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Home Ask A REL What classroom strategies represent best practices for helping students learn about and build soft skills (e.g. communication, collaboration, and critical thinking)?

What classroom strategies represent best practices for helping students learn about and build soft skills (e.g. communication, collaboration, and critical thinking)?

Mid-Atlantic | April 12, 2018

Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk classroom strategies for helping students build soft skills. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. These resources may not necessarily represent best practices, but do address practices that are related to learning about and building soft sckills. Other relevant studies may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

  1. Bell. S. (2010). Project-based learning for the 21st century: Skills for the future. The Clearing House, 83, 39-43.
    From the abstract: “Project-Based Learning (PBL) is an innovative approach to learning that teaches a multitude of strategies critical for success in the twenty-first century. Students drive their own learning through inquiry, as well as work collaboratively to research and create projects that reflect their knowledge. From gleaning new, viable technology skills, to becoming proficient communicators and advanced problem solvers, students benefit from this approach to instruction.”
  2. Gasser, K. (2011). Five ideas for 21st century math classrooms. American Secondary Education, 39(3): 108-116.
    From the abstract: “This article draws on the 21st Century Skills Movement and the successful teaching practices of Asian schools in order to provide five suggestions that secondary math teachers can incorporate into their classrooms in order to promote the skill set necessary for an ever-changing global economy. Problem-based instruction, studentled solutions, risk taking, fun, and collaboration time are five ideas that incorporate the successes of educators from outside the United States and may also prove to be supported by brainbased research.”
  3. Gretter, S. & Yadav, A. (2016). Computational thinking and media & information literacy: An integrated approach to teaching twenty-first century skills. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 60(5), 510-516.
    From the abstract: “Developing students’ 21st century skills, including creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving, has been a prevailing concern in our globalized and hyper-connected society. One of the key components for students to accomplish this is to take part in today’s participatory culture, which involves becoming creators of knowledge rather than being passive consumers of information. The advancement and accessibility of computing technologies has the potential to engage students in this process. Drawing from the recent publication of two educational frameworks in the fields of computational thinking and media & information literacy and from their practical applications, this article proposes an integrated approach to develop students’ 21st century skills that supports educators’ integration of 21st century skills in the classroom.”
  4. Silver, T. & Harris, C. (2009). Bringing civic engagement to the head of the class. SRATE Journal, 18(2), 65-69.
    From the abstract: “With the focus on test scores and accountability, the issues of student growth, leadership and civic responsibility often are overlooked. While achievement is important, leadership and responsibility issues are among those most sought by employers. Some of the most recognized studies, such as "A Nation At Risk" support and encourage what are sometimes termed the "soft skills." The Service Learning model, not only encourages the development of the soft skills, it actively engages students the curricular content of the class while using leadership and teaming skills to serve their greater community.”
  5. Sugito, ES S.M., & Supartono, H. (2017). Enhancing students’ communication skills through problem posing and presentation. International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 6(1), 17-22.
    From the abstract: “This study was to explore how enhance communication skill through problem posing and presentation method. The subjects of this research were the seven grade students Junior High School, including 20 male and 14 female. This research was conducted in two cycles and each cycle consisted of four steps, they were: planning, action, observation, and reflection. This study use interview, observation, and questionnaire to measure most widely used data gathering in communication skill students, and daily test (pre-test and post-test) to measure enhance achievement the students'. The data was analyzed comparing initial and final score. If the final score is better than initial score had been enhanced. Results of this study indicated that teaching and learning science used problem posing and presentation method can enhance ability communication skill, confidence, courage and responsibility on themselves disciples. Researcher is suggestion to use another method to enhance communication skill.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

  • Jobs for the Future
    From the website: “Jobs for the Future (JFF) is a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States. JFF develops innovative programs and public policies that increase college readiness and career success and build a more highly skilled, competitive workforce. With over 30 years of experience, JFF is a recognized national leader in bridging education and work to increase economic mobility and strengthen our economy.”


Search Strings. Soft Skills OR 21st Century Skills OR Twenty-First Century Skills OR Classroom Practice OR Collaboration OR Communication OR Creativity OR Critical Thinking OR Criticial Thinking Pedagogy OR Teaching Soft Skills

Searched Databases and Resources.

  • ERIC
  • Academic Databases (e.g., EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, ProQuest, Google
  • Commercial search engines (e.g., Google)
  • Institute of Education Sciences Resources

Reference Search and Selection Criteria. The following factors are considered when selecting references:

  • Date of Publication: Priority is given to references published in the past 10 years.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: ERIC, other academic databases, Institute of Education Sciences Resources, and other resources including general internet searches
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study types, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, as well as to surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality.

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