The Skills High School Students Need
At Opportunity Education and in Quest Forward Schools, skills are critical for student success. We take a “skills-forward” approach. Skills practice, application, reflection, and opportunities for growth drive the design of the Quest Forward ecosystem and the learning experiences we offer. This development takes a precedence over memorizing facts and information.
The skills that are addressed through Quest Forward Learning are grouped into three categories:
- Learning Skills: Academic skills often focused on in school, but also important throughout life
- Work Skills: Skills associated with how one works
- Essential Habits: Self skills associated with how a student thinks, feels, and behaves and how they interact with others
Each set is valuable for success in school, career, and life. Together, they address the whole student — not just academic requirements, but the skills needed to take care of oneself, to be a good friend and colleague, and to contribute to one’s community.
12 Learning Skills are woven throughout the Quest Forward curriculum in five categories:
Learn How to Investigate
Take in facts and ideas.
Learn How to Analyze
Create new ideas and solutions.
Learn How to Reason
Think critically and make arguments.
Learn How to Communicate
Communicate ideas to others.
Learn Who You Are
Be aware, accountable, and self-directed.
Through the completion of their courses, students develop learning skills that increase their academic abilities and aptitudes. For instance, one journey called Genes and Gene Editing focuses on the skills of Ask Questions, Assess Arguments, and Take a Position. Throughout the journey students practice these skills through various activities, such as extracting DNA, asking questions about the use of at home DNA testing kits, and taking a position on the human gene editing debate.
By mastering these, students can apply what they learn to act effectively in the context of real world problems.
We have selected six Work Skills, or executive functions, that focus on how a person works and accomplishes goals effectively. Students develop these through supported goal-setting, planning, and reflection. Mentors and counselors provide feedback and encourage development to ensure students graduate high school with the skills necessary to live, work, and manage daily life. These include:
For example, students practice Plan and Achieve Goals daily, using processes and templates we developed. Students set weekly academic goals as well as personal ones and reflect daily. Mentors support them at each step to ensure students modify or achieve each goal. When students complete artifacts they also receive feedback on their effort and support from others, which helps students to develop the Work Efficiently skill. Developing these executive functions while in high school gives students a powerful headstart for their professional lives after graduation.
We have also identified six Essential Habits, or self skills, that focus on an individual’s thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and interactions with others. The Essential Habits are:
This school year, students will practice these habits through supported goal setting, participation in community events, academic projects, and focused support from school counselors and social workers. For example, school social workers are hosting a workshop on how to manage anxiety (Manage Yourself). Through practicing these habits early and often throughout high school, students are better equipped to confidently handle any challenges that life as a young adult could bring them.
A Lifelong Process
Students at Quest Forward Schools have a unique opportunity to practice skills and develop habits that will benefit them their entire lives. They are integrated into everything they do. The most important thing is to remember that we are always learning them, always practicing them, and always trying to improve. This holds not just for high school, or college, but for all of life. We may never perfect any of our skills, but with regular, reflective practice, all of us can consistently improve.
Jolene Zywica, PhD
Dr. Zywica is Opportunity Education's Senior Director of Learning Strategy. She ensures that Quest Forward Learning is grounded in research and develops experiences to support student learning. She also designs and executes the evaluation program to continuously improve Quest Forward Learning and its impact upon students.