EdNext Podcast: Can Non-Cognitive Skills Be Taught?


On this week’s episode of the EdNext podcast, Marty West talks with Paul Tough, a journalist with a unique gift for anticipating the most pressing questions facing the field of education.

His first book, Whatever it Takes, examined how neighborhoods affect student outcomes through the lens of the life work of Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children’s Zone. Initiatives modeled on the Zone were soon proliferating nationwide.

His second book, How Children Succeed, looked at the mindsets and skills children need to excel in school and life that are not directly captured by standardized tests, anticipating and also helping to drive the current enthusiasm for teaching so-called noncognitive skills.

Now he’s back with Helping Children Succeed, a book that proposes a new way of thinking about noncognitive skills and how parents, educators, and policymakers can help all children develop them.

In addition to writing books, Paul is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and a regular contributor to This American Life. You can find a review of Paul’s new book on the Education Next website.

Paul Tough explains in the interview that, after he published his second book (about non-cognitive skills), practitioners often asked him what they could do to help kids succeed. In this third book, he set out to write something more practical than what he had written before.

The non-cognitive skills that Tough is interested in include grit, self-control, curiosity, and optimism. He says that the research that guided his thinking in the book suggested that trying to teach these non-cognitive skills directly may not be the best way to transmit them. These qualities are more the product of the environment in which kids grow up–the climate in the home and in the classroom–than the result of specific lessons.

The EdNext Podcast is available on iTunesSoundcloudStitcher and here every Wednesday.

– Education Next

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