Twenty years ago, conventional wisdom held that cognitive ability displayed by mastery of core academic subjects paved the way to success in school, career, and life. Today, we know better.
Success comes when cognitive skills work in tandem with so-called soft skills like self-control, persistence, and self-awareness. Practitioners and researchers typically frame their discussions of these characteristics around either social and emotional skills, or academic attitudes and behaviors. Each charts a separate path of inquiry and classroom practice. Yet they share a common destination: developing students whose mastery of noncognitive skills, mindsets, and behaviors enhances their academic and life success. We call such students "effective learners."
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Research shows that effective learners develop social and emotional learning (SEL) skills and academic mindsets (for example, a belief that one's abilities can improve with effort) that help them do better in school. Yet, the potential for schools to foster more effective learners has not been developed to any significant scale—especially for the students from low-income districts who would benefit the most.
We are at a moment in time when that could change. The quest for scaling up noncognitive learning has inspired researchers and educators to embark on a range of initiatives. Four such promising initiatives have zeroed in on the barriers to progress and advanced two priorities to overcome them: integrating SEL and the development of academic mindsets into teaching practice, and acknowledging that before educators can help students develop as effective learners they need support to change their own beliefs and mindsets. This article by The Bridgespan Group and published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review website describes these ongoing initiatives and the programs designed to carry them out.