Building Non-Cognitive Skills into a Blended Model
“But I was using those scissors first!”
Watching De’ja and Kimora fight over a small pair of blue safety scissors, I have to remind myself that they are the highest performing students in my class. It continues to amaze me that students who are so academically successful can be so socially challenged.
Working with young children demands that classroom instruction go beyond academic skills. Teachers of young children must find the time, in an already tightly scheduled day, to engage students in routines that promote the growth of non-cognitive skills such as persistence, grit and self-regulation.
This year, I am moving from teaching kindergarten to first grade. Most non-educators may see this as a small jump, but as I prepare for my new class of first graders, I am reminded of how far removed these two grades are. As a kindergarten teacher I used the “Tools of the Mind” curriculum, a program that is completely designed around promoting self-regulated learning. Since Kindergarten is classified as “Early Childhood”, I can get away with chiseling out portions of my day to focus on these so-called “soft skills.”
As a first grade teacher, however, there are very different expectations for my students and me. I know that this is a huge year for academic growth, and that it is important that all of my students finish the year at or above grade level (many studies have shown that gaps in the primary years are significantly harder to close after 3rd grade). And while this is why I wanted to move to first grade, I do not want to sacrifice the routines and procedures that promote “soft skills.” I have read so much about their importance for lifelong success (How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough), and am now a believer that the intentional building of soft skills can and should be a part of any good schooling experience.
I am a week away from meeting my new class, and feel stuck between two worlds. I have been struggling with my schedule, hoping to find any flexible time I can to devote to teaching soft skills and providing meaningful opportunities for my students to practice using them. After much thought and guidance, I have decided use a station rotation model in my classroom. While this blended model will provide my students with time in differentiated small groups and time on individually paced, dynamic math programs, I am most excited about the routines and structures this block will run on. This blended model will demand student self-regulation in how my students monitor their work when they are not with the teacher and in how they engage with their peers in the partnered workstation. I will take the key social elements of the Tools curriculum and find a way to integrate them in my blended math block.
Breaking down traditional classroom structures allows for much more than innovation around content mastery. Blending primary classrooms will open up our time as teachers and allow us to devote more time to teaching and practicing skills such as self regulation, grit and social awareness to young students like De’ja and Kimora. How do you make time for these important skills in your day?