Successful Students Have Strong Life Skills, Not Just Cognitive Skills

Today, Greg Toppo at USA Today examined how student

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success may be linked to personality traits more than specific cognitive skills. Specifically, scientists are starting to to consider traits like grit, perseverance, conscientiousness and optimism as indicators of how successful a student will be in school.

The implications of this shift in thinking is that perhaps education should be more about building and assessing these skills, attitudes, and habits rather than just strict discipline and focus on traditional academic subjects. The

article notes that KIPP schools are doing just this. “KIPP students now sit for parent-teacher conferences that detail not just how they’re doing in history and algebra, but how well they score on zest, curiosity, social intelligence and optimism.”


These are the types of skills that can also build successful employees and entrepreneurs after the school years as well.

Another factor not mentioned in the article is that it is important to motivate students intrinsically, rather than just extrinsically. Pyschological studies have found that students are engaged and motivated more deeply by intrinsic feelings rather than a reward like a gold star, certificate or a letter grade. Stanford University has held experiments among children, including students at Bing Nursery School, that found students were more likely to spend more time, and show more interest with an activity like drawing when they chose the activity on their own rather than when they were given an award for drawing.

Perhaps technology can play a role in better fostering or monitoring these life skills as well as intrinsically motivating students in the classroom. Some studies have found that students were more interested in material and learned more when an activity was made into a game, which suggest gamifying learning in some ways may be effective. Any particular edtech tools that come to mind? We’d love to hear about them.