Domain General Skills

by Early Math Counts

Last week I attended a very interesting presentation at the Thompson Center, hosted by the Institute of Government and Public Affairs out of the University of Illinois.  The speaker, Dr. Daryl Greenfield from the University of Miami, presented his research on science education and school readiness.

One of his assertions is that teachers of young children should focus their energy (at least partially) on domain general skills rather than domain specific skills.  What are domain specific skills? These are the long list of academic skills we think children should be able to know or do by the time they reach kindergarten.  Think “cutting, pasting, coloring within the lines, skipping, hopping, writing with a pen or pencil, counting by 1s, 5s and 10s, rhyming, writing letters and numbers, recognizing symbols, etc.”  The list goes on and on.

For many teachers of young children, the focus on these domain specific skills provides a framework for learning.  It makes sense.  You present materials for gluing, and over time, with exposure and support, young children learn how to use glue appropriately.

Dr. Greenfield says that we should shift the focus to domain general skills which are a much better predictor of school readiness and ultimately academic success.  What are domain general skills?  These are the big foundational skills that encompass all areas and domains.  These include; approaches to learning, executive functioning skills, perseverance, motivation for learning, intrinsic interest in learning, etc.  The idea is that if children are strong in the domain general skills, their domain specific skills will not be a problem.  However, the reverse is not necessarily true.

The child who can write his name at 3 1/2 does not necessarily have perseverance or resiliency, but the child who learns to persevere will learn what he needs to because of that larger foundational skill.

What do you think?  True or false?  Partially true or partially false?  How do you teach domain general skills to your children?

2 Replies to “Domain General Skills”

  1. I like this idea because it fits well with the concept of working with the \”whole\” child. Being able to observe specific skills in children is an important teacher skill, but sometimes we get lost in a sea of skills without context. Is this the right expression – we miss the forest for the trees? I always get idioms wrong! What I mean by this is, if we are too busy looking at discreet skills, we may miss the whole child. I think ECE teachers need both skills when it comes to observation and assessment, but when it comes to planning I think we should be focusing on what the presenter suggests – domain general skills. What a relief it would be to focus on the bigger developmental vistas such as, \”approaches to learning\” and \”executive functioning\” when we are planning instead of getting so bogged down in the many tiny pieces of development!

    1. I think it is something about \”forest and tree\” so, close enough. I agree that getting stuck on \”the trees\” defeats the purpose of seeing \”the whole forest. Having raised two children who demonstrate very different skills and attributes as well, I can see that some of those domain general skills would have been very helpful to the son who struggles with the \”big picture\” and thinks that learning is all about the small details. He is missing so much of it. Some of it is temperament, but a lot of it is the approach his teachers used with him. The big focus was always answering the questions correctly rather than considering how he approached the questions to begin with.

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