Secondary school is a critical time for developing life skills like planning, working efficiently, and managing time well. Without these skills, a person will struggle in school, but also in college, careers and in life in general. Unfortunately, most secondary schools don’t teach them. In Quest Forward schools, we’ve made them a priority.
Quest Forward Learning schools focus on three sets that are thoughtfully incorporated into students’ daily work:
Learning Skills are central to our curriculum. Students develop these skills as they complete quests and levels.
Essential Habits, or self-skills, students practice every day. For example, students practice expressing curiosity and learning from setbacks as they work on projects. Mentors also help students to develop skills like self-management through goal setting and reflection.
There are also Work Skills or executive functioning skills, which I’ll dive into more deeply below. These skills are just as essential as the others. They are necessary to succeed in life and career — in any path students choose to pursue after secondary school.
6 Work Skills
Students practice 6 Work Skills in Quest Forward Learning schools:
Focus on relevant information and tasks without getting distracted, remove distractions when possible, shift tasks effectively and take mental and physical breaks when needed and appropriate.
Put effort into the work you do, work hard to achieve goals, but also identify when it is time to move on even if artefacts and other work products do not feel perfect.
Plan and Achieve Goals
Plan for a week and a day and to complete an extended project or activity, identifying actions, sub-steps and sequences of events. Work towards and achieve goals, reflecting and evaluating progress along the way.
Manage Time and Resources
Identify realistic deadlines, prioritise tasks and manage time effectively in order to meet deadlines. Leverage resources available to you when appropriate, such as support from peers or mentors.
Keep belongings and personal and shared spaces clean and keep track of tasks and deadlines using a calendar, planner and/or other tools.
Document and Take Notes
Effectively take notes to keep track of ideas and information and use tools to organise and remember ideas (e.g., annotations or mind-mapping).
3 Ways to Develop Work Skills
Here are three ways Quest Forward Learning supports students in developing these skills:
1. Planning and Reflecting
Learning how to plan, identify goals and make progress towards goals is a skill that will help students in all areas of their life (Work Skill #3, Plan and Achieve Goals).
This year we piloted a new planning process and templates at Shilela, Mtakuja and Royal Secondary Schools, three Tanzanian Quest Forward Schools. At Shilela Secondary School, students identify daily goals in their dormitories or classrooms before they begin classes at 8 am. They reflect on their progress at the end of the day before going to bed. Students identified personal goals and goals for their courses.
Personal goals included:
getting better at singing
preparing certain meals
improving personal and environmental hygiene
Course goals included:
completing the Introduction to Biology quest
activities 1 and 2 of the Introduction to Biology quest
creating an artefact
Students also reflect on something they’re grateful for and record a win or success each day. This supports students with practising the Reflect Learning Skill and Manage Yourself Essential Habit. They practice self-awareness and positive thinking.
At Mtakuja and Royal Secondary Schools, students work on weekly goals using another format of the weekly planning template. Students identify weekly goals at the start of the week in their dormitories or classrooms. At the end of the week, they review goals with mentors and reflect on their progress.
Students are assigned advisors, mainly their mentors or expert fellows, to help them improve their planning skills. Schools set aside intentional time in their schedule that provides an opportunity for students to meet once a week with their advisors to review goals, identify whether they were achieved or not, and determine reasons for not achieving them. They also discuss ways to improve. For example, a student might not have achieved goals because of the change of regular school activities. This student may be advised to have fewer goals, perhaps 2 or 3, that will be achieved despite the changes.
“Goal setting helps me to be able to check whether I am heading towards the right direction or not in whatever that I want to achieve.”
— Diana Jeremiah Luku, Student
Setting goals gives our students direction and a sense of purpose in their life at school and beyond. By goal setting, students clarify priorities, gain focus, and manage their time well. They’re also becoming more aware of their strengths and weaknesses in accomplishing tasks.
2. Feedback on Work Skills
Rather than high-stakes testing, assessment at Quest Forward schools has been improved through providing students feedback to help them improve. Students receive regular feedback on their artefacts (work products), which includes feedback on two Work Skills: Manage Time and Resources and Work Efficiently. When students complete an artefact, mentors assess each artefact using questions designed specifically to provide feedback to students on these skills.
These questions focus on the following:
Demonstration of the learning goals
Timeliness in completing the artefact
Effort students demonstrated in completing the artefact
(Was it an appropriate amount of effort given the task?)
Support needed from others
(Did they ask for help when they needed it or give up? Did they work independently when they could?)
Additionally, mentors provide written or verbal feedback to students that emphasizes the Work Skills and Essential Habits and Learning Skills.
This is in stark contrast to practices at many schools today. When teachers return an assignment to a student marked with points or a grade, it not only sends a fixed-mindset message but it is also a missed opportunity. Quest Forward Schools provide clear feedback regarding strengths, areas to focus on to improve and the space and time to address them. This ensures students have more opportunities for learning, skill development and personal growth.
3. Document and Take Notes
Quest Forward Learning students learn how to document ideas and take notes (Work Skill #6) as they work through their courses. Just about anyone can jot something down. But the ability to organise thoughts in a usable, effective and efficient way can make all the difference for a university student or a young professional.
Quests are designed so that students can explore resources that differ in perspective, organise their ideas and summarise them right from the time they start using quests in Form One. Their summaries are reviewed by a subject-specific mentor who helps check if ideas flow in a meaningful way and are relevant to the topic.
Textual annotation for analysis and effective note-taking are critical skills in Form Three English. Students read multiple novels authored by African writers based on African context, perform character analysis, and summarise key themes and their connection or relevance to real-life African societies. For example, in a quest A Wreath for Fr. Mayer – I, activity 1 wants students to analyse the book cover page and the title by proving their opinions about them. Further in activity 3 of the quest, students comment on the relevance of the characters to their African societies. In activity 4 they comment on the language used in relation to the book’s message.
Some activities like “Life Skills” in Civics Form 1 support students with graphic organisers to direct note-taking processes. However, students are also expected to develop their own note-taking organisers as they work more independently with literary texts or other tasks.
Gaining this ownership over the process with practice and creativity helps to ensure students can adapt and continue to work efficiently into adulthood, leaning on their skills to achieve success.