A HARD PUSH FOR SOFT SKILLS: AN EXAMINATION OF POLICY AND RESEARCH ON NON-COGNITIVE SKILLS IN CANADIAN K-12 SCHOOLING
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Non-cognitive skills have caught the attention of current education policy writers in Canada. Within the last 10 years, almost every province has produced a document including the importance of supporting non-cognitive skills in K-12 students in the classroom. Although often called different names (such as learning skills, cross curricular competencies, and 20th Century Skills) and occasionally viewed through different lenses (such as emotional intelligence skills, character skills, and work habits), what unifies non-cognitive skills within the policy documents is the claim that students that are strong in these skills are more successful in academic achievement and are more successful in post-secondary endeavors. Though the interest from policy-makers and educators is clear, there are still many questions about non-cognitive skills that have yet to be answered. These include: What skills are the most important for teacher’s to support in the classroom? What are these skills’ exact contributions to student success? How can teachers best support these skills? Are there currently reliable and valid measures of these skills? These are very important questions worth answering if Canadian teachers are expected to support non-cognitive skills in their classrooms with an already burdened workload. As well, it can begin to untangle the plethora of research that exists within the non-cognitive realm. Without a critical look at the current literature, it is impossible to ensure that these policies are effective in Canadian classrooms, and to see an alignment between research and policy. Upon analysis of Canadian curriculum, five non-cognitive skills were found to be the most prevalent among many of the provinces: Self-Regulation, Collaboration, Initiative, Responsibility and Creativity. The available research literature was then examined to determine the utility of teaching these skills in the classroom (can students improve on these skills, do these skills impact other aspects of students’ lives, and are there methods to validly and reliably assess these skills). It was found that Self-Regulation and Initiative had the strongest basis for being implemented in the classroom. On the other hand, Creativity still requires a lot more justification in terms of its impact on students’ lives and ability to assess in the classroom.
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