• Gene Tavernetti, Ed.D.

But what do these buzzwords really mean for students?

This circular nature of practice - success – practice - greater success can be found in a synthesis of three currently popular books. These books are so popular that each has contributed a new buzzword to current “educationese.” The books listed below relate a very similar message: Children can achieve at a remarkable level when complex tasks are taught and practiced in achievable chunks.

The books and their buzzwords are:

In addition to the inter-connectedness of content, the three books share another common characteristic. All three books have authors who are upset that important themes from the books have been hijacked. People have misinterpreted these themes and have been promoting actions by identifying and stating they are based the authors’ research. Cottage industries of consultants have emerged to train teachers in “growth mindset,” “grit,” and promoting “peak performance” that many times misses the mark.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Dr. Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State University, has published research that is more familiar than he is. Based on his research, Dr. Ericsson first identified the 10,000-hour rule that was later popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success. The top performers, in any field, had practiced their skills for at least 10,000 hours. What became popularized after the publication of Outliers was the number of hours practiced, not the quality of practice.

According to Dr. Ericsson the quantity of time spent in practice was an important factor to improving performance. But, equally important was the quality of the practice. Dr. Ericsson was very specific about the type practice required to become a top performer. Practice only increased performance if it was “deliberate practice.” Deliberate practice occurred when a person had a teacher or coach who broke tasks down into smaller components and each component was practiced under the supervision of the teacher or coach who provided feedback.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

The author, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses her research on grit, the ability to stick with a task until it is successfully completed. Dr. Duckworth defines grit as perseverance and passion. Dr. Duckworth describes how children can be trained to be exhibit more grit when faced with more challenging tasks. Grit, she argues, may be as important as intelligence, when it comes to success.

Dr. Duckworth suggests a strategy for anyone who wishes to exhibit more grit. Individuals with grit, pursue to completion, goals that they are passionate about. Dr. Duckworth endorses the strategy of breaking large goals into smaller tasks has allowed individuals to progress toward goals with increased perseverance and more immediate gratification.

Growth Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

The author, a psychology professor at Stanford, discusses her research on how the type of mindset teachers model and reinforce in classrooms can positively or negatively influence how children respond to intellectual. One of her often told stories from the book is about a 10 year who was given a difficult puzzle to solve. The child exclaimed, “Great, I love a challenge!”

Dr. Dweck argues there are two types of mindset. The first mindset is fixed. A person with this mindset believes that is able to achieve because she is smart. The second type of mindset is the growth mindset. If you have a growth mindset, you believe that effort and practice make you smart.

Dr. Dwek has observed, and criticized those well-intentioned teachers and parents who are praising effort versus praising how a student uses strategies. One of the effective strategies of individuals with a growth mindset is using a problem solving strategy that is replicable. Such a replicable procedure is the scientific method. Problems are solved systematically using a strategy. “Nagging” students to “keep trying” is counterproductive if students do not have an adequate understanding of material or if the students are using ineffective strategies.

The bottom line: Peak performance, grit, and growth mindset all originate or are enhanced by a good teacher or coach, who provides instruction and feedback.

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