Sunday, October 7, 2012

When the going gets tough

Determined by Dvortygirl, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Dvortygirl

Although I firmly believe that learning can be fun and that elements such as gaming and collaboration are an integral part of 21st century education there is still a lot of hard grind involved in mastering new knowledge and skills. No matter how many interactive tools we use and how much innovative pedagogy we apply you're still going to need to sit for endless hours practising and perfecting. Learning a language, for example, needs hundreds of hours of hard graft to get those words. phrases, sounds and patterns into your head until they become instinctive. Same goes for music, maths, physics, chemistry and pretty well every subject you can name. There are no easy short-cuts to mastery and although there will be many moments of pleasure and discovery there'll still be months and maybe years of hard grind. New technologies can stimulate us to learn and can facilitate more effective learning but the hard work still remains.

In education we love to measure and assess skills but we focus on the skills that are easiest to measure (fact-based memory checks, ability to write in a given framework) and leave many non-cognitive skills untouched. An article in Mind/ShiftHow Important is Grit in Student Achievement?, raises one such skill, namely grit. The article focuses on research by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania into how to assess grit which she defines as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” Grit is that determination to keep battling even when you don't fully understand or see where the battle is leading you. It's a quality that some have and some lack and is not always related to intellectual ability. Many highly intelligent people lack this determination whilst many less gifted individuals succeed because they work very hard and never give up.

"But intelligence leaves a lot unexplained. There are smart people who aren’t high achievers, and there are people who achieve a lot without having the highest test scores. In one study, Duckworth found that smarter students actually had less grit than their peers who scored lower on an intelligence test. This finding suggests that, among the study participants — all students at an Ivy League school — people who are not as bright as their peers “compensate by working harder and with more determination.” And their effort pays off: The grittiest students — not the smartest ones — had the highest GPAs."

Not all people have this quality and even those who do exhibit it in different settings. Someone can show incredible dedication and perseverance in one activity but can give up easily in another. A classic example of this are those who show total commitment to their sporting ambitions but the complete opposite attitude to academic activities. The challenge is to find out how to inspire grit in education. As Duckworth puts it in the article:

“Which experiences do we give kids to get them in the direction of more grit and not less?”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for bringing this up!

    The first thing that comes to mind is the "10.000 hours" popularized by Gladwell in "Outliers". He attributes success to 10.000 hours of training rather than to talent or luck.

    The second thing is this quote from "Brain rot" by Theodore Gray, criticizing most educational software:

    If you try to make education "easy", by removing the content, you are cheating your students out of the most important thing you have to offer: the chance to do something hard. Only by mastering a difficult body of knowledge can a child develop into a confident, thinking adult. The point is, it doesn't necessarily have to be the same difficult body of knowledge that the child's parents learned.

    Looking forward to more posts in this direction.