The Case for Renaming “Noncognitive Skills”

In this Education Week article, David Conley (University of Oregon) questions whether noncognitive is the right term for student attitudes, beliefs, and feelings as contrasted to cognitive learning (traditional content knowledge). “Are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration,” asks Conley; “setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy? Are these qualities not at least as important as knowing how well students recall information about the year in which the Civil War began, or how to factor a polynomial?” Noncognitive skills involve executive functioning by the brain as it adjusts to what’s going on around it and monitors learning. 

Part of the problem has been the way mental attributes have been measured, he says. Cognitive skills are measured by standardized tests, noncognitive skills by attitude surveys. “Because experts judged noncognitive methods against inappropriate standards,” he says, “all noncognitive approaches came to be like the guy or girl who gets all dressed up for the party but never gets asked to dance.” Conley advocates for more rigorous measures that put noncognitive skills on a par with cognitive, so that we’re rigorously measuring not only what students learn but how they learn. Better information in the noncognitive domain would help students take more ownership of their own learning, he asserts. It would also provide a profile of our students – how they manage the learning process and how their beliefs about themselves as learners affect their ability to understand and retain content knowledge. This would do as much to improve learning and close the achievement gap as testing and understanding their content knowledge.

A better term for noncognitive skills, Conley believes, is metacognitive learning skills, and he’s committed to shifting his own language to this new term.

“What’s In a Name? Rethinking the Notion of ‘Noncognitive’” by David Conley in Education Week, Jan. 23, 2013 (Vol. 32, #18, p. 20-21), 

From the Marshall Memo #471

 

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