen, 20l4). Teams at Harvard's Project Zero, for example, have made a strong case for using the terms thinking dispositions and learning dispositions (Perkins, Jay, & Tishman, 1993; Ritchhart, 2002).
The term dispositions addresses several points we've made: The word itself indicates that it's not only a person's ability that counts, but also the person's perception and inclination to make good use of that ability in appropriate situations. John Dewey (1933) said, "Knowledge of methods alone will not suffice; there must be the desire, the will to employ them. This desire is an affair of personal dispositions" (p- 30). Perkins and colleagues (1993) describe dispositions as, "acquired patterns of behavior that are under one's control and will as opposed to being automatically activated, and they are overarching sets of behaviors, not just single specific behaviors." And we like one of Webster's definitions of disposition: "Natural fitness or tendency; one's inclination or Propensity."

The term non-cognitive suggests that cognition is well defined and well understood, while everything else exists in a dark zone around this patch of intellectual light.

Can We Teach for Dispositions?
Dispositions like thinking interdependently, striving for accuracy, and thinking flexibly are crucial to a person's success in school and life.
We suggest, therefore, that when educators make decisions about what students should know or be able to do as a result of participating in educational experiences, they include dispositions as explicit outcomes.
But some questions arise. Can we teach dispositions directly? And if dispositions are patterns or clusters of behavior' how can educators isolate any one, help students develop it, and adequately assess whether students are getting better at demonstrating it (Conley, 2013)?
Although such attributes may take a lifetime to learn, they are teachable and observable. Dispositions needn't be mindless habits. When facing a problematic situation, people can consciously choose to draw on powerful ways of thinking and acting -- such as striving for accuracy and drawing on past knowledge. And as a Person becomes mote disposed to use a particular facet of practical intelligence, that disposition can grow and become more sophisticated.
For example, when students engage in project-based learning, they will need to develop the disposition of thinking about their thinking. They'll need to Pay attention to how they plan, process, and present their products. Teachers can ask students to become conscious of their strategies for learning through reflecting in a journal about how they're persisting or whether they could change their course of action by thinking flexibly.
Upon the Project's completion, teachers might invite students to reflect on which strategies they used, how those strategies helped them with their final product, and in what other situations in life, school, careers' and so on -- they might apply dispositions like persistence and flexibility.
Young children might learn about the habits of mind through role-playing or even through talking about what practices help them succeed in playing games. The importance of making the dispositions explicit is that students learn the meaning and the strategies associated with each disposition. This helps them grow the dispositions into habits of mind.
Dispositions can serve as an internal compass to guide decisions and actions (Costa & Kallick, 20l4). Teachers might encourage students to develop the habit of asking themselves, anytime they are confronted with a challenging situation, What is the most thoughtful action I can take right now? Students can learn to ask themselves metacognitive questions like these:
" How can I draw on my past successes with such problems?
" What do I already know about the problem, and what resources do I have or might I generate?
" How might I approach this problem flexibly, looking at the situation in a fresh way? How can I draw upon my repertoire of problem-solving strategies?
" To make this challenge clearer, can I break this problem into its component parts and develop a strategy for understanding and accomplishing each step? Are there data I can draw on?
" How do my beliefs, values, and goals interact with this problem? Are any attitudes or emotions blocking- or enhancing-my progress?
Teachers foster the development of metacognitive self-questioning by raising such questions as a regular practice before, during, and after projects, lessons, or units. We should encourage students to communicate with clarity and precision about what and how they are thinking, what strategies they use, and how they might apply these insights to new situations. When students are about to engage in a science lab, for example, invite them to consider the questions being posed, what they already know and are aware of, and how they might apply past knowledge to this new learning situation. Gradually, students will become more self-aware and more self-directed. Teachers will do less teaching, and students will do more thinking and learning.

Being a skillful collaborator involves cognitive, emotional, and social aspects, used together.

Dispositions and School Culture
We believe a school's culture will also benefit when students -- and teachers -- develop these kinds of attributes, which are as cognitively demanding as any technical "skill." Over time, as everyone in the school becomes effective in employing the dispositions described here, positive interactions and practices will pervade the school. When everyone in a school agrees that it's as essential for students to develop these dispositions as to gain academic abilities, that's a powerful shared vision for students' future lives. And there's nothing "soft" about that.

The authors' website, www.instituteforhabitsofmind.com, offers several free resources for teaching key dispositions.

References
Conley, D. T. (2013, January 22). Rethinking the notion of "non-cognitive." Education Week. Retrieved from www. edweek.org/ew/articles/2013 /0 1/23/18conley. h32.htm1
Costa, A., & Kallick, B. (2014) Disposition: Reframing teaching and learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Dewey, J. (1933). How we think. Boston: D.C. Heath and Company.
Edwards, J. (20l4). Habits of mind: A synthesis of the research. Westport, CT: Institute for Habits of Mind.
Ennis, R. H. (1996). Critical thinking dispositions: Their nature and assessability. Informal Logic, 18(2 & 3), 165-182.
Kamenetz, A. (2015, May 28) Non-academic skills are key to success. But what should we call them? Retrieved from National Public Radio Education at www.npr.org/sections/ed/ 2015 / 05 / 28 / 404684712/non-academic-skills-are-key-to-success-but-what-should-we-call- them
Nelsen, P. J. (2014, May 23). Intelligent dispositions: Dewey, habits and inquiry in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education. DOI: l0.1177/0022487114535267 Retrieved from http://jte.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/05/23/0022487114535267
Partnership for 21st Century Learning. (2011). Framework for 2lst century learning. Washington, DC: Author. www.p21.org/storage/documents/1._p21_framework_2-pager.pdf
Perkins, D. N., Jay, E., & Tishman, S. (1993). Beyond abilities: A dispositional theory of thinking. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: Journal of Developmental Psychology, 39(1), 1-21.
Ritchhart, R. (2002). Intellectual character: What it is, why it matters, and how to get it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Swartz, R., Costa, A., Beyer, B., Kallick, B., & Reagan, R. (2008). Thinking based learning. New York: Teachers College Press.

Guy Claxton (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is Emeritus Professor of the Learning Sciences at the Centre for Real-World Learning, University of Winchester, United Kingdom. Arthur L. Costa (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is Professor Emeritus at California State University in Sacramento. Bena Kallick (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is an educational consultant in Westport, Connecticut.