Usable Knowledge Understanding Core Skills For education stakeholders, four key features of fundamental nonacademic skills Posted December 5, 2016 By Leah Shafer Identifying executive function (EF) skills among the patchwork of regulation-related buzz words like grit, self-control, and behavioral regulation is important — but it’s only one of several distinctions needed to identify the core skills for success.A second grade teacher striving for a calmer classroom needs to understand how the competencies her students gained in preschool have prepared them for new skills. A policymaker deciding which skills schools should emphasize needs to be able to assess relevant research findings. A researcher looking to boost reading comprehension needs to distinguish the skills necessary for academic success from the ones that lead to social awareness.Acknowledging these various needs, a new report from researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education describes fundamental nonacademic skills, shows how they vary, and advises education stakeholders about how to think about these skills in their individual practices. How Core Skills Vary Skills vary by complexity. Mastering “simple skills,” which are core competencies that can’t be broken down into smaller components, can prepare children to grasp more “complex skills.” For example, self-control is a complex skill requiring attention and working memory, which are both simple skills.Understanding how skills are scaffolded in this manner can:Help teachers map out learning trajectories for students and identify which simple skills they need to master firstHelp policymakers recognize the fundamental nonacademic skills children need for success throughout their livesChildren acquire certain skills at specific developmental stages. For example, children should begin developing working memory and behavioral regulation in preschool and kindergarten, laying the foundation for more sophisticated planning and problem-solving skills later in elementary school.Understanding how children learn at different ages can:Help program developers ensure that they are targeting and measuring developmentally appropriate skillsHelp program evaluators accurately decide whether a curriculum is building core skillsHelp policymakers recognize which skills children need to learn at specific stages of their educationDifferent skills exist in different developmental domains: the cognitive domain, social domain, or emotional domain. Proficiency in different domains leads to different outcomes. For example, a child who has strong skills in the cognitive domain may perform well on math assessments, whereas a child with strong skills in the social or emotional domains may excel at perspective-taking or have lessened anxiety.Understanding how different skills have different outcomes can:Help teachers and caregivers build children’s competencies in areas where they most need assistanceHelp program developers hone in on skills related to the outcomes they want to see Help program evaluators assess whether a program is effective at connecting skills to resultsDifferent measurement strategies have different shortcomings and benefits. There are two main ways to evaluate a child’s skills: direct assessments and observational reports by teachers and parents. Direct assessments are more objective, but not always reflective of real-life scenarios; reports by teachers and parents are more subjective, but they do record real situations. Often, EF skills are measured through direct cognitive assessments, and broader regulation-related skills are measured in reports of how children act in stressful situationsUnderstanding the ways skills are measured can:Help teachers comprehend assessments of their students’ skillsHelp program developers choose the best method to evaluate results in their program or curriculumHelp evaluators evaluate how well a program has done in meeting its goalsAdditional ResourcesThis report was published by Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation at the Federal Administration for Children and Families. It was written by developmental psychologist Stephanie Jones and her research team, Rebecca Bailey, Sophie Barnes, and Ann Partee, who have together produced a body of work on social-emotional learning and prevention science.Find out more about the Executive Function Mapping Project, an initiative of Jones’ EASEL Lab.Read more about applying the science of social-emotional learning to education practice and policy with the Taxonomy Project.Learn more about how poverty compromises the core skills for success and how parents can reinforce self-regulation skills at home.***Get Usable Knowledge — DeliveredOur free monthly newsletter sends you tips, tools, and ideas from research and practice leaders at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Sign up now Usable Knowledge Connecting education research to practice — with timely insights for educators, families, and communities Explore All Articles Related Articles Usable Knowledge Defining the Skills for Success New report signals the difference between executive function and other regulation-related skills. Usable Knowledge Lasting Gains from Preschool New study connects preschool quality improvements with academic gains for preschoolers — and for high schoolers. Usable Knowledge Public Policy and Resilience How we can change our policies to help disadvantaged kids cope and thrive.