BY NIKKI MEYER
“There is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is that they’re studying, unless they learn to ask questions, to do things hands-on, to essentially re-create things in their own mind and then transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear.” Dr. Howard Gardener, Harvard University Professor (1997 Edutopia interview)
As the staff and administration has worked to adjust to its new trimester schedule and assess student needs throughout the year, Truman Public School has identified a need among its students: better study skills. Heading up a brand new class for students in grades 7-9 is English teacher Sarah Garcia.
Garcia is utilizing the SOAR Learning & Soft Skills Curriculum (aka SOAR Study Skills), created by Susan Kruger, M.Ed. and Brian Willer, M.Ed. Kruger believes, “No student should ever feel like they aren’t ‘good enough’ or ‘smart enough,’ simply because they were never taught HOW to learn!” The curriculum’s four guiding principles are built around Structure, Originality, Aptitudes, and Relevancy.
With SOAR, students are taught first that the question isn’t "Are you smart?” but rather “HOW are you smart?” The course leans heavily on the works of Dr. Gardener, who mapped out the theory of Multiple Intelligences—the idea that, in short, there is not one singular kind of intelligence that can be accurately mapped out by an IQ test. Gardener instead posited, eventually, that there are eight types of intelligences: spatial (picture/visual smart), bodily-kinesthetic (body smart), musical, linguistic (word smart), logical-mathematical, interpersonal (social smart), intrapersonal (self smart), naturalistic (nature smart).
“What I want is that students recognize their true abilities regardless if it lies in my verbal area,” Garcia commented. “Knowing there is a whole world of opportunities built around what they are good in or have an interest in will build confidence that leads to success. When students are confident, it is easier to learn because they know they can, and also they recognize how that skill or knowledge fits their picture of success.”
Garcia said that at first there was pushback from some students, but most have started to see the benefit. “One student actually said to me, I didn’t know I was smart in these areas.”
Once students are given an awareness that there isn’t one singular way to be smart, they are given tools—‘soft skills’—to help them shine in their learning environment and in life beyond.
The term ‘soft skill’s is credited to Dr. Paul Whitmore and John Fry, who presented three papers to the Defense Technical Information Center, which provides research and engineering information for the United States Department of Defense (DoD). The US Army had been investing heavily in training procedures that utilized technology to improve workflow and learning efficiency, and the work of Whitmore and Fry birthed the idea of “soft skills”, which later moved from use in the Army to use by the general public.
Hard skills are teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to quantify. Typically, you’ll learn hard skills in the classroom, through books or other training materials, or on the job.
Examples of hard skills include:
Proficiency in a foreign language
A degree or certificate
Soft skills, on the other hand, are subjective skills that are much harder to quantify. They may be known as ‘people skills’ or ‘interpersonal skills.’ Skills that SOAR include, among others:
According to a StudySkills.com article, an assessment of 500 businesses in Oakland County, MI revealed that 91% of the top needed skills are soft skills, not technical ones. (https://studyskills.com/spedadhd/learning-and-soft-skills-empower-special-education-students/)
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” Garcia admits that with this first go-round her main focus has been on the organization skills. Students are presently learning how to organize a binder with papers for all of their classes, rather than having separate binders for each class. Next they will work on organizing their space—especially their locker and backpack, though the course also covers spaces outside of school—followed by organizing their time.
Garcia said organization was one of the big red flags that prompted the study skills course. “We were hearing a lot of students who didn’t have a foundation of note-taking or reading strategies. Kids complaining they turned it in and it got lost, or ‘I know I did it but I don’t know where it went.’ They typical things we’ve all heard over decades of teaching, but it was more than just the one or two kids.” She said some issues, like reading and paper-writing skills, are addressed in other classes, and the study skills course is helping to reinforce the concepts and gives students a way to tie it all together.
Organizing naturally goes hand-in-hand with Setting Goals. Once students have established their priorities and goals, they are able to organize their time and space in such a way as to make achieving those goals much easier.
After students have focused on relating to themselves with setting goals and organizing, the SOAR course takes them through relating to others through Asking Questions. Information is provided on how the human brain functions and how to use that knowledge to remember what you learn. Asking Questions is a means of storing and organizing information in your long-term memory so you can access it later.
When asking questions, SOAR covers:
How to work with teachers
How to read textbooks
How to write papers
How to study and take notes
How to take tests
Finally, SOAR leads students through tracking their progress, include grades, goals and recognizing their achievements. Garcia said that as a whole the staff and administration are working on giving students more visible recognition in the school.
Students will have completed the class by the end of the trimester, and Garcia said that the current plan it to offer it again first trimester of next year for all incoming 7th grade and new students.
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