15 Skills Every Student Should Have

15 Personal Skills and Competencies of the Future

There are, of course, skills that are valuable moving into the unknown future and we could debate about what the top ones might be, but no matter what they are, Socratic Seminar is an amazing place to develop those skills. Seminars are certainly not a panacea for all educational ailments, but as seen here in this blog, they can do a lot! 

In the article 23 Skills Of The Future – Important Skills For The Jobs Of 21th Century, Benjamin Talin suggests fifteen personal skills and competencies that will be crucial in the future—along with eight "Necessary Foundations and Basics." Let's see how Socratic Seminar can help with each of these, knowing that these could have been nearly collection of skills with the future in mind.

1. Active Learning / Curiosity / Growth

"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

Curiosity and wonder often begin with questions—and questions are the hallmark of a good Socratic Seminar. Students are often asked to annotate a text in order to prepare it for dialogue, and a very important aspect of this pre-seminar is activating curiosity y generating questions.

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.

2. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a vital part of any Socratic Classroom environment. Being part of a team means trying to understand others, developing empathy and appreciating different viewpoints. Emotional intelligence is a huge territory, but five of the main ingredients of social-emotional learning are: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Responsible Decision-Making, and Relationship Skills. Socratic Seminar is an excellent place for students to practice the first three, and sometimes can supplement the last two.

3. Leadership Skills

The term "leadership skills" refers to a lot of areas, including things like confidence and charisma, the ability to inspire and motivate. Students in Socratic Seminar have some opportunity to develop some of these skills since participants are expected to lead the conversation. Some teachers even have students take turns specifically as leaders. Of course, not everyone even wants to be a leader so many of these skills would need to be developed in other environments.

4. Communication and Coordination

Communication and coordination are two major outcomes as well, since the whole point of having a Socratic Seminar is to work together to have greater shared understandings of ideas, issues, and values. It should come as no surprise, then, that communication skills are 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. See collaboration below as well.

5. Judgement & Decision-Making Competencies

Participants in Socratic Seminar are expected to cite the texts and to use textual evidence to craft their arguments and understandings. Because of this, they must practice weighing evidence and making decisions based on all of the available information and opinions.

6. Creativity, Ideation, and Innovation

If there is one outcome that Socratic Seminar excels at, I would think it would be this category of creativity, ideation, and innovation. With an entire group constantly pitching ideas and spiraling into new ideas, there is never a shortage of innovation! Creative thinking generally generates options and ideas, whereas critical thinking tends to eliminate possibilities measured against criteria.

7. Critical Thinking - Reasoning

The ninth skill from the September 4 article posting is the skill of critical thinking. I have posted 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.

8. Complex Problem-Solving

Complex problems often require innovative solutions, so this skill is very tied into 6, 7, 9, and 10. The Opening Question in a  Socratic Seminar is crafted to have multiple "right" answers that are justifiable in the text. In addition, the texts are supposed to have complexities such as interpretive issues that require evidence and argumentation.

9. Analytical Thinking

It's often difficult to separate critical thinking and analytical thinking, but whatever the subtle differences might be, students in Socratic Seminar practice both on a regular basis.

10. Systems Thinking

Complex problems often involve systems of thought, and require critical and creative thinking to examine connections, contingencies, and potential possibilities. See The Shape of Dialogue to understand more about the interwoven process.

11. Collaboration

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.

12. Negotiation

The twelfth skill on the list is negotiation and a vital component of that is active listening. One of my favorite explanations of the speaking-listening connection is that it is the "negotiation of meaning." This is one of the main skill areas that students develop during dialogue as they attempt to make their ideas clear while also trying to understand other viewpoints.

13. Self-Reflection / Mindfulness

Self-reflection and mindfulness are built into the Socratic Seminar experience. If nowhere else, the post-seminar is a place where participants reflect on personal and group goals in order to continuing to grow and learn. Teachers often use reflective writing in the form of exit tickets and journaling to help solidify student thinking, and many seminar experiences lead to a culminating argumentative essay in one form or another.

14. Resilience / Stress-Tolerance

Participants in Socratic Seminar often develop resilience because they share a lot of ideas and have to overcome the adversity of rarely being truly understood. It takes a long time to explain complex ideas, especially if they are "under attack" from others, and sticking to one's beliefs and tolerating stress go a long way in helping to successfully recruit people to your way of thinking. 

15. Adaptability / Flexibility

Adaptability and learnability are two key skills in Socratic Seminar. Because teachers shift the burden of responsibility of learning over to the students, participants in Socratic Seminar must adapt and learn in new ways, taking responsibility for themselves and the impact they have on the group. In complex conversations, students practice the skill of metacognition, or thinking about their thinking, which requires them to learn how they learn as individuals, and how they can function within a group.

Cognitive flexibility is key outcome from participating in Socratic Seminar. Quality conversations do not have fixed outcomes, even for the teachers. Being part of a larger group thinking endeavor means that people learn how to learn and develop growth mindsets as new information and arguments are presented. A sign of a good conversation is when participants change their minds from the beginning, which shows that they are willing 


Active Listening, creative thinking, learning, skills, teaching

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