VAST Skills

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The Skills for Success

Skills for Positive Routines

A key purpose of schooling is to develop positive habits of mind.  Habits of mind are the routines needed to develop the capacities of every learner to be more thoughtful, successful and better equipped for improved performance.

This is empowerment.

By outlining the key skills of successful people (such as Art Costa outlined in his Habits of Mind framework) there is an underlying belief that all learners have the potential for self-improvement.

The following selection of skills explores critical routines necessary to maximise every learner’s capacity to improve.  This list is not comprehensive, but each skill listed is vital.

If a learner is adept in these eight areas, they will flourish at school and in the community.

Responsible Risk Taking (Challenge by Choice) or showing initiative endows our learners to seize opportunity, which in turn underpins learning.  Taking responsible risks means we accept challenges and strive to see the potential for giving things a go.

Every learner has a comfort zone, where we prefer to feel settled.  But if we can challenge ourselves to push against our boundaries, up against our personal wall, we will feel discomfort.  Usually the emotional response follows a pathway from discomfort to anxiety to fear to anger to resistance that can end in tears.  With careful support – allowing challenge by choice – we can encourage learners to push beyond their personal boundaries safely.  In such situations, as we have all experienced, we feel relief and elation as we move beyond our comfort zone, break through our boundaries, and enter our growth zone.

It is vital we teach responsible risk-taking because it is only by experiencing and understanding risk we develop a healthy understanding of self-preservation, which is instrumental in our care for others.

As the diagram below indicates, the expert educator identifies the balance between challenge and capability.  Lean too far on either side and the learner will experience boredom or frustration. The optimal growth zone is the zone of assisted performance.

Organising: being organised is being disciplined.  It is about using tools and strategies to maximise our performance and lift our sense of control.  When we feel out of control we feel stressed, and we know stressed brains don’t learn (John Medema, Brain Rules).  Two key organisation skills are time management and goal setting. As highlighted by findings, people who set goals – and share their goals with others – are more successful than those who do not (Dr G Matthews, 2015).
 
Questioning: a quest is a journey of discovery.  Most school lessons are filled with questions, but they are dictated to students by the teacher.  The model of intelligence in many classrooms is the teacher is the font of hidden knowledge; a question/test is presented; if students can answer questions with the information ‘known’ by the teacher, they are deemed intelligent.  This is didactic recall.

But ever since Socrates, the art of questioning is to develop thinking.  To learn the skill-set of critical questioning, how to hypothesise, leads learners to analyse, discern, refine, contemplate, and critique. Critical and creative questioning is the base for critical and creative thinking.
 
Thinking: sometimes referenced as 21st thinking skills (www.p21.org/), can be defined as critical thinking and creative thinking.  There are differences in the two:

Critical ThinkingCreative Thinking

Defining Interpreting

Analysing or discerning

Reasoning

Classifying

Evaluating

Contemplating

Explaining

Combining parts

Sifting and synthesising

Constructing and modelling

Brainstorming

Acting on intuition – the hunch

Discerning different viewpoints

Purposeful Practising: practising is developing automaticity. The popular 10000 hour rule is underpinned by purposeful intention.  As Ericsson states, “You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal”.  For the learner, this requires concentration and focus; for the teacher, there needs to be clinical and accurate feedback – with a clear understanding of the learner’s expectations.  Feedback – authentic, task-related feedback – allows the learner to practise purposefully.

Practising also involves the art of remembering.  With a focus on recall, there is a need to develop memory retention skills, such as mnemonics.  Learning does have information we can retain via rote – and rote learning does have a place… in balance.  Remembering also relies on the presentation of information – such as colour, graphics, key phrases.

Communicating: communicating is the art of presenting ideas – verbally, expressively, visually, and non-verbally.  It involves active listening – which is often glossed over. A positive learning environment must explicitly teach the skills required to listen attentively.  Most learners define communicating as talking. Learners need to know the power of body language, how to deliver a presentation, skills for active listening, and how to use visual cues, how people read, the power of colour, text structure, font, layout and graphics.

A powerful idiom to consider: There is a difference between listening and waiting to speak.

Collaborating: cooperative group work structures enhance collaborative learning opportunities.  Strategies such as think-pair-share, the jigsaw method, and Socratic circles all use the power of the group to share thoughts and improve collective awareness.  All learning activities should include social opportunities to explore and collaborate.
 
Synthesising: synthesis is a higher-order thinking skill in the original Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy.  Synthesis can be taught explicitly to develop this skill by offering opportunities to source wide arrays of information and ideas. Information synthesis is a subset skills and in a time of the Information Age with 24 hour news cycles and social media postings, where anyone can publish and influence using Web2.0 technology, learners must be equipped with the skills to understand, research and evaluate.  Purposefully getting students to build networks is a way of advancing discernment skills.

Creating: the core of the flower.  Creating is at the heart of innovation.  It is based on the understanding of function and form. Creativity evolves from understanding and experience.  Key elements for developing a creative mind rely on: resources, environment, autonomy, varying viewpoints and influences, multi-sensorial learning experiences, emphasising the process beyond the product, and open-ended play.

Our aim is to guide, mentor and educate each of our learner’s to be creative – or innovative. Creativity is the core distinction in our VAST scaffold.  If a student can take from school a knowledge of and a skill-base for being creative, they will have authority.  They will generate their own enterprise success.  Our goal in career-building is to strengthen each learner’s opportunity to be the author of their own destiny.