Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic… and Grit?

For thousands of students across the country, the next step after graduating high school is attending college. They spend their time in high school building their resumes, making sure they’ve taken the required amount of credits, bolstering their GPAs with AP classes, and filling their free time with extracurriculars. But what if that wasn’t enough? A growing number of experts believe this is true. There is increasing evidence that, despite fulfilling all the requirements for admission, many students aren’t quite ready for college. This is because of a lack of development of a different set of skills, one that is separate from how well you take notes or perform on a test.

Nonacademic skills are becoming of increasing interest to educators across the country. Experts are finding that these types of skills, such as conscientiousness and agreeableness, have just as much impact on a student’s performance in college as their grades or reading ability. As the first time students are really on their own, college requires a lot of different skills and intelligence to navigate successfully. Although they are not part of a school’s regular curriculum, these skills can be taught, giving students giving students a chance to thrive in college and beyond.

Although many educational experts agree on the need to teach and foster nonacademic skills, there is debate on what to call them. Some simple terms such a “character” and “grit” have been suggested, but face criticism because of their connotations or over-simplicity. Other names can be misleading, such as “soft skills” or “21st century skills,” which may lead people to believe this skills are not important or only deal with technology. Others are just plain unwieldy, like “noncognitive traits and habits,” which, other than being a mouthful, is a bit of a misnomer, as all traits and habits are cognitive, in that each “involves and reflects the processing of information of some kind in our brains.”

Until this dispute can be settled, there will likely be a mish-mash of terms in publications about this subject, accompanied by a group of disgruntled researchers and policymakers. But make no mistake – although they may disagree on the jargon, all agree that these skills are worth developing.

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