When our students graduate have we sent them off into the world with the proper tools in order to succeed? David N. Cook discusses what we need to do to get our students ready for life after high school graduation.
In the article “Are We Really Getting Them Ready?” Cook discusses how his district talked with local business owners and determined some reasons why employees are terminated. Many employers said that workers were not able to solve problems, persevere through challenges, or persist when things got tough. They also stated that content knowledge was not as important as these ‘soft’ skills, as they felt they could teach employees the content they needed to know.
Such data demonstrates that there must be a shift in education toward a marriage of academic standards and ‘soft-skills’ standards. Besides basic content knowledge and the ability to read, write, and do simple math, the article outlines 11 qualities that employers need from their personnel.
Persevere when faced with challenges
Value and exercise creativity
Discover how critical thinking skills are used across disciplines
Become a functioning member of a team
Exercise effective communication and presentation skills
Understand the importance of taking initiative
Learn about various aspects of leadership and develop those skills
Adapt and problem solve
Manage time and create a plan for accomplishing a task or goal
Know how to find accurate reliable information
Analyze, synthesize, and make inferences from data (Cook, 2013).
Wow. That’s quite a list. But a very necessary one. Obviously these things really matter in the work world. So why are we not teaching our kids how to embody these skills?
I’m not saying that we should do away with Common Core, (although, I must say, some of the standards are not necessary and the list could be thinned out), but I am saying that we need to incorporate these soft skills into our lessons. There will always be a place for academic standards, and this idea of integrating these work-world skills into our teaching is not meant to diminish the quality or necessity of those academic principles. It’s about being sure that students are ready for whatever they might encounter after they receive their high school diploma.
Here is a lesson that incorporates both academic standards and the soft skill standards cited above:
This lesson requires 9th or 10th grade students to work in a group to create an argumentative presentation about a specific claim. For the sake of this example I will present one: Negative content in a book can affect a child’s behavior negatively. Students must work in groups, research the topic, create a presentation with a claim, evidence, counterclaim, rebuttal, and works cited, give a presentation to the class (to be evaluated by teachers, peers, and self, of course), and then self-reflect on their performance given a rubric.
Here are the Common Core standards addressed via this lesson:
W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
- W.9-10.1a Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
- W.9-10.1b Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns
- W.9-10.1c Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
- W.9-10.1d Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
- W.9-10.1e Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
W.9-10.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
SL.9-10.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
SL.9-10.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
SL.9-10.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
The following can be touched upon in the lesson:
- RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
- RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
- RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
- SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
- SL.9-10.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
- SL.9-10.1b Work with peers to set rules for collegial discussions and decision-making (e.g., informal consensus, taking votes on key issues, presentation of alternate views), clear goals and deadlines, and individual roles as needed.
- SL.9-10.1c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
- SL.9-10.1d Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.
Granted, in order for students to at least touch upon these standards, detailed rubrics and very clear expectations for the project must be created, but you get the idea.
With the academic standards addressed, we now need to work on the soft skills outlined by those employers that do the hiring (and sometimes the firing) of our graduates.
Students in the group must also:
- Create an action plan and timeframe for the work and delineate responsibilities.
- Create group roles and responsibilities (to be rotated at each meeting) for the group.
- Determine who the group leader will be for each meeting (on a rotating basis).
- Fill out a presentation sheet for each group meeting that presents information found and how it can be used in the presentation (to be presented by each member at each meeting).
- Fill out a worksheet that explains how reliable research was found and how the group knew it was reliable.
- Keep an ongoing list of challenges that needed to be solved whether they were academically-based or behavior-based; write about the solution and reflect upon how that solution worked or did not work.
- Determine creative aspects that will improve the quality of the presentation itself and the quality of understanding by the audience. (Incorporate those creative aspects into the presentation).
- Keep a record of the data outlined in the sources that are used for the presentation and draw conclusions about what that data means for the claim and for the audience.
- Outline the role each person will fulfill during the presentation prior to the presentation.
- Self-reflect as a group and as individuals prior to giving the presentation (given a rubric).
- Self-reflect after giving the presentation (given a rubric).
- Listen to, and accept feedback from, the teacher and peers concerning how to improve the content and performance of the presentation.
By the conclusion of the project, students will have covered academic standards as well as those standards outlined by our best source of information in the work world—employers. Will this take a lot of planning? Yes. Should teachers do this every day, week, or month? No. Once a quarter feels right for a project as large as this, but those soft skills should absolutely be incorporated into the lesson and evaluated sincerely. (Now, should the grade be an amalgamation of academic skill and soft skills assessment grades? Never. They should remain separate as to get an accurate picture of what each student or group of students can do academically and otherwise.) But this is a great way to make sure you are giving your students the skills they need for life post-graduation.