Teaching the Most Important Skill
Starting any conversation about the most important skill that children can learn is a provocative endeavor. Obviously, reading is a fundamental skill that underlies the basic tasks that students take on throughout their educational careers and beyond. However, there is another skill that I believe is even more foundational: self-regulation.
Being able to self-regulate your learning is critical to being effective and strategic in your learning and can make difficult and complex learning much easier. The problem is that precious few school systems have spent any effort thinking about self-regulated learning as a goal and therefore have few curricular and pedagogical resources to address it.
Self-regulated learning begins with metacognition. These concepts really have to do with the learner having the ability to be aware of their own learning, being able to make judgements about their learning, and make adjustments to improve their learning. But too many educators and school systems think that metacognition is a thing that emerges in some students but not in others. Meaning that metacognitive ability is a way to sort and rank students. But, if metacognition is a skill, it can be taught and improved upon with practice.
Educational systems should be pushing students toward skilled metacognition from a very early age. Before we ever provide evaluative feedback to a student on their work, we should be in the habit of asking them to compare their product against the established criteria and describe how it aligns. For very young learners the criteria can be basic and the comparison can be the ubiquitous smiley face. For older learners it can be a more critical analysis of how their product did or did not meet expectation or criteria for excellence.
In addition to asking students to practice self-evaluation, we should be providing feedback on their skill, helping them to become better and more accurate in their assessments. As students become more proficient in self-assessment, a well designed curriculum would push them to draw conclusions about their learning and then design adjustments to their learning. Again, these things can be done, on a simplified level, with learners as young as our kindergarteners.
This plea for a focus on meat-cognition is not an anti-content argument. I believe that content is king and that there can be no expertise without robust content knowledge. However, it is the ability to self-regulate your learning that separates and allows some students to excel while others struggle and if that skill is learnable, it is also teachable.
In times of change, the learner will inherit the earth while the learned are beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.
— Eric Hoffer