Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Helping Children Succeed

Helping children succeed in school and in life is at the essence of what we do daily in the North Reading Public Schools. Twenty members of the J. Turner Hood School Staff have joined together to examine and discuss the latest work completed by Paul Tough to determine how his work can be infused into our daily practices in order to  enable our students to gain all of the skills necessary to succeed in school and in life. This group is actively examining the premise of his work which is the idea “that character, not test scores, is the key to children succeeding in school and in life.” 

Paul Tough is the author of, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, and an article he published for the Sunday New York Times one year ago, titled  What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?” In his work he raises important issues about teachers’ and school leaders’ roles in fostering success in academics, and, more importantly, for the long-term in life.
Paul Tough describes the cognitive hypothesis which indicates “That success today depends primarily on cognitive skills, the kind of intelligence that gets measured on I.Q. tests, including the abilities to recognize letters and words, to calculate, to detect patterns and that the best way to develop these skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.” In his book, “How Children Succeed,” Tough sets out to replace this assumption with what he calls the character hypothesis which is the notion that noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than sheer brainpower to achieving success. Paul Tough’s book outlines the following seven character traits that he says are key to success:
  • Grit
  • Curiosity
  • Self-control
  • Social intelligence
  • Zest
  • Optimism
  • Gratitude
This list of traits was compiled by a couple of schools (one public, one private) in the New York City borough of the Bronx. These schools saw huge improvements in their students when they moved the emphasis from IQ and test scores to building character. Tough doesn’t discount the importance of a solid education, but he says character is as important as academics in helping children become successful adults. In this case, character is "not about morality," says Tough, "it's more about learning a set of skills to help kids achieve their goals."
Tough’s larger thesis is that we need to pay attention to more than academics. Children need to develop persistence and resilience in the face of failure. To him, promoting grit and toughness is in addition to the academic skills and knowledge that most education policy obsesses about these days.

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