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Non-Cognitive Skills Make Students Better Learners

Research assesses how non-cognitive skill instruction is implemented in the classroom

Numerous studies have highlighted the importance of non-cognitive skills, including persistence, attention to detail and completing what you started,  in educational performance particularly for struggling students in math and reading. However, there has been little analysis of how non-cognitive skill instruction is actually being implemented by teachers in the classroom.

Laura Northrop, an assistant professor of education at Cleveland State University, sought to address this by examining how these concepts are enacted for struggling readers in kindergarten through eighth grade. Her findings indicate three different levels, school, classroom, and individual, in which non-cognitive skills are taught to students. Northrop presented her findings in April at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

“Non-cognitive skills are essential to improving educational outcomes but there has been a wide variety in how skill instruction has been implemented and little assessment of best practices,” Northrop adds. “Through this study we hoped to provide a better understanding of what works and assist teachers and school districts in creating a more robust framework for improving non-cognitive skills in their students.”

School-wide efforts related to non-cognitive skill instruction include character building programs with specific required course work, peer mentoring initiatives and specific training programs for teachers. Instructors also weave skill development into normal classroom instruction, including providing rewards for completing assignments on time, while students gain additional non-cognitive skills through their student peer groups.

“While overall school support of non-cognitive skill development is important, our data shows that it is very important for struggling readers,” Northrop notes. “In particular, teachers can strengthen their literacy instruction through enhancing strategies for improving task completion and reading stamina.”                                                        

Northrop hopes to utilize this work to inform her broader research in literacy education and how remedial programs can be improved to increase performance and cognition for slower learners.

“Cognitive skill instruction is a key component of a broader effort to transform how we address early literacy and insure that all students develop the reading skills necessary to be successful in high school and beyond,” she adds.