ENGAGE THE MIND: Non-cognitive considerations influence outcomes
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STUDENT performance in school is a complex and interesting process that requires many inputs and is influenced by a range of diverse factors.
A recent report and literature review by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research titled Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners. The Role Of Non-cognitive Factors In Shaping School Performance: A Critical Literature Review brings our attention to the importance of the factors in shaping school outcomes and performance.
According to the authors of this literature review: “School performance is a complex phenomenon, shaped by a wide variety of factors intrinsic to students and in their external environment.
“In addition to content knowledge and academic skills, students must develop sets of behaviours, skills, attitudes and strategies that are crucial to academic performance in their classes, but that may not be reflected in their scores on cognitive tests.
“Other researchers have described these factors as non-cognitive skills; we broaden the term to non-cognitive factors to go beyond a narrow reference to skills and include strategies, attitudes and behaviours (ibid. page 2).”
In this report, we find a strong and convincing argument for us to take seriously the non-cognitive factors that influence performance and outcomes for students in schools.
According to the report, “racial/ethnic and gender differences in school performance can be reduced by focusing on students’ attitudes and behaviours (ibid. page 5)”, however, the authors also point out that “knowing that non-cognitive factors matter is not the same as knowing how to develop them in students.
“And what exactly is the nature of these non-cognitive factors?
“Are they inherent student characteristics that some students have and others do not?
“Are they fixed traits, or do they change in response to context or environment?
“Can they be taught and learned in a school setting?
“Are non-cognitive factors more important — or more problematic — for one race/ethnicity or gender over another (ibid. page 5)?”
These are critical questions, which suggest that the issue of non-cognitive factors in student learning will increasingly become a crucial matter for educators and schools alike to deal with and understand if they are to engage student learning in diverse and complex environments.
What then are some examples of non-cognitive factors?
In the report, five categories of non-cognitive factors related to academic performance are discussed.
These are those behaviours usually thought of as being associated with a good student.
According to the report these include “regularly attending class, arriving ready to work (with necessary supplies and materials), paying attention, participating in instructional activities and class discussions, and devoting out-of-school time to studying and completing homework (ibid page 8).”
These behaviours are observable and extremely important for achievement.
This entails focus and persistence on staying on task.
According to the report, “academic perseverance refers to a student’s tendency to complete school assignments in a timely and thorough manner, to the best of one’s ability, despite distractions, obstacles or level of challenge (ibid. page 9)”.
Grit, persistence, self-control and self-discipline contribute to academic perseverance.
These are the “psycho-social attitudes or beliefs one has about oneself in relation to academic work.
“Positive academic mindsets motivate students to persist at schoolwork (i.e., they give rise to academic perseverance), which manifests itself through better academic behaviours, which lead to improved performance.
“There is also a reciprocal relationship among mindsets, perseverance, behaviours and performance (ibid. page 9)”.
Context and experience in school can either reinforce academic mindsets or undermine them.
These are “processes and tactics one employs to aid in the cognitive work of thinking, remembering, or learning.
“Effective learning strategies allow students to leverage academic behaviours to maximise learning.
“These include strategies to help one recall facts (for example, mnemonic devices); strategies for monitoring one’s own comprehension (such as while reading or doing Math problems); and strategies to self-correct when one detects confusion or errors in one’s thinking.
“Learning strategies may also include goal-setting and time management, both of which help students manage the process of learning (ibid. pages 10-11)”.
These are “interpersonal qualities as cooperation, assertion, responsibility and empathy.
“Social skills are acceptable behaviours that improve social interactions, such as those between peers or between student and teacher (ibid. page 11)”.
Social skills are extremely important not just for student performance but also for their continued performance in life and the workplace.
Understanding the importance of non-cognitive factors in student learning and performance is crucial to enable us to engage the process of learning and performance in schools.
While some of these non-cognitive factors are tangible and can be measured and clearly viewed, others have a more intangible aspect to them and are more difficult to evaluate.
In my previous writing (Learning Curve, June 24), I have drawn readers’ attention to the issues of intangibles for performance and the discussion today can be considered a further elaboration of some aspects of that as well.
Furthermore, understanding that “gaps in school performance by race/ethnicity or gender could be reduced by focusing on certain non-cognitive factors (ibid. page 14)” is a potentially significant problem to be investigated in ethnically pluralist societies.
In this matter as in all of the issues discussed above, conceptual clarity in our analysis and research is absolutely necessary.
One concern seems reasonably clear. Understanding non-cognitive influences on student performance is an important part of the mix in seeking to engage the issue of improving schooling outcomes and addressing inequalities.
More research needs to be done in this field and its significance and potential importance should not be underestimated.
Reference: Farrington, C.A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T.S., Johnson, D.W., & Beechum, N.O. (2012). Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners. The Role Of Non-cognitive Factors In Shaping School Performance: A Critical Literature Review,
Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.