Student Outcomes
Chapter: Concretely Defining Student Outcome Themes – 2/2

Bringing focus and clarity into our pursuit of student outcomes

DISPOSITIONS

While the focus on test scores has been high, science is now pointing to the other half set of skills that is necessary for our students to become fully engaged, successful, flourishing adults. At the onset, it would be great to clarify that when we speak about Dispositions (erstwhile known as Aptitudes in the previous 5As framework) we do not mean for this to subsume Proficiency or any other themes of student outcomes. Dispositions reinforce the theme of Proficiency. They can be measured independently, but they are also interdependent. Students’ academic behaviors, including regular school attendance, completing homework, and participating in class, are strongly related to measures of academic achievement, such as grades (Farrington et al., 2012). Thus, well-developed skills under this bucket promote the development of academics.

As Anna Choi from the OECD said,

There is no silver bullet type of solution but many research and evidence has suggested the need to assess not only academic or cognitive outcomes, but also non-cognitive outcomes such as perseverance, collaboration, self-esteem, conscientiousness to name a few.  These skills are malleable, can be taught and developed throughout childhood and adolescence.  Furthermore, many intervention programs such as Perry, Star, and Abecedarian project have identified the long lasting positive effects on children in terms of economic, academic, health and well-being.  Further research and collaboration with the practitioners and policymakers will be important to identify the tools to measure what matters for children, especially vulnerable and disadvantaged ones and how to improve these skills

 

The word ‘Dispositions’ is indicative of our belief that these skills (most of them) are malleable, coachable and varies by contexts.

You can see many of the frameworks around non-cognitive skills here used by different organizations outside of our network. The challenge is that the generic accepted definition of non-cognitive skills exists, but there is no one unified list of what matters. The lack of such a classification delays the development of metrics to measure and assess skills, and the design of strategies to nurture them. Additionally, crafting such a list likely engenders controversy, in terms of which skills belong on the list, and how we can know this in the absence of proper metrics. With our list of skills under the Disposition theme, we hope to create a menu from which you can choose what is most aligned to your vision and to your context.

We see Dispositions in three main buckets:

  • Managing Self [Emotional regulation, self-control, conscientiousness, open to new experiences, humility (Asian dimension), code switching etc.]
  • Engaging and collaborating with others [Cooperation, conflict resolution, Comprehension of socio-cultural differences, Appreciation (valuing and noticing others & the environment), Living in harmony (Asian dimension) etc.]
  • Innovation and pursuit of goals [Creativity, Grit, Perseverance. Growth mindset, Goal orientation (collective versus individual – cultural differences), Task initiation, Autonomy and independence of judgment etc.]

What goes under each of these buckets is definitely not exhaustive but an attempt to catalogue what we believe as important skills our students need. It is important to note that this list is likely to grow (or shrink) as more evidence emerges, and that specific definitions of each skill may vary by age and other factors such as context.

There are many studies which show a spike in academic achievement with an implementation of programs related to Dispositions, what is important to note is that the effect on academic achievement does show a drop in the near future so to say that a sustained increase in academic achievement due to Dispositions would be incorrect. What is critical to remember though is that these Dispositions teach something that is much more enduring and across many spheres of life beyond school or college – many of the skills mentioned under these buckets below, are predictors for better health, employability, imprisonment rates and many others.

 

Are we suggesting that students from the communities we serve change their attitudes, the way they behave and their ways of communication to see success within the current system? Isn’t this clearly a case where the system offers an advantage to a culture that is currently not their own? What can we do to make our classrooms more inclusive and our educators more sensitive to the strengths of our students rather than seeing them as deprived or ill-adjusted?

Is it possible that by shifting the onus on our students to acquire and learn these skills we are moving away from the system’s responsibility of creating the circumstances of poverty and neglect in the first place? Are we focusing so much on Dispositions that we are losing the focus on looking at the education gap through the lens of systems of oppression?

What is interesting about the theme of Dispositions is that the teachers we see embed them in everyday practice – there is no explicit call out saying “we will be practicing the skill of creativity or collaboration for the next 30 minutes”. Every action in the classroom both by the teacher and student is meaningful and geared towards shaping and building these skills.

 

  • What skills and mindsets under the Dispositions bucket did you see Faheem display?
  • Seeing him make speak with such conviction about his dream to become a paleontologist, what inter-relatedness between Proficiency and Awareness do you think went into classroom practice?

 

AGENCY

Across our strongest classrooms we see that students take ownership of their learning and believe in their own sense of leadership to impact change on what matters to them. This recurring theme is what we call as Agency. Under the theme of Agency, we believe:

  • students are aware of how they learn
  • what are the enablers for their learning
  • there is a sense of belief that they as individuals can impact change on themselves and those around them, and
  • responsibility of one’s own actions on the environment and on others.

Student voice is an important aspect of Agency. We need to consider how student voice is reflected in the day to day decisions that are made around their classroom, school and community – not simply in order to satisfy ourselves that we’ve heard what students have to say, but in more engaged and authentic ways that are about their personage.

Before a student can exercise agency in their particular context they must have a belief that their behaviour is actually going to make a difference for those around them in that setting – in other words, a personal sense of agency.

Agency is also interdependent. It mediates and is mediated by the socio-cultural context of the classroom and the community it resides in.

It’s not just about a student in isolation doing their own thing and what suits them. Students must develop a sense of awareness that there are consequences for the decisions they make and actions they take, and will take account of that in the way(s) they exercise their agency.

Below is a reflection by Zeke Cohen from Intersection. He believes that education should teach our students the complex understanding of who they are and how they fit into both a global and a local context.

Self-actualization is hard to evaluate because it manifests differently in each child.  To begin with, it is about having a vocabulary to be able to understand how they fit in with the larger dynamics of history that are going on.  But then they can act on those realizations.

I’m thinking about this young woman in our program who became homeless. Her dad has kind of bounced in and out of being able to rent a place and not being able to rent a place.  And this year it kind of hit the fan and she was homeless for an extended period of time.  So we worked with her obviously on finding shelter.  One of my staff had her.  I had her stuff.  We helped her find housing.  But while all this was going on, she was intimately involved in this campaign to pass the youth investment act.  She was able to not only articulate why—from a social political standpoint—Baltimore needed to pass this legislation, but she was also able to contextualized it in her own life.  She was able to make this incredibly emotionally compelling case that as a now houseless youth, she needs and deserves surfaces and funding and resources and support that this legislation would be the proof of providing.  She was able to take what she learned and her own experiences and use that as an incredibly compelling advocacy tool to move the legislation forward.

What Intersection calls Self-Actualization and what we refer to as Agency is teaching history, teaching the context of systems of oppression and systems of inequality, but then teaching young people how to undo some of those systems.  To bridge the world as it is and the world as it should be, using students as the key agents of change to create a better and more equitable world.

 

Use the below exercise to arrive at concrete student actions with your team

List down all the specific student actions you have chosen to focus on in alignment with these themes. If there are outcomes that are not aligned to the PADA framework, it is absolutely okay! This exercise is only for you and your team to zoom out, see the inter-relatedness between them all, see if there are overlaps or gaps that you would like to address.

pada-activity

 


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