Non-cognitive factors and their impact on student performance

Because most schools and institutions of higher education rely on grades and results to measure their students’ success, their teaching methods tend to focus on the traditional academic skills required to perform well within those measures. Thus, some important factors — mostly non-cognitive factors —are ignored, while their influence on student performance has already been found to be significant.

Members of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research have created a model depicting the undeniable link between these non-cognitive factors — students’ behaviours, beliefs, mindsets, and social-emotional skills — and academic performance. Research into such factors has shown that even small changes implemented in classrooms can have an impact on students’ learning and academic well-being.

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Model of the non-cognitive factors influencing academic performance, https://consortium.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/publications/The%20Role%20of%20Noncognitive-Aug2017-Consortium.pdf

Academic perseverance describes a student’s inclination to complete academic tasks and to do so while making an effort, regardless of the challenges they face. Committing to an objective and overcoming its obstacles shows perseverance, and ignoring distractions to reach that goal requires self-discipline, self-control, and delaying gratification. These traits are not easily taught, but they are crucial to student performance and growth.

Academic mindsets are the most influential factor in this model, because they describe how students see their own learning potential and how they deal with failure and success. Positive academic mindsets motivate students to persevere, which translates into better academic behaviours, which in turn lead to improved performance in school.

Social skills are acceptable behaviours and interpersonal skills that improve social interactions, such as empathy, responsibility, and cooperation. Developing social skills is an important educational goal in early education, but it is also logically related to academic performance. For example, cooperating with peers or participating in class discussions can lead to better academic performance.

Finally, learning strategies refer to processes and tactics that aid in the cognitive work of thinking, remembering, or learning, meant to help students take charge of and organise their own learning. As one might expect, they are inextricably linked with student performance.

Some of these non-cognitive factors are influenced by the school and classroom context, which are in turn determined by such things as the available resources, grading policies, curricula, student norms and expectations, and school leadership.

On a yet broader scale, students’ socio-cultural environment — their level of shelter, food, economic security, safety, family stability, and health — can nurture or limit their growth and learning potential by affecting the effectiveness of their teachers’ methods. The non-cognitive factors we discussed often disproportionately affect students who are not thriving, further emphasising the importance of factors that create inequality among students and schools.

The final and central element of this model — as in any model related to teaching and learning — is the students themselves. Educational psychologist David Ausubel wrote: “The single most important factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach accordingly.” Teachers should focus on the learners to find out how their past experiences and prior knowledge will affect what they have yet to learn and discover. Effective teaching always begins with the learner.

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Gauthier Lebbe

Gauthier Lebbe

Inbound Marketing Manager @ Wooclap, interested in and excited about applying EdTech to the educational needs of today’s students