Student Well-Being

What Do Students Need to Succeed? Guide Helps Educators Navigate the Research

By Evie Blad — June 23, 2015 4 min read
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What do young adults need to be successful in college, in careers, and in life? And what should educators do to ensure that their students have those qualities and skills when they graduate from high school?

A new report from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research seeks to distill reams of research and insights from practitioners to help identify those core traits and give schools and community groups a developmentally sensitive roadmap for nurturing them in children.

There’s growing understanding that students need more than strong academic skills, but you’d be forgiven if you found it a little confusing to make sense of a swelling swirl of research about non-cognitive skills, social-emotional learning, academic mindsets, and student engagement. The report, “Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework,” seeks to show how those ideas fit together into sort of an ecosystem with the aim of helping educators and policymakers design and implement smart practices.

“This new report underscores that in order to be poised for success as young adults, children need to acquire both content knowledge and a wide range of skills, attitudes and behaviors that develop throughout childhood and adolescence,” University of Chicago CCSR deputy director Jenny Nagaoka said in a statement. “This report is a first step in guiding practitioners, policymakers, parents, and researchers toward fulfilling this wider vision, whether in reimagining how to coach a basketball team, reshaping policies in a local school district or selecting an afterschool program for one’s child. Ensuring that young people grow into successful young adults requires investments in their learning and development from early childhood to young adulthood.”

The report was funded through a competitive grant process by the Wallace Foundation, which also helps to support Education Week’s coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts education. To draw their conclusions, the report’s authors interviewed students and practitioners and reviewed research from the fields of youth development, psychology, sociology, education, and the cognitive sciences.

What are key factors for success?

The report identifies three key factors young adults need to become “thriving members of their communities":

  • Agency is the ability to determine the course of one’s life “rather than simply reacting to external forces.”
  • Integrated identity is a strong sense of self and an “internal compass” for making decisions that are consistent with one’s values and goals.
  • Competencies are what it takes to be productive and adapt across settings.

Those success factors are supported by “foundational components” that develop throughout a child’s life, the report says:

  • Self-regulation is the ability to manage attention, emotions, and behavior to achieve goals.
  • Knowledge and skills about self, others, and the world.
  • Mindsets are the “lenses individuals use to process everyday experiences” and the interactions between themselves and the world.
  • Values are an individual’s beliefs about what is good and bad that inform decisions and actions in all areas.

If you’re familiar with much of the existing research and interventions related to social-emotional learning, growth mindsets, and 21st-century skills, it’s easy to see how those individual ideas relate to this framework. The key here is demonstrating how it all fits together.

How can schools nurture these traits?

The framework includes discussion of when these traits begin to develop in children, and it urges schools to be sensitive to that timeline as it seeks to nurture them.

It’s also important to be mindful that children’s backgrounds, living environments, and socio-economic factors affect their development in these areas, the report says. For example, some children may have fewer out-of-school relationships with supportive adults or fewer opportunities to explore the world and apply their values and mindsets.

Recognizing this, interventions designed to boost and buttress factors like self-control, the development of personal values, and mindsets should be designed around building meaningful relationships and giving children a variety of experiences through which they can regularly act and reflect, the guide says.

What are the policy implications?

In light of the importance of these traits, education policy shouldn’t overemphasize content knowledge and test-based accountability, the report says. Schools should be judged on a wider range of student outcomes, but policymakers should also be aware of the limitations of incorporating non-cognitive measures into accountability systems, the report says, echoing a recent warning by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania and David Yeager of the University of Texas.

“Making this vision a reality will require a collective responsibility for all young people,” the report says. “It means asking practitioners to question their own beliefs about what is possible and rethink how they work with young people on a day-to-day basis. It means asking policymakers to focus on a bigger picture and broader set of outcomes and to consider policies that would support the efforts of practitioners in developing young people.”

The report includes this graphic to demonstrate how all of these ideas fit together. (Click on the image for a larger view).

What do you think? Is this framework helpful? Does it boost your understanding of this research and its applications?

Images from “Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework” by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.