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What are the most critical behavioral skills that students must possess and that educators must mode, teach, and Nurture?

What does the research say?

The work of Camille Farrington, senior research associate at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, and her colleagues’ (2012) influenced my definition of behavioral skills. Farrington et al.’s (2012) research-based framework describes six interrelated categories of behavior—(1) precognitive self-regulation, (2) mindsets, (3) social skills, (4) learning strategies, (5) perseverance, and (6) academic behaviors—all of which interact and influence student learning (academic performance). Please note that arrows flow both directions. While positive mindsets foundationally impact positive social skills and learning strategies, which foundationally impact positive perseverance, which foundationally impacts positive academic behavior and performance, influences can travel in the opposite direction. For example, difficulties with employing learning strategies can negatively impact a student’s mindset.

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Farrington et al.’s (2012) categories fall under the umbrella of noncognitive factors. I prefer to think of them as metacognitive skills because everything in the brain is cognitive. The behaviors commonly associated with metacognitive skills include everything from attention and focus to grit and perseverance to empathy and engagement. Far from being noncognitive, these behaviors are considered part of the brain’s executive functioning Duckworth & Carlson, 2013; Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014; Martens, & Meller, 1990; Tough, 2012; 2016). Executive functions are processes that have to do with managing oneself (emotions, thinking, schedules) and one’s resources (notes, supports, environments) in order to be successful. The term, in many ways, captures the categories listed above and may be considered as synonymous with the behavioral skills that students need to learn to succeed in school, college, career, and life. Each of these six categories define behavioral skills. Let’s define the behaviors within each category individually

  1. Precognitive self-regulation: Students can attain, maintain, regulate, and change their level of arousal for a task or situation. Educators may observe that students have difficulty coping emotionally and may determine that these difficulties are impacted by poor health, nutrition, and sleep; or lack of exercise; or sensitive to sensory inputs; or an ability to process inputs. These abilities are dependent on, and related to, physiological and safety needs as defined within Maslow’s (1943, 1954) five-tiered theory of motivation.
  2. Mindsets: Students feel a sense of belonging, belief, and engagement. Affirmative responses to the following statements represent a positive, growth mindset—

+      “I belong in this academic community.” Educators know that students are connected to someone and something within the school environment.

+      “My ability and competence grow with my effort.” Educators observe that students believe that they can improve with effort; that smart is something that you become, not something that you are.

+      “I can succeed at this.” Educators know that success breeds success and that meeting students where they are and nudging them toward greater levels of proficiency is key; students draw on a sense of self-efficacy to persist in learning.

+      “This work has value for me.” Educators know that motivation is dependent on the relevance that students see in classrooms; students have opportunities to explore passions, they see the purpose in learning, and they experience personalized supports and opportunities for personalized paths.

  1. Social skills: Student have respectful interactions with others and demonstrate respect for themselves. Educators observe students cooperating and collaboratively in socially appropriate ways and behaving with empathy for others in both academic and social circumstances.
  2. Learning strategies: Students can regulate, monitor, and reflect on their learning. Educators see students employing effective study and organizational skills, behaving metacognitively, tracking their own progress, and responding appropriately when faced with a task, whether the task is completing an in-class assignment, completing a long-term project, or preparing for a test. Learning strategies can be thought of as cognitive self-regulation; students regulate the level of their learning frequently and make the necessary adjustments.
  3. Perseverance: Students maintain effort and adapt to set-backs; they exercise self-discipline and self-control; they delay gratification; and they advocate for one’s needs. Educators observe that students stick-with-it, typically because they are drawing on positive mindsets, social skills, and learning strategies.
  4. Academic behaviors: Students are physically, emotionally, and cognitively present and attentive within learning and learning environments. Educators note that students consistently complete tasks of high-quality; that they actively participate in learning; and that they appear motivation to learn, succeed, and grow. Again, educators’ observations of academic behaviors typically draw on, and depend on positive mindsets, social skills, learning strategies, and perseverance, the companion behavioral skills in the diagram above.

Defining behavioral skills within the context of Farrington et al.’s (2012) framework is helpful because the framework then becomes an action plan. We can operationalize the research, putting the best thinking of these experts into action and actively supporting students in developing skills and proactively supports students when difficulties exist.

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