Last year at The Community for Learning, we realized that our increasing focus on life skills (skills like cricital thinking, communication, leadership, and time management) needed to be communicated to both the students and parents, so we changed the previously named “Socio-Emotional” section of our progress reports to “Life and Career Skills.” We began to teach students what each of the skills entailed and what it looked like to master them (see our introduction here), posted them on the wall, and referred to them in classes.
This was a great beginning, and we quickly heard students starting to use the terminology. However, as in all educational matters, our thinking began to evolve. We realized that these skills are some of the most important ones we teach our students — and yet we weren’t explicitly teaching them. We were assessing where students were in these areas, but we weren’t actively helping them grow and improve. We felt torn: when we’re already doing so much, how could we add teaching life and career skills to our already overloaded curriculum?
One day at TCFL, however, I was observing a history teacher’s class. I noticed that the teacher, Lorena, had added a life skill to the class agenda. The students were writing an in-class assignment that they needed to finish by the time class was over, so she
highlighted “time management” on the board and added it to her Google Slides presentation. As she went over the agenda for the day, she pointed at “time management” and said, “This activity needs to be finished in class. Please focus on using your time wisely. Be sure you have your materials ready and don’t waste in class time socializing.” Her quick review of the learning targets for “time management” centered on avoiding procrastination and getting started immediately.
Near her desk, I saw that Lorena had also posted a personal learning target to keep herself focused on her goal of teaching students to improve in their life and career skills. In watching Lorena’s class, it became clear to me that when we embed life and career skills into our classes, we don’t need to take extra time to explicitly teach them. Instead, if we consistently refer to them in our classes, we give students natural opportunities to practice them.
With that in mind, we sat and compiled a few ways to seamlessly introduce more life and career skills lessons into our teaching.
Ideas for embedding life and career skills into our teaching:
- Critical thinking skills:
- Don’t just give wait time: explain why we use it. While discussing a difficult idea or concept, when students seem perplexed, the teacher can say, “Okay, this is a perfect time to practice our critical thinking skills. Give yourself a minute to think about this.” We want them to realize that critical thinking can take time. Answers don’t always pop into our heads immediately — sometimes we need to mull over a problem and brainstorm solutions. Too often our students see the same two or three quick thinkers put their hand in the air to answer a question, and they develop the misconception that critical thinking equals quick thinking. Challenge that idea.
- Push students’ thinking by asking them to go further. “Yes, great idea — and what else?” “Who can add to that?” “What makes you say that?” “Let’s use our critical thinking skills to analyze this argument.”
- Teach students to develop strong questions. After teaching a class, ask students to come up with a question about what was discussed as an exit slip. “Critical thinkers develop questions. As an exit slip today, come up with one or two questions about the material we covered.”
- Communication skills:
- While debating an issue, we can let students know that we’re focusing on communication skills like maintaining eye contact, listening to others, and expressing our ideas respectfully. We can put up charts with sentence starters to help students learn to politely communicate differences of opinion.
- Interpersonal skills:
- When working in groups, we can ask students to pay attention to their interpersonal skills by working cooperatively with others and showing patience and respect.
- Remind them that strong team players have the ability to listen to others’ ideas and negotiate a solution.
- Personal development:
- When revising their work, remind students that as they learn to openly accept feedback and use it to improve, they’re working on their personal development.
- Leadership skills:
- When students work in groups, let them know that this is an opportunity to practice their leadership skills by delegating work and supporting others. Often students misinterpret leadership as “being the boss.” This is our opportunity to remind them that good leaders are respectful of others, help out, and inspire others to do their best.
- Organizational skills:
- This is one of the areas where some students need one-on-one help to improve. While the class is working, quickly meet with students who struggle with organization, explicitly teaching them strategies for organizing their work (either digitally or physically in notebooks and binders).
- Time management skills:
- When assigning a long-term project, put large calendars on the wall and help them plan their work over time. Check in regularly to make sure they’re reaching their goals.
- Help students learn to keep an agenda. Show them how to use reminders or to give themselves a due date in advance so that they don’t leave everything for the last minute.
- Teach students to study by having them create flash cards. Every couple of weeks play a review game. Check out some review games here.
- Presentation skills:
- When students hand in messy work, remind them that everything they do is a presentation of themselves and that people will draw conclusions from what they see. Does this work represent what they want people to think of them?
- Explicitly teach students speaking skills when they do oral presentations. Consistently remind them not to read notes but to refer to bullet points and speak what they know.
None of these ideas take time away from our content teaching. However, these simple, one-minute reminders will help students practice and eventually internalize the skills they need to be successful in life. I’d love to hear any of your tips and ideas about teaching life skills – please share in the comments!