10 Skills Every Student Should Have


The last skill from the article Ten Skills Every Student Should Know is the skill of being happy. I once read a scientific study that looked at all of the potential reasons for being happy in order to find a baseline definition of happiness. What they concluded was that

Happiness is being in service to something higher than yourself.

If this is at all true, then we have to find opportunities for students to participate in service-learning. I am not talking just about basic community service, but anything where they can give service to something else. This can include local things, such as mentoring, peer teaching, and student government or more external things, such as community service, Habitat for Humanity, and community fundraisers.

If this definition of happiness is at all true, then schools will have to find ways to connect better to their local communities and beyond.

Critical Thinking

The ninth skill from the September 4 article posting is the skill of critical thinking. I have posted a lot about this skill, along with creative thinking, but Ido want to add one thing. If we want students to think critically, then we must help them change their attitudes toward making mistakes.

Mistakes are great teachers, but only if we are not afraid of them. A great many students are afraid of making mistakes because of the potential results: humiliation, embarrassment, ridicule, feeling stupid, failing, and more. I am not, by extension, saying that we have to get rid of grades or grading, but we can certainly create better environments for students to make mistakes. If we can shift at least part of a student's thinking about mistakes more toward the idea that a mistake is an opportunity, then I think our students will be freed up to become better critical thinkers.

Knowing How to Learn

The eighth skill (not in any particular order) from the article entitled, Ten Skills Every Student Should Learn, is the skill of knowing how to learn. It would certainly be hard to argue this one. Knowing how to learn would be a major gift for anyone's future. The question becomes how do you teach such a skill?

I think there are two main components to this. The first is that teachers must shift the burden of responsibility of learning over to the students. The posting Don't Lecture Me! from a few weeks ago is a prime example of (finally) seeing this transition make its way to the college level. Teachers must at least supplement their chalk-and-talks with some activities like Socratic Seminar where students are making meaning for themselves.

The second is that students must engage in different styles of learning, if for no other reason than to find out more about themselves as learners. What I am getting at is that we have to teach students the skill of metacognition. In order to know how to learn students need to know how they learn as individuals.

Being Accountable

The seventh skill from the September 4 article that I posted is the skill of being accountable. On a local level, I feel like this skill is happening on a regular basis. More and more schools are moving to a "logical consequences" model that is attempting to hold students accountable. Programs like Time to Teach are training teachers to not only make logical consequences in the classroom but to help remediate student behavior by making them immediately accountable for their actions.

Although I have seen more and more schools moving away from the old punishment models of accountability, my bigger concern is on the larger picture. For example, are the schools being accountable? Are the districts being accountable? Are the state governments being accountable? And so on. Then there is the question of being accountable to the local environment, to the greater ecologies and, of course, to the planet itself. For example, are oil companies being adequately held accountable?

What I am getting at is that if we want students to be accountable moving into the future, then we had better demonstrate the principle of being accountable if we want students to practice the skill of being accountable.

Being Resourceful

The sixth skill (again, these were not in any order in the article) that every student should learn is being resourceful. The article from a few weeks ago mainly focused on a few aspects of "being resourceful," such as the critical thinking needed to weed out useful research information. But being resourceful is actually a huge territory.

Being resourceful to me means making full use of the resources available. So, how are we teaching students this skill? How do you teach students to find the right resource for determining the right answer?

I think most schools handle this skill poorly, because, for the most part, I see this skill mainly being practiced in the ye olde research paper. How often are students called upon to be resourceful in physical education, French class, or mathematics? Yes, certainly students need the skill of being resourceful for research papers, especially when trying to overcome "information overload syndrome," but where is the actual practice time?

I imagine that students in woodshop and auto mechanics get more daily practice being resourceful than any other kids in the school. Having worked on a farm myself, I know of the constant need to be resourceful because of the hourly problems to solve on something like a farm.

What we need are more opportunities like Olympics of the Mind or Destination Imagination, where students are given tasks to perform using limited resources. A great example of this is from the Apollo 13 mission:

By building tasks such as these in our classrooms, we can actually give the students the practice time for the skill of being resourceful.


"If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes." ~ Albert Einstein

The fifth skill listed in the article from a few weeks ago is questioning. I think I would put this skill as the number one as we move forward into the unknown future. Without a question, without a quest, it is very difficult to even recognize what the problem is.

The skill of questioning becomes evident if you ask students to generate their own questions because very often they aren't able to come up with much. I once asked pairs of sixth grade students to generate 12 questions about a page from a grade-level novel. Not a single pair of students could do it. Their curiosity and wonder fizzled out after about 5 questions. I have done similar exercises with adults by asking them to generate 20 questions about an abstract picture and many of them can't do it either.

I think the main reason why students can't generate questions fluently is because they are rarely asked to do so. Questions are the territory of teachers and textbooks, so students don't often have practice. If we are to effectively move into the future, we need to be asking the right questions at the right times.

We need to do two simple things then. The first is that we have to teach students about questions and the various types. Then we have to give them practice time using them.

Communicating Effectively

Skill number four from the article posted on September 4 is communicating effectively. Without a doubt, this is an extremely important skill as we move forward in the 21st Century. In his books, Stephen Covey talks about the transitions of the individual from being dependent (as a child) to independent (as a young adult) to inter-dependent (as a working adult and/or as part of a family). I feel the same way about the transition of knowledge in general.

Before the advent of the Internet, information was a valuable resource, especially if it was collected together into a single, well-educated person. In this case, societies were dependent on a few literate people. As literacy rates rose throughout the 20th Century, more and more people became independent of those few. Now, with the internet, more information than
anyone could use in several lifetimes is freely available. People from around the world are able to collaborate on projects via teleconferencing or even on simple discussion forums. Solutions to complex problems are now requiring experts from all over the world to work interdependently.

It should come as no surprise, then, that "communication skills" is a high priority for employers. Jobs are becoming more and more collaborative, requiring people to work as part of a team. Students who can communicate effectively will not only become valuable teammates, but they will likely become leaders as well.


The third skill on the list from the September 4 post is writing. Again, these were not in a specific order, but writing is certainly a top priority. As I have heard in many places: "writing is thinking in slow motion." As such, writing as a skill really comes down to thinking and organizing. Like reading, I think few would argue that writing is an essential skill.

However, I see two issues main issues with teaching writing that need to be addressed. The first is that because writing and thinking are so closely related, we first have to teach students how to think if they are to write well. I am not referring to brainwashing students with a particular type of thinking or even a particular level of Bloom's taxonomy. I am referring to varieties of thinking that help students expand their viewpoints. In Socratic Seminar, for example, students listen carefully to each other and build appreciations for other viewpoints and ideas. With enough conversation about a text, students can gain insights from their peers to help push their own thinking along. In other words, they are writing for and with a greater audience.

This leads to the second issue, which is that the nature or school-based writing has changed. With few exceptions, such as yearbook or school newspaper, most of what students wrote years ago was for a lone audience member: the teacher. Now students have their own blogs, manage their own video game guilds, respond to multiple threads in wikis and forums, and post videos on YouTube where they could potentially reach millions of people.

In addition to the expanded audience, writing has become much more contextualized. The bland 5-paragraph essay can now have different fonts, colors, pictures, moving text, sounds, graphics, layouts and much more. These "desktop publishing" considerations are often more interesting and complex than the text itself, meaning that writing is becoming a mult-sensory activity.


Skill number two on the list of 10 Skills Every Student Should Know (posted on September 4), is typing and I have to admit I disagree with its inclusion. The skills from the article were not presented in any particular order, but still, typing should not be on the top ten at all. Maybe not even top 20.

The reason is simple: typing will be close to obsolete in a few years. We already have seriously good dictation software that can translate the spoken word into text and it's only going to get better. The other day I sent a text to a friend home number not realizing that it was not a cell phone. They had a new answering machine that took the text and translated it into a voice that left my text message as voicemail!

Is typing a good skill to have? Of course. But there are too many necessary skills that students must know in order to be successful in the future to merit typing being in the top ten.


Few people will argue that the number one skill that students must learn is reading. Jim Trelease once said, "Reading is the tide that lifts all boats" -- meaning that reading elevates all other subjects. After all, reading is basically involved in every other subject. In daily life we have to read road signs, emails, nutritional information, contracts, mortgages, assembly instructions, warning signs, and so on.

But what kind of reading should we strive for? Students obviously must achieve basic reading proficiency as a bare minimum, but beyond that they must learn how to read critically. This involves more than simply reading "in the lines." Students must be able to read "between the lines" for deeper meaning, nuances, and connotations, and even "beyond the lines" to make sense of the text in their own lives.

This process of "deep reading" can easily be done through Socratic Seminar or similar process, such as The Great Books Foundation's Shared Inquiry method. Students simply need time to practice engaging with difficult texts and, more importantly, challenging questions.

1. Reading
2. Typing
3. Writing
4. Communicating Effectively
5. Questioning
6. Being Resourceful
7. Being Accountable
8. Knowing How to Learn
9. Thinking Critically
10. Being Happy


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