Should Student Education Encompass “Life Skills”?

There is no denying that discussions on Common Core and standardized testing, which have nearly monopolized education news in recent months, are warranted and in need of special consideration. But in the midst of these extensive debates have we overlooked other critical aspects of education, specifically the teaching of non academic skills?

While there is not yet a concrete name for these skills, they are commonly referred to as “non cognitive skills” or “skills for success”. They include abilities such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, self-control, grit, persistence, emotional competence, punctuality, and numerous others. These skills cannot be measured by standardized testing, yet are essential for students to learn in order to be successful in higher education and the work force.

There has been an increase in support for teaching these types of non academic skills to students as studies have shown that a number of employers are growing more and more discontent with new employee skill sets. Particularly in a number of key areas such as oral communication, written communication, critical thinking, and being creative, students are more than twice as likely as employers to think that students are being well-prepared. This demonstrates a weakness in how we educate and prepare our students for the future. Students are not being taught the necessary skills that are vital for success and have thus created a gap between them and the workplace.

The implementation of these skills into school curriculums has gained momentum through avenues such as the 84.215H grant which is a Skills for Success Program that “supports Local Educational Agencies 1 (LEAs) and their partners in implementing, evaluating, and refining tools and approaches for developing the non-cognitive skills of middle-grades students in order to increase student success.” While programs and grants like the aforementioned have been implemented with success, there is still a looming barrier preventing progress for expanding the teaching of these skills — there is no widely accepted name for them. Because of this, policies have been hard to write and enact since the wording and intent are often vague and broadly interpreted. This has resulted in a lack of student preparation as well as the loss of time and resources — all because of simple terminology. So while it is still important to address educational issues such as standardized testing, maybe it’s time we dedicate more attention to defining and teaching these non cognitive skills. Skills that can provide a foundation for all other academic learning.

The Myths of Silent Reading

If you’ve opened up this blog to read it, chances are you aren’t doing it aloud. But have you ever wondered when silent reading became the norm? According to Paul Saenger in his 1997 book Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading, ancient and early medieval European manuscripts were written in  scriptura continua. Inotherwordstextslookedratherlikethis. If that was hard to understand, imagine if, assuming you were one of the few fortunate enough to be literate, every text you encountered looked like that. Simply, it was hard to read without sounding out the syllables. Throughout early medieval Europe, however, Irish monks, and later British and continental monks, began to spend hours in tedium parsing out words in what we would now do with a space bar. Saenger argues it was with these spaces that scholastic philosophers began a novel practice: silent reading.

Now, before we ebulliently sally forth thinking that in the days before spaced words, all Europeans went around reading every text out loud, we must remember that with all historical debates (particularly on how people in history lived in a quotidian sense), there is debate. Quite a lot of debate. And often copious evidence for both parties to make a case. The Cambridge classicist, M.F. Burnyeat, has spent ample time cataloguing evidence in antiquity where people were reading in silent contemplation, not always in groups or muttering to themselves. Almost 50 years ago, the august scholar Bernard Knox offered great evidence that reading silently and to oneself was known and practiced in antiquity. However, as A.K. Gavrilov claimed, the idea that people have always read silently is rather less dramatic than centuries of people reading only aloud.

Of course, this debate to be made between tweed clad classicists and medievalists misses another side the polygon that is consciousness. That is, does silent reading really exist at all? When we read, is there anything silent? All of us who have read, which is to say, all of us reading this blogpost, know that to read means to contend with the other boisterous noises in our head. In a recent piece in the New Republic, John Biguenet recalls that the losing of his home after Katrina left him to a state where reading became impossible (though writing was not, as he wrote 15 columns on Katrina for the New York Times). Biguenet concludes that silent reading does not exist, that to silently read is to silence ones self, and to hand over consciousness to someone else. He cites numerous articles in the field of neurology which have illustrated how reading, itself, is processed similarly to auditory sounds. In other words, we read similarly to how we hear. However, if greatly condense and simplify the thoughts of the 20th-century Gilles Deleuze, all Ideas exists in the swarm of differential thoughts within the fractured I. Perhaps then, there is no silent reading as their is no silent thought (and how we read is really not quite through hearing, per say, but in thinking through the text). As Biguenet points out, when we are sick or in a state of great shock, it may be too hard to push our reading self through other worries. At the very least, this should remind us that reading is a dynamic and active use of time, not merely passivity nor escape. Even is if it done quietly.

Sunday, September 6th is National Read a Book Day!

As holidays go, Read a Book Day can be celebrated with minimal effort. Step one: Find a book. Step two: Read. Step three: Enjoy. For anyone interested in less solitary festivities, here are a few ideas:

  • Find a Free Little Library in your neighborhood. Maybe you have books to donate, or perhaps you’ll find one for yourself. If there is no Free Little Library in your area, it’s easy to start
  • September is Library Card Sign-up Month. If you don’t have a library card, this is a great day to get one. Many libraries also accept donated books.
  • Join (or begin) a book club. Start one with your friends, or engage with your fellow readers online.
  • Walk to your shelf. Find a book you love. Give it to someone who will love it.

Of course, we always recommend that students and parents looking for books targeted to both reading ability and interests access the free Lexile “Find a Book” search tool.


Happy reading!

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.