Nestled within the New-Age-y sounding concept of “noncognitive factors” are fairly concrete examples of what parents and educators should and shouldn’t do to prepare students for the rigors of college and their careers. Gleaned from research into brain development and human behavior, a toolkit is emerging on how to best respond to and encourage students’ grit, persistence, and the ability to learn from one’s mistakes.
If done right, the use of these concepts could change the classroom in significant ways. Students could see far fewer quizzes and tests. Teachers would follow students’ progress at a much more customized level to quickly identify where they are struggling, offering aid that is better targeted. Short tutorials designed to boost motivation and resilience could accompany the students’ math and reading lessons.
But, before exploring what classrooms that are focused on noncognitive factors might look like, how about a definition for the term itself?
“If we think of noncognitive factors as all of the things that are not just content knowledge and academic skills that go into academic performance, then really we’re talking about psychological factors, emotional factors, social factors” as well other aspects that determine how a student learns, explained Camille Farrington, a leading scholar on noncognitive factors who’s based at the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research. “A teacher who knows that all of that stuff is contributing to a young person’s ability to pay attention, to get involved, to get engaged, and think about what they are learning—that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about noncognitive factors.”