Getting Students College and Career Ready


In a recent article in the Washington Post, Montgomery County’s “Seven Keys to College Readiness” will get a makeover.  It appears that in Montgomery County, Maryland, public schools are wrestling with their present Seven Keys to College Readiness benchmarks.  They are looking to do an update in order to include the Common Core State Standards and the new education reform challenges that now define student success

The Washington Post

How is your state moving forward to get students college and career ready?


Meryl Becker-Prezocki

Subject Matter Expert


Thanks for posting a link to the article. I am really glad that Montgomery County is reconsidering their framework for College Readiness. It is important to consider the noncognitive skills integration into our classrooms esp. at the transition level. In fact, the very definition of noncognitive skills needs to be stretched to incorporate the supports needed for the nontraditional students (our adult students), e.g. resilience, self-efficacy, study skills, career planning, to access and suceed in college-level courses and programs of study.

How does your program or you in your class address teaching these and other noncognitive skills...


Priyanka Sharma

National College Transition Network  


Thank you for your comments, Priyanka.  It is so important to consider noncognitive skills integration, as you mentioned.  After all, we are talking about the “whole” person.

Meryl Becker-Prezocki



No one has yet answered Priyanka's question, how does your program -- or how do you in your classes -- address teaching these and other noncognitive skills?  I wonder why not. Is it because no one in this CoP is doing this? Is it because few people here have yet read Paul Tough's book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character? Perhaps some of you are actually teaching these "noncognitive" or "performance character" (i.e. not moral character) skills in your classes or programs but you don't know them by these terms. So, below is a list of some of the main noncognitive/performance character skills described in Tough's book that I thought might be relevant to this discussion; I list them here, in no particular order, so that you can comment on whether or not -- and if so how -- you help your students to learn or strengthen any of these skills:

  • optimism -- beliving that you can achieve (able to simultaneously concentrate on one's goal while simultaneously concentrating on the obstacles in the way)
  • curiosity
  • zest -- engaged in learning, fully participating in learning
  • gratitude -- the habit of verbally appreciating it when someone helps you
  • social intelligence -- the "ability to recognize interpersonal dynamics and adapte quickly to different social situations)
  • self control
  • perseverence
  • diligence
  • grit -- the ability to pursue a goal, to stick to it, to overcome obstacles in the path of meeting that goal
  • volition -- this is not just motivation (i.e. "I really want to finish a college degree.") but also the will to make it happen, to break the goal down into the steps, and one by one, over time, overcome the obstacles to accomplish those steps. (Maybe this is the same as grit with optimism and perseverence.)

I hope some of you will discuss these here.


David J. Rosen


David: The topic of noncognitive skills in ABE is one of the areas I cover in my new free workshop for 2013. In it I review extensive data on
intergenerational inequalities in education and economics. I also present data from many studies to suggest that greater investments in the education of undereducated youth and adults, many of whom are parents or will become parents, can help break the multiple life cycles of inequalities in education and economic achievement. One section in my workshop deals with the intergenerational transfer of noncognitive skills and reviews research to support the teaching of such skills, including Dorothy Rich's MegaSkills and William Sedlacek's work. ThImportantly from the point of view you raise are the studies I review that indicate that many of the noncognitive factors that Tough, Rich, Sedlacek, Heckman, and others discuss appear to be developed by ABE students automatically, without direct instruction. For instance, new self-confidence brings OPTIMISM; students often report interest in engaging in further learning -CURIOSITY; ZEST, and so forth. My workshop also emphasizes the importance of advocating for adult literacy education as much for the effects such education has on adult's children's noncognitive development  as it does for the employability and educability enhancement of adults. 

Workshop Title:
Intergenerational Workforce Literacy Development

Dr. Tom Sticht
International Consultant in Adult Education


Part 1 9:00-10:30am
Contemporary Issues of Intergenerational
Inequalities in Education and Economic
Achievement: Investing in Early Childhood Education,
Career Pathways, and Postsecondary Education
for Youth and Adults

Professional Wisdom and Scientific Evidence
for Investing in Adult Education to Reduce
Inequalities in Children’s Education

Break 10:30-10:45am

Pare 2 10:45-12:00am

The Intergenerational Transfer of Cognitive
& Non-Cognitive Abilities For Overcoming
Inequalities in Educational and Economic

Oracy and Literacy Transfer Across Generations:
Cognitive Science Theory and Applications
to Practice in Children’s and Adults’ Education

Lunch 12:00-12:30pm

Part 3 12:30- 2:00pm

Intergenerational Effects of Contextualized and
Integrated Basic Skills and Work-Related Education

Teach the Mother and Reach the Child: Integrated Basic
Skills and Job Skills Education With
Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW)

Break 2:00- 2:15pm

Part 4 2:15- 3:30pm

Integration of Basic Education, Work, and Parenting Skills
Education for the Reduction of Intergenerational
Inequalities in Education and Economics

Toward a Multiple Life Cycles Education Policy

Workshop Ends

For further information on the free workshops for 2013
contact me at tsticht at



  Thank you, Priyanka and David, for nudging us to share about  the important topic of noncognitive skills. 

I think volition covers a wide range of options, but could be the heading for our ongoing discussions with our students about the power of choice.  The dictionary lists the definition of volition as, " the act or power of using the will."    We seek to help our students understand that they have the power of making decisions for themselves and that those decisions can and do make a big difference in their level of success.  They decide if they come to class today when we are facing threats of tornadoes.  They decide if they are fully engaged in their work today or merely playing at learning.  They decide if they continue their education or leave when they obtain the GED.  A series of small decisions can culminate in some big changes. 

We emphasize the word power for our students who have often felt powerless. 

The whole list of skills that David shared can and should be demonstrated by all our teachers as they interact with the students.  Are we doing a good job of conveying that information to our teachers?

Donna Byrum, Director

Adult Education Centers of North Texas, Grayson College



Thanks for your reply Donna.

One of the things that interests me about about Paukl Tough's book is the way "volition" is described. It is based on work that takes it much deeper than the typical dictionary definition, on the impressive research on performance character (not moral character but things like self-control and willpower) of Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania. Duckworth's premise is that "[performance] character is at least as important as intellect" to help chronically low-performing but intelligent students. She is interested in issues like metacognitive strategies to teach people to maximize self-control. Diuckworth separates out "motivation" (wanting something -- even wanting it a lot, or more than anything) from "volition" (willpower, selfcontrol, and grit strategies). She says both motivation and volition are needed.

Duckworth has worked with schools, including KIPP (Knowled is Power Program) schools that serve very low-income children, to help them develop tools to evaluate performance character strengths like self-control, grit, social intelligence, zest, gratitude, optimism and curiousity. She has help them use these assessments in the schools with students, their parensts and teachers who review them together, like a performance character report card.  She has also helped teachers who want to teach these performance character strengths. Tough writes about Duckworth, "But Angela Duckworth believes that thinking and talking about character isn't enough, especially for adolescents. It's one thing to know abstractly that you need to improve your grit or your zest or your self-control. It's another thing to actually have the tools to do so. This is the flip side of the distinction Duckworth draws between motivation and volition, or willpower." Tough continues, "Duckworth is now trying to help young people develop those volitional tool;s...."(Tough, page 92)

One of my questions is whether this kind of research also applies to adult learners. I think, for example, of health literacy workshops run by the Canyon Ranch Institute to help (often low-income) adults (who are motivated) to learn and practice strategies to change their health-related (nutrition and exercise for example) behaviors. I think of many adult learners whom I have known and some I have taught who have had to learn volitional skills to match their high degree of motivation to pass the GED test, make their dream a reality.

Donna, I wonder what you -- and others reading this -- think about _this_ definition of volition with regard to adults learning literacy and/or other basic skills.

I wonder if we have teachers reading this discussion who can provide some concrete illustrations of how they are helping their students learn some of these performance character or noncognitive skills or strengths? (Perhaps some of us who are administrators, researchers, professional developers or in other adult education roles could draw some teachers into this discussion, especially those who have some experience and views about teaching adults noncognitive skills.

One other comment. Donna you said "The whole list of skills that David shared can and should be demonstrated by all our teachers as they interact with the students.  Are we doing a good job of conveying that information to our teachers?" I think Tough and others about whose research he has written would take this a lot further. They might agree that teachers need to demonstrate these noncognitive skills themselves but that schools and other education environments need to be places where learners (I would include adult learners) who have motivation, who have at least one goal that they care about, can learn and practice the volition strategies to meet i their goal(s).

Is anyone in adult literacy education doing this?

David J. Rosen


Here's another set of non-cognitive skills, identified in Paul Tough's book, How to Succeed... (p 161). These are noncognitive skills needed to prepare for college. They come from Chicago researcher Melissa Roderick who works with the Consortium on Chicago Schools Research. She thinks these five "academic noncognitive skills" are critical:

  • Study skills
  • Work habits
  • Time management
  • Help-seeking behavior and
  • social/academic problem-solving skills

At least three of these: study skills, work habits and time-management, are common adult education transition program, work-readiness, or workplace "soft skills" that may be addressed in our field. Perhaps we also address social/academic problem-solving skills, depending on how that's defined. I am intrigued, however, by "help-seeking behavior". Do we need to pay more attention to that?

I have a colleague, let's call him James,  who was a top-performing GED student but who went on to college to find that he had neither the academic skills nor knowledge of how a post-secondary environment functions that he needed to succeed. He was highly motivated, and on his own he developed some successful volition skills/strategies that eventually enabled him to graduate from a four-year university with high honors. One key strategy he developed was how to use office hours.

Some research at Portland State University several years ago on first-year, first-generation (i.e. first one in their family)  perceptions of how universities work had some interesting findings. In a survey of first gen students they learned that everyone had heard of office hours and correctly understood them to mean they were when the instructor or professor was available to meet with students in her/his office. They researchers also learned, however, that almost no one had used office hours. They wondered why, so they met with a sample of those who didn't use office hours. There were many reasons but the main one..... before you read further, guess what it might be, then scroll down to the last paragraph to read what it was.

Back to James. He developed a strategy. He immediately went to each of his instructors during their office hours. He told them that he was concerned that he wasn't understanding the material, what was expected of him, or how to meet the expectations, that he was failing but that he desparately wanted to succeed. He said he was prepared to work hard but just didn't know how to do this effectively in a college environment.

It turned out that this was a brilliant strategy. Every instructor understood that he was an underprepared student who cared about success, that he was motivated but needed help. Instead of suspecting that he was a slacker, they now understood that with some extra effort on their part and his, he was a serious student who could really benefit from what they had to teach. 

I wonder if any transition to college teachers mention or teach this important academic noncognitive skill, or if learning about it now, they will. If so, let us know.

And now, what the first generation college students thought about office hours......

The students didn't go to instructors' office hours, they said, because they didn't think they were in trouble. This may have meant they didn't think they had done anything wrong, as in high school when someone was "sent to the office" or when someone was in "academic trouble." Their frame of reference, not surprisingly for first generation college students, was how their high school had worked. They had not explicitly been taught how a university works, and they didn't understand how this might help them.

David J. Rosen





Hi everyone, 

I am also interested in hearing responses to Priyanka's question about what you do in the classroom to help students learn/excel at noncognitive skills.

In the meantime, I'm always searching for material that can inform this topic (which greatly interests me); this one is focused on the K12 high school setting, but there is some interesting and relevant info in the report.  They discuss what can happen in the classroom - from the report:

"The review suggests some promising levers for change at the classroom level, and challenges the notion that hard work and effort are character traits of individual students, instead suggesting that the amount of effort a student puts in to academic work can depend, in large part, on instructional and contextual factors in the classroom."

Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance

JUNE, 2012


Camille A. Farrington, Melissa Roderick, Elaine Allensworth, Jenny Nagaoka, Tasha Seneca Keyes, David W. Johnson, and Nicole O. Beechum

Full Publication: 

Image removed. Noncognitive Report.pdf


I would love to hear your thoughts.



Thank you everyone for the great comments and discussion.  Priyanka mentioned the need adult learners have in the specific areas of resiliency, self-efficacy, study skills and career planning in order to be successful in a job or in college.  Kentucky is in year four of PowerPath training, which includes the implementation of Participatory Learning Techniques where adult educators are being exposed to new ways of working and learning, which build metacognitive skills.  The development of these metacognitive skills will enable learners to become skilled to manage their own learning and be well prepared for their future.  A group member from Kentucky might want to share how this is working for their class.

Meryl Becker-Prezocki

Subject Matter Expert

Hello Meryl,

You wrote "Kentucky is in year four of PowerPath training, which includes the implementation of Participatory Learning Techniques where adult educators are being exposed to new ways of working and learning, which build metacognitive skills."

I would like to know more about this. What are the metacognitive skills PowerPath training addresses? What are some examples of the participatory learning techniques students are taught? What is the process for teaching the techniques? Does PowerPath training have a strategy for measuring how well students have learned the techniques, whether or not they have used them, and if they -- and their teachers -- have evidence that the techniques are making a difference in students' managing their learning and preparing for their future?

David J. Rosen



Hi David,

I am enjoying the direction our discussion has taken.  You have asked for some clarification and explanation about PowerPath and the Participatory Learning Techniques that Kentucky Adult Education has embraced over the past several years.  I have decided to ask an expert, Dr. Laura Weisel, to respond to the questions that you have posed.  Please look for her response.

Meryl Becker-Prezocki





Hello David,

I am going to attempt your questions because Dr. Weisel is unable to respond at this time.

The PowerPath System provides a structure for service delivery so that learning challenges will be identified and addressed allowing students to experience success.  Training in this system lets adult educators become knowledgeable and skilled in using the screenings and reporting the data for learning challenges.  The data is collected and results in student and administrative reports.  Through the use of adaptations and strategies that the students select as an outcome of the screenings, the students then become empowered to manage their challenges within class or in work.  Providing PowerPath as a professional development has been a perfect fit for Kentucky programs.

PowerPath consists of a system of best practices that include social capital skills, academic skills and metacognitive skills.  It includes consistent training in the area of SMARTER whereby students learn a methodical approach.  SMARTER can be done individually or in a group setting.  SMARTER consists of practicing the use of strategies/adaptations in different areas of study and work, the building of learning, planning, organizing, time approximation, judgment, reflection and transferring the learning, which are all the necessary steps for success.  All this is repeated over and over again in a systematic way.

Also included in the PowerPath system is Participatory Learning Training, which provides adult educators with the knowledge and skills to become facilitators and host learning within their classes.  These techniques build on the research on persistence in adult education.  They include four practices for facilitating conversations and learning called Circle, Appreciative Inquiry, World Café and Open Space.  If you are interested, you can learn more about these approaches at

Meryl Becker-Prezocki

Subject Matter Expert

The Sep 2012 issue of The Change Agent magazine on resilience is full of engaging reading material for ABE and ESOL classrooms about how individuals - adult learners in particular-  neighborhoods, and communities have drawn strength and persevered to respond to challenges and create change. The stories support the four basic approaches for the development of resilience “protective factors” that people will find it easier to recover from crisis, stress, and trauma. There's of course more to non-cognitive skills than resilience, but this I wanted to flag this resource since it was developed and is ready for teachers to use with ABE students while also building reading and writing skills.

I do believe that the Affective Realm (growth in feelings or emotional areas (Attitude) of Bloom's theory may be a good resource for practitioners to consider in this area. In my experience, practitioners are very familiar with the Cognitive Realm of the theory and use it regularly in designing instruction, but not the Affective one, which can inform the development of components that support non-cognitive skills & resilience.  There is much that can be done in the design of the instructional experience to build in supports for skill and character development in these areas.   

Hello Nancy, 

Thanks for sharing the Significant Learning concept. I found it quite interesting. Do you consider this model as you design classroom actitivies... 

Among the diff. aspects of significant learning, I think students "learning how to learn" is crucial esp. as they move from a high school credential to a more demanding postsecondary environment. 



Hi Priyanka,

I came across this model as a Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator at SABES a few years ago, where I quickly added it to my toolkit for developing "program-wide curriculum" professional development for practitioners as well as shared it as a resource for planning instruction generally with its whole person focus.  When in the classroom, and at the program level, I have worked for progams where benchmarking was in place (based on the DESE FWs on the one hand, but enhanced for study skills/learning how to learn skills on the other.)  I found this benchmarking key to ensuring that the learning environment, (whether it was the lesson in front of the learner or the classroom set-up or counseling function) supported this skill set that is certainly key for students transitioning to post-secondary.  This benchmarking, however was integrated into even the lowest level classes, so students could have the benefit of developing the skillset thorughout their life in the program. 

A practical way of integrating the concept into practice is to afford students ample opportunities to explore how they learn and ensure that students have time to reflect and have a feedback mechanism so that the teacher can monitor student's progress in learning to learn.  Reflection questions posed to students at the end of every class can be geared toward thier monitoring their own progress on learning to learn.     

Hello Nancy, 

Would you also recommend the use of Learning Journals that students use towards the end of a class to reflect on what they have learned today etc. As you know that a journal like this works really well in Math classes. 


Priyanka Sharma 

Good morning,

Absolutely, Priyanka.  The SABES Lesson Planning resource guide has an excellent section on student reflection, including sample questions to pose to individual students and whole groups that they could use for journal writing and as a general jumping off point for student reflection. Check it out



Thorn Hill Education Center operates an Adult Education Program in Frankfort, Ky. and uses the PowerPath questionnaires of Attention Challenges and Visual Stress Syndrome at Orientation/Placement Testing session. These open a discussion of past education experiences as well as medical/psychological conditions. This enables us to better connect with students. We may choose based upon this experience to do the full PowerPath screening.

One example of someone for whom this lead to Career and College Readiness is J. Wade Kavanaugh. Wade, a 39 year old African American, started here almost 2 years ago. He obtained his GED and is in his 2nd semester at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. His completion of the questionnaires brought us to the discovery that Wade had brain surgery due to a tumor about 4 years prior, and, by his account, had changed his speech and mental processing. He needed large print, needed a filter, and in general, needed people to understand HIM.Through the PowerPath strategies, Wade built a learning community with his fellow math students. He also obtained the accommodation of extra time on the GED test through formal application with information from his doctor. 

He was a speaker at our June 2012 graduation. He spoke from the heart with no notes and brought tears to people's eyes as he told his story.

Wade made a C in math last semester and Bs and As in his other classes. His major is Criminal Justice. The accommodations approved for the GED are also approved at the community college level. However, by his account, he doesn't need them anymore.

He still is enrolled here and receives math tutoring at least one afternoon a week.

I recommend PowerPath.



I was just introduced to this thread and find the discussion very interesting. I will be tracking down many of the resouces cited and reading them, etc. One thing that struck me however, was the ubiquity of the phrase "noncognitive" in this thread.  When we mention the habits like optimism, help seeking, study can these in any way be characterized as NONcognitive?  What is to be gained by adopting this language? I am curious. I look forward to someones reply.

David Kester, Ph.D.
Middle College Instructor
Regional GED/Workforce Development Distance Education Instructor

Hello David,

I believe that the term "noncognitive" or "non-cognitive" was coined by researchers -- specifically economist James Heckman, who has for many years studied what effect GED tests (cognitive skills) have had on test-takers' lifelong earnings as compared with high school dropouts (without a GED certificate) and high school graduates. Heckman decided that what he has termed non-cognitive skills (sometimes also called "performance character," "executive function," or "soft" skills) were as important to students' lifelong income gains as cognitive skills (note, not less important). I suppose that what is to be gained is elevating skills like self-control, persistence, diligence, professionalism, optimism, resourcefulness, resilience, curiosity, and zest in importance in K-12 and adult basic skills education is that schools and programs may teach them as skills. Heckman and his research colleagues claim that non-cognitive skills can be taught, and in less time than cognitive skills. For more information read (and, if you like, add to) the noncognitive skills Adult Literacy Education Wiki page at .

David J. Rosen