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Ten skills every student should learn

Resourcefulness, accountability, critical thinking, and communicating effectively—and with respect—were among the key skills cited by readers as most important

Ten skills every student should learn

"The most important thing we can teach our children is how to learn on their own," said one reader.

What students should learn in school is at the forefront of the education reform debates taking place across the U.S. and elsewhere.

Ed-tech stakeholders for years have been touting the need for students to learn so-called “21st century skills” such as problem solving, critical thinking, and media literacy to prepare for the new global, digital economy, while others are calling for students to have strong math and science skills.

All of these skills are important—but what do educators and other school stakeholders think are the most important skills?

We recently asked our readers: “If you could choose only one, what’s the skill you’d like every student to learn?”

Perhaps surprisingly, while many readers did cite critical thinking as a skill every student needs, another skill was listed nearly twice as much as all other responses combined.

Need a hint? It’s a skill every student has needed since the days of the one-room schoolhouse: the ability to read.

Being able to read, though the most popular response, was certainly not the only one. Another skill that could be considered the most forward-thinking response is having “global empathy.”

Based on the number and quality of responses we received for each suggested skill, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 skills our readers believe every student needs. What do you think of these responses? What skills would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

According to readers, every student to be able to (in no particular order):

1. Read

“Would it not be reading? Even reading is required for math, which is very important, of course. But I have read recently of residents in poor African nations who are taught to read and are simply buoyed in other areas by their ability to read. It becomes an instant confidence builder.” —June Weis, consultant, SREB Educational Technology Cooperative

“I’d like every student to know how to read—to read deeply, and to truly understand each word. By reading, we can improve our knowledge. I speak from my own experience in studying English online. Now I want to help others to understand that.” –Cata

“If you can read, you can learn to do anything.” —Candace Kavey

“To read well. Reading is the first step to good writing. In order to learn social studies, science, and math, you need to know how to read. Reading is the gateway to all knowledge.” —Krista Bethke

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Comments:

  1. corinnegregory

    August 12, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I think it’s interesting that several of the skills cited deal with social skills. Accountability, communicating respecfully, being resourceful — these are all within the scope of social skills, character and values development.

    Educators state that these are within the top-10 things they wish students would learn, but the minority of schools place emphasis on this type of education. There’s such a worry that there isn’t enough time to teach it because they are so focused on academic achievement.

    However, repeated studies show that this kind of learning not only enhances academic achievement, it also can bolster less-than-stellar academic performance. Just this past February, a study from the University of Chicago showed that schools that implemented broad-spectrum social skills education saw an average of 11 percentile points increase in academic test scores (http://www.socialsmarts.com/EdWeekSocialSkillsBoostTestScores02042011.pdf)

    True, we may believe that these sorts of skills are the things parents should be teaching in the home, but we know that for a myriad of reasons, kids aren’t acquiring these skills. If so much of their personal and academic and future success depends on this type of education — and the schools suffer from their lack — why isn’t it a higher priority?

    For more on this discussion, I invite you to visit http://socialsmarts.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/academics-social-skills-better-results/

    - Corinne Gregory
    http://www.corinnegregory.com
    http://www.socialsmarts.com

  2. corinnegregory

    August 12, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I think it’s interesting that several of the skills cited deal with social skills. Accountability, communicating respecfully, being resourceful — these are all within the scope of social skills, character and values development.

    Educators state that these are within the top-10 things they wish students would learn, but the minority of schools place emphasis on this type of education. There’s such a worry that there isn’t enough time to teach it because they are so focused on academic achievement.

    However, repeated studies show that this kind of learning not only enhances academic achievement, it also can bolster less-than-stellar academic performance. Just this past February, a study from the University of Chicago showed that schools that implemented broad-spectrum social skills education saw an average of 11 percentile points increase in academic test scores (http://www.socialsmarts.com/EdWeekSocialSkillsBoostTestScores02042011.pdf)

    True, we may believe that these sorts of skills are the things parents should be teaching in the home, but we know that for a myriad of reasons, kids aren’t acquiring these skills. If so much of their personal and academic and future success depends on this type of education — and the schools suffer from their lack — why isn’t it a higher priority?

    For more on this discussion, I invite you to visit http://socialsmarts.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/academics-social-skills-better-results/

    - Corinne Gregory
    http://www.corinnegregory.com
    http://www.socialsmarts.com

  3. ybeasley

    August 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I would also add being respectful to oneself and others, self control and a “I can do it” mentality.

  4. ybeasley

    August 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I would also add being respectful to oneself and others, self control and a “I can do it” mentality.

  5. wallace

    August 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    All of these skills are necessary and essential for learning. I also think that passion and interest should be included. :-)

  6. wallace

    August 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    All of these skills are necessary and essential for learning. I also think that passion and interest should be included. :-)

  7. pixilinx

    August 15, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    “A high level of curiosity about the world around them” is the one thing, above all, I’d want students to have. Curiosity will drive you to WANT to read, which leads to writing & communicating well. Curiosity will make you WANT to know about the whole world & to solve problems. Curiosity “to know” will naturally cause a child to ask a zillion questions & to do experiments. This effects an early exposure to basic scientific processes & inferential thinking from within their own, comprehensible, context-embedded, wondrous world. And that, in turn, can give a child intuitively personal reasons for wanting to have numeracy & other math skills.

    “Curiosity” isn’t typically described as a skill, per se, & I’m not sure where it comes from, but I’m pretty sure you can’t teach it explicitly, step1, step2, etc. To develop curiosity, I think you have to be inspired, by someONE or someTHING that shows you what it looks like to be joyfully curious and deliciously swept-away with passion to be engulfed in…whatever it is.

    As a teacher ["new" teacher/ career change], I’m kind of shocked by how many (K-5) kids seem to have no passionate interests. I can’t imagine a childhood like that! I’d always thought that all children were just born curious, their minds full of ideas, questions, & plans… but, if they ARE, much of it is surely squelched somewhere along the path to school, or maybe children are over-stimulated by fast-paced cartoons & video games which leave no room for their own imaginations, interests, & desires to come forward.

    When I was in 2nd grade, I actually counted the books in our [small public school] library “to see if there were enough” because I read so much that I was wondering what I would do next after I’d read every book we had [ha ha, hubris!]. I needed to know how much time I had to find a solution. I couldn’t WAIT to get to 4th grade after I caught a glimpse of their text about a “magical” subject they had called “geography”; Couldn’t WAIT to get my hands on that book! I used to “get in trouble” with the teacher for surreptitiously reading that geography book when I was supposed to read something different. Embarrassing, but it didn’t harm my curiosity, by then, a well-developed, indefatigable trait. And, P. S., I DID grow up to become a globally oriented citizen, learned 3 languages, well-travelled, lived & worked in foreign countries, etc.

    I’m still massively curious and “deliberately” let it show in the classroom whenever I can. Fostering an environment where children feel cognitively & socially “safe” to take learning risks, to make mistakes & just fix them, no big deal, is one of the most important things I do, IMHO. True enthusiasm for learning is “catching”, so, in time, kids do begin to find or develop some or even a lot of their own. All I can do is hope they will not go back to former habits which they unlearned with me.

    Curiosity needs to be nurtured & the curricula teachers are required BY LAW to teach, leave little room for individuals to find & develop their talents. “Differentiated instruction” means teachers should find the best way to teach every student the same exact stuff in the current educational climate. A problem is that many, maybe most of us know that there are serious deficits in the curricula & in other aspects of the educational system, and we are not empowered to do anything about that.

    If I may clarify, we teachers are not empowered, not all by ourselves, BUT, “We The People” ARE empowered to change things, and we don’t. All we seem to do is complain and blog on. “We The People” have the right to vote but many don’t. “We The People” have the right to impeach or fire those we hired when they fail to to the job which WE mandated by voting for their campaign statements. We almost never do that! “We The People” have the numbers, the votes to change anything & everything to make it better, but we just seem to put up with whatever we get. We blog about how crappy everything is, but TALKING about it does not equal DOING something about it. We allow bullies and greedies to define our lives, & sorry to put it this way, but we then hand over our most precious national treasure, our children.

    I thought I’d seen nearly everything until the day I saw a 2nd rate basketball player with no educational reform credentials whatsoever appointed to hold the highest education position in the whole country. No one did anything about it. “We The People” just let it be. IMHO, “We” should have had the fortitude to boot him out as quickly as he arrived. He hasn’t & won’t fix anything & after ~8 years of his nonsense, those who implemented his programs will be saying, “Well, that didn’t work.” [This prediction is a no-brainer -- based on copious amounts of reading edu industry activity/ trends from 1950's -> present. Hello?!?!? Hasn't anyone noticed we are doing the same thing over & over!!] It’s not as is if there aren’t highly qualified people “out there” to do that job. Linda Hammond-Darling, for example, the edu advisor to Obama’s presidential campaign, could have been chosen for the job. She has a serious track record of real world accomplishments, such as raising the standards for teacher credentialing, just to name one out of dozens of qualifiers.

    To at least partially answer Corinne’s question… “why don’t we prioritize teaching ‘the right stuff’ “, it’s because “the right stuff” isn’t on the state test, pure & simple. Teachers & schools are judged by how well students do on that one test & there can be serious consequences, so teachers feel trapped like a rat.

    The power structure in education is top-down and the part that desperately needs to be fixed FIRST is the top tier. That’s where the focus should be, because the people at the bottom, the teachers & students, have very few choices about what they will learn/teach/ learn/teach……..

    We need to stop wasting time & money, & attempting to “apply band-aides” to the lower tiers of the education industry & fix the part that’s really broken. So much time is being wasted because of a long chain of poor choices made by the “education hierarchy above us”. The kids I have in front of me RIGHT NOW don’t have any time to waste; Their time is NOW.

    Firing a bunch of teachers, closing low-performance schools, founding a franchise of charter schools – none of these are solutions that actually address the PROBLEMS. These are big, attention-garnering moves that make the public feel reassured that “something is finally being done” about the problems in USA education. At best, each of those strategies is a totally wimpy cop-out & unfortunately, at worst, it provides a subterfuge, yet another distraction from the real problems.

    The saddest part is that every time a “NoChildLeftBehind” or a “RaceToTheTop” is announced, the public seems to automatically buy into these poorly thought-out and/or under-funded programs. “We The People” put up with anything and everything handed down to us & hold no one accountable. We simply hand over our dollars and our children and “We” forget about it for another 8 years. Meanwhile,back at the ranch, the clock ticks & no one did anything at all to improve the future for our kids.

    Anonymous

  8. pixilinx

    August 15, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    “A high level of curiosity about the world around them” is the one thing, above all, I’d want students to have. Curiosity will drive you to WANT to read, which leads to writing & communicating well. Curiosity will make you WANT to know about the whole world & to solve problems. Curiosity “to know” will naturally cause a child to ask a zillion questions & to do experiments. This effects an early exposure to basic scientific processes & inferential thinking from within their own, comprehensible, context-embedded, wondrous world. And that, in turn, can give a child intuitively personal reasons for wanting to have numeracy & other math skills.

    “Curiosity” isn’t typically described as a skill, per se, & I’m not sure where it comes from, but I’m pretty sure you can’t teach it explicitly, step1, step2, etc. To develop curiosity, I think you have to be inspired, by someONE or someTHING that shows you what it looks like to be joyfully curious and deliciously swept-away with passion to be engulfed in…whatever it is.

    As a teacher ["new" teacher/ career change], I’m kind of shocked by how many (K-5) kids seem to have no passionate interests. I can’t imagine a childhood like that! I’d always thought that all children were just born curious, their minds full of ideas, questions, & plans… but, if they ARE, much of it is surely squelched somewhere along the path to school, or maybe children are over-stimulated by fast-paced cartoons & video games which leave no room for their own imaginations, interests, & desires to come forward.

    When I was in 2nd grade, I actually counted the books in our [small public school] library “to see if there were enough” because I read so much that I was wondering what I would do next after I’d read every book we had [ha ha, hubris!]. I needed to know how much time I had to find a solution. I couldn’t WAIT to get to 4th grade after I caught a glimpse of their text about a “magical” subject they had called “geography”; Couldn’t WAIT to get my hands on that book! I used to “get in trouble” with the teacher for surreptitiously reading that geography book when I was supposed to read something different. Embarrassing, but it didn’t harm my curiosity, by then, a well-developed, indefatigable trait. And, P. S., I DID grow up to become a globally oriented citizen, learned 3 languages, well-travelled, lived & worked in foreign countries, etc.

    I’m still massively curious and “deliberately” let it show in the classroom whenever I can. Fostering an environment where children feel cognitively & socially “safe” to take learning risks, to make mistakes & just fix them, no big deal, is one of the most important things I do, IMHO. True enthusiasm for learning is “catching”, so, in time, kids do begin to find or develop some or even a lot of their own. All I can do is hope they will not go back to former habits which they unlearned with me.

    Curiosity needs to be nurtured & the curricula teachers are required BY LAW to teach, leave little room for individuals to find & develop their talents. “Differentiated instruction” means teachers should find the best way to teach every student the same exact stuff in the current educational climate. A problem is that many, maybe most of us know that there are serious deficits in the curricula & in other aspects of the educational system, and we are not empowered to do anything about that.

    If I may clarify, we teachers are not empowered, not all by ourselves, BUT, “We The People” ARE empowered to change things, and we don’t. All we seem to do is complain and blog on. “We The People” have the right to vote but many don’t. “We The People” have the right to impeach or fire those we hired when they fail to to the job which WE mandated by voting for their campaign statements. We almost never do that! “We The People” have the numbers, the votes to change anything & everything to make it better, but we just seem to put up with whatever we get. We blog about how crappy everything is, but TALKING about it does not equal DOING something about it. We allow bullies and greedies to define our lives, & sorry to put it this way, but we then hand over our most precious national treasure, our children.

    I thought I’d seen nearly everything until the day I saw a 2nd rate basketball player with no educational reform credentials whatsoever appointed to hold the highest education position in the whole country. No one did anything about it. “We The People” just let it be. IMHO, “We” should have had the fortitude to boot him out as quickly as he arrived. He hasn’t & won’t fix anything & after ~8 years of his nonsense, those who implemented his programs will be saying, “Well, that didn’t work.” [This prediction is a no-brainer -- based on copious amounts of reading edu industry activity/ trends from 1950's -> present. Hello?!?!? Hasn't anyone noticed we are doing the same thing over & over!!] It’s not as is if there aren’t highly qualified people “out there” to do that job. Linda Hammond-Darling, for example, the edu advisor to Obama’s presidential campaign, could have been chosen for the job. She has a serious track record of real world accomplishments, such as raising the standards for teacher credentialing, just to name one out of dozens of qualifiers.

    To at least partially answer Corinne’s question… “why don’t we prioritize teaching ‘the right stuff’ “, it’s because “the right stuff” isn’t on the state test, pure & simple. Teachers & schools are judged by how well students do on that one test & there can be serious consequences, so teachers feel trapped like a rat.

    The power structure in education is top-down and the part that desperately needs to be fixed FIRST is the top tier. That’s where the focus should be, because the people at the bottom, the teachers & students, have very few choices about what they will learn/teach/ learn/teach……..

    We need to stop wasting time & money, & attempting to “apply band-aides” to the lower tiers of the education industry & fix the part that’s really broken. So much time is being wasted because of a long chain of poor choices made by the “education hierarchy above us”. The kids I have in front of me RIGHT NOW don’t have any time to waste; Their time is NOW.

    Firing a bunch of teachers, closing low-performance schools, founding a franchise of charter schools – none of these are solutions that actually address the PROBLEMS. These are big, attention-garnering moves that make the public feel reassured that “something is finally being done” about the problems in USA education. At best, each of those strategies is a totally wimpy cop-out & unfortunately, at worst, it provides a subterfuge, yet another distraction from the real problems.

    The saddest part is that every time a “NoChildLeftBehind” or a “RaceToTheTop” is announced, the public seems to automatically buy into these poorly thought-out and/or under-funded programs. “We The People” put up with anything and everything handed down to us & hold no one accountable. We simply hand over our dollars and our children and “We” forget about it for another 8 years. Meanwhile,back at the ranch, the clock ticks & no one did anything at all to improve the future for our kids.

    Anonymous


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