Nowadays, in Education, there is a tendency to highlight the relevance of non-cognitive competences, also known as soft skills. Don't be confused, this is not an innovative idea, non-cognitive competences have always been there but now, they have a cool, brand new name. Soft skills is a term used in the corporate world that has firmly landed in the educational field.
Those abilities are complex to measure and assess. Actually, many CEOs argue that whereas knowledge could be acquired in the workplace, soft skills are more important and difficult to develop than the content.
Presenting some soft skills
Under the umbrella of soft skills we can include:
-Cooperation and collaboration
-Flexibility and adaptability
-Decision, organisation and negotiation
-Leadership and capacity to delegate
-Capacity to explain your ideas and to convince others
-Capacity to play different roles
-Capacity to listen to other people
-Capacity to change your mind
-Empathy, tolerance, solidarity and generosity
Dealing with soft skills
In order to develop these skills, English lessons present a great advantage, since they are normally used in activities such as debating, listening, talking, skimming, scanning, summarizing, explaining, giving opinions and so on. We are always working with and on soft skills.
Let's look at some specific suggestions for developing soft skills. Of course, you will have to take into consideration the age of the students, but, in a general sense, we can provide some ideas to implement those competences:
-Work with the internet. Don't be afraid. There is a need to develop the students' digital competence as well as their appreciation of the damage they can cause with social media. We have to promote a responsible use of technology, including, for example, smartphones.
-Deal with fake news. As a game, and without using the internet, students have to decide which news items are real and which ones are fake. They need to consider the source, the writing, and their previous knowledge of the subject. This can be done in groups, as a debating competition to determine which group does it best. Or they can correct other groups' answers using the internet.
-Work in cooperative groups. Whatever the activity, there are many techniques that you can use to promote tolerance, inclusion, generosity and organisation skills. Furthermore, working in groups also requires the ability to convince, negotiate, obey, talk and listen to others.
-Use co-assessment and self-assessment. Students will reflect on their own learning and will be able to assess others in an objective way. At the same time, they will develop empathy, emotional intelligence, as well as intrapersonal intelligence.
-Play games. They will learn English and develop their capacity to delegate or to take the main role. They will deal with their emotions, whether it be failure, frustration or modesty.
-Propose projects having to do with English. It could be English culture, music, gastronomy, history or geography, and so on. Let the students choose from a list of subjects and let them decide how to present the final product, in order to develop their creativity, and all the skills needed to achieve their aim.
Of course, these ideas are not innovative or incredibly original because, as I have already said, the only novelty regarding soft skills is the name. We have been doing this in our English lessons for decades. Obviously, in all these examples, our students will also be working with English linguistic competences.
Assessing soft skills
As has already been said, assessing soft skills is not a straightforward task. However, there are many potential evaluation tools we can use, some of them related to new technologies and to the idea of self-assessment and co-assessment. Additionally, observation in the classroom is a fundamental resource, either formally or informally, using checklists or diaries, for example. However, one of the most common instruments for measuring soft skills are evaluation grids, prepared by the teacher, alone or in collaboration with the students, in order to make them aware of the whole process.
Nevertheless, dealing with soft skills is not as easy as it seems. You have to look for the right balance, somewhere in the middle: being humble but self-confident, being able to listen but also to talk, being able to accept defeat but also to rise up again, learning from your own mistakes. We have to contribute to the personal growth of our students, so that they can be self-critical, flexible and willing to help others, as well as capable of stepping into someone else's shoes.
Remember, no task is a small task.
But, before you do anything else, as a teacher, you have to ask yourself: Do you have soft skills? Do you have emotional intelligence? If you want to develop those abilities in your students, begin with yourself.
Ingrid Mosquera, PhD.