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Teaching And Assessing Soft Skills

Bringing real-world, relevant context into your course not only helps students better connect with concepts, it can also build soft skills. One way to do this is to think outside the classroom, as demonstrated by Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia.

Teaching and Assessing Soft Skills

The ability to collaborate with colleagues is an important soft skill for graduates to possess. Engaging students in group projects is one way to not only help develop soft skills such as collaboration, teamwork and empathy, but also provide a bit of structure when it comes to assessing them.

Background: Soft skills and the need for their development have been discussed across industries for many years, predominantly in engineering, hospitality, and IT sectors. The importance of soft skills to career success has been well-documented, but gaps exist on how to teach them. Inter-industry variability and a lack of consensus in identifying and defining important soft skills adds to the problem. New research in teaching soft skills needs to be formally incorporated into training curricula, especially within healthcare and education sectors. This scoping review will answer these research questions: How are soft skills conceptualised, taught and assessed in healthcare and higher education?

Discussion: The review will collate literature on teaching and assessing soft skills in healthcare and higher education. It will map evidence in relation to current practices and research, gaps, evidence for practice, and research recommendations. The findings will be discussed in the full Scoping Review along with implications for teaching.

What are "soft skills?" In brief, the Wikipedia answer is that "soft skills" are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, mindsets, career attributes, and more. By contrast, the "hard skills" tend to be the technical knowledge or administrative competence in performing a task. For instance, hard skills include baking a cake or filling out a job application. The soft skills in those situations would be your ability to sell your baked goods to a wide audience or to market yourself to an employer as a good fit for their company. Soft skills are increasingly important in various professions. In some cases, they may be even MORE important--a lot of hard skills are easily trainable, but quality soft skills are very difficult to train to a high degree of proficiency.

Soft skills are very difficult to properly assess. It's not as simple as giving people a multiple-choice quiz and seeing how they perform. Instead, a proper assessment of soft skills may require multiple layers of assessment to derive an accurate picture of soft skill performance.

For instance, group projects are often an area where students are able to work on both hard skill and soft still development. They need technical ability to perform the required tasks, but they also need to work with other members of their teams as the project is too big for any one person to complete. All students have to come together to complete the project. A proper evaluation of this project might include an general rubric to assess the hard skills demonstrated by each student. Then the students might do a self-and-peer evaluation of their role in the project. Finally, they may do a group presentation where the instructor rates their performance of technical knowledge and presentation skills. Other students might also rate the presenters, and the combined scores become part of the final score.

Assessing soft skills can be a very complex process, but can yield positive results. Students who strengthen their soft skills in higher education will find themselves very desirable candidates by employers, even if their technical skills may be lacking. You could be the most proficient engineer in your class, but if you cannot communicate your ideas to others, then your career path may be limited.

For more than a hundred years we have focused on teaching and assessing disciplinary knowledge in schools. Now we need to focus on capabilities as well. While it will not necessarily come naturally to all teachers, it is vital work.

From the 1990s until the end of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2015, state and federal education reform policies had a virtually exclusive focus on holding public schools accountable for student test scores in reading and mathematics. The new Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to NCLB, provides an opening for states to broaden their accountability regimes by including a non-traditional measure along with academic test scores. One possibility that has been embraced by many advocates is some type of measurement of student soft skills, which include social skills, self-management abilities, academic soft skills such as listening carefully to instructions, and approaches to learning such as willingness to take on challenging tasks.

Whereas personality inventories in which students report on their personal dispositions are the preferred measures of abstract soft skills, a student report card completed by a teacher is the embodiment of measurement of specific, non-abstract soft skills. This report introduces a worked example of how to measure specific soft skills, The Brookings Soft Skills Report Card, and uses it to illustrate important functions such a low-abstraction approach provides in contrast to the high-abstraction alternative. These functions include the ease with which teachers and other adults who are regularly around individual students can directly observe the soft skills they are expected to support, the clear implications for intervention suggested by low scores on a particular skill by a particular student or group of students, the signals sent to administrators about teachers and groups of students who may need additional help, and the usefulness in communicating with parents.

This is the third of a series of Evidence Speaks reports on soft skills in K-12 education. The first two provided research reviews and conclusions that set the stage for a consideration of how to measure soft skills in schools.[i] The central takeaways are that:

Soft skills that are the targets of present education reforms range broadly both in the type and in level of abstraction. The circumplex of soft skills represented in Figure 1 captures four categories or domains of behavior: social skills, self-management, academic soft skills, and approaches to learning. The vertical dimension, i.e., the height of the column or circumplex, represents abstraction: the degree to which any particular soft skill or soft skill category is specific, contextual, and socially observable (low abstraction) vs. broad, context-free, and available only as a student report of a self-reflection (high abstraction). An example of a low-abstraction soft skill is whether a student is observed by her teacher to finish math homework assignments on time. An example of a high-abstraction soft skill is whether a student reports on a questionnaire that he or she is a reliable worker. This is illustrated in Figure 1 with an example of high and low abstraction within the category of academic soft skills.

The mashup of multiple categories of soft skills and various levels of abstraction into unitary school reform approaches is problematic.[ii] It leads to program descriptions and mission statements that are all over the waterfront, and to efforts at implementation that lack granularity and pose severe challenges in aligning goals, program content, desired outcomes, and measurement.

We have a critical need for more specificity, i.e., less abstraction, with respect to what soft skills students are to learn in school and for what purposes; when, how, and to whom those skills will be taught; and how the success of those efforts will be defined, measured, and evaluated.

But soft skills are also important, as evident intuitively, through surveys of businesses, and through systematic research reviews: social skills, self-management abilities, emotional and attitudinal approaches, and a host of situation-specific soft skills and knowledge that are ancillary to hard skills are important factors in success in school and in life.

The challenges for schools and those involved in efforts to improve the teaching and learning of soft skills are significant given the nascent nature of the enterprise and the significant gaps in knowledge. Meaningful progress depends on informed modesty about the likely returns on current efforts; greater specificity and more emphasis on context in the curricula and school-level approaches to teaching soft skills; and the development and use of practical assessments that are closely aligned with a specific framework for teaching and learning.

That said, there is substantial similarity across different types of schools and educational missions with regard to basic soft skills that benefit all students. The basic soft skills discussed below should have a comfortable fit within the explicit or implicit mission of a large proportion of schools and classrooms. The remainder of this report draws lessons on how to measure soft skills from a worked example, The Brookings Soft Skills Report Card (Report Card).

The Report Card, which is presented below, covers four categories of soft skills that most school leaders, teachers, and parents would agree are within the responsibility of schools to monitor and, when necessary, develop: social skills, self-management, academic soft skills, and approaches to learning.

One of the consequences of the high-stakes state assessments that were mandated in NCLB and the requirement for a fifth indicator of school success in the present-day successor of NCLB (The Every Student Succeeds Act) is a preeminent concern among school and district leaders with how to measure student soft skills in a way that lends itself to grading teachers and schools.

The Report Card and anything built on a similar template is not intended for or designed to be a high-stakes assessment. That is why it is called a report card rather than an assessment. It is designed to support individual teachers in the task of thoughtful observation of students to identify their strengths and weaknesses in terms of soft skills, and thereby to aid in efforts to help students. 041b061a72


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