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Posts: 122
Reply with quote  #1 
On page xv, Tough suggest over the past few decades "we have been focusing on the wrong skills and abilities in our children, and we have been using the wrong strategies to help nurture and teach those skills."
What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel we have been focusing on the wrong skills?

Maggie Susong
ATPE Member Engagement Coordinator

Posts: 57
Reply with quote  #2 
No, I for one don't think education has been focusing on the wrong skills. I think we have somewhat gone awry on how we teach and measure learning. There is a a lot of teacher centered learning and standardized testing. We need a little more student based learning and creative ways to test knowledge. If we have more of that then we can teach more self and social skills. Education needs to teach more of that.   

Posts: 19
Reply with quote  #3 
I agree with Tough when he states that the focus on cognitive skills is inadequate. For example, standard measurements in reading and math don't take into account a student's Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) count defined in the first reading. Awareness of a student's math, reading and ACE score could extend skill-building to include activities which reinforce attachment to a parent figure. If a student could identify with a healthy adult figure, this might strengthen a weak student's confidence and result in greater concentration and more appropriate social behavior.
Tamra M.
M/S H/S Math Teacher

Posts: 37
Reply with quote  #4 
"What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence."

I think in the early years of childhood development, we are focusing on the wrong skills. Kids are expected to already know some of the skills we used to learn in kindergarten before they even enter school. People don't really even use the term daycare as much either, it seems. Kids "go to school" from the time they become toddlers. While I believe cognitive skills are important, I feel that if the non-cognitive skills listed above were the focus for preschool age kids and those skills are nurtured, students would be better equipped to really learn the cognitive skills that must be taught as they get older.

Posts: 5
Reply with quote  #5 
So many children have little time to be children in today's world. I believe early childhood education should provide the opportunity to learn those important noncognitive skills which are so important to success, and the opportunity to reinforce these skills as they progress from one grade to the next. Children who exhibit self-control, determination, self-confidence, and other like character traits are more likely to be successful when introduced to cognitive skills. How many children learn to tie their shoes in one try. From my experiences it seems we jump from one educational idea to the next without giving any plan the opportunity to develop and be successful and as we do that we move further and further away from helping our children develop the noncognitive skills needed. I agree with the theory that noncognitive skills or the building of character is crucial to a child 's future and to our nation's future.

Posts: 26
Reply with quote  #6 
I think there is a lot of emphasis put on testing, ranking, and which Ivy League school to go to, and those are questions I have from parents of second graders. I feel validated while reading this book, in that, I encourge my students to start thinking for themselves on the first day of school. My focus question is "Are you being reasonable?" in everything they do. That has helped my students think about what they are doing and what is going on around them in the classroom. I like the idea of having the kids come together and create a community of what they think is right and fair. If they can agree on this it makes my job of teaching the academics much easier and sometimes even fun for the kids because there is less down time taking care of hurt feelings. Students come to me in August already worried about the TEST in 3rd grade. We sit and discuss it and put the fears to rest. Not by testing and handing back assesements and having the students look over it, but by dialogue and taking baby steps towards the first day of 3rd grade. I have some very bright students who are not able to fold a piece of paper from corner to corner. After finding that out we did many foldable projects until there was success. Teaching the whole child should be our focus, not just worring about if they are going to score well on a test.

Posts: 63
Reply with quote  #7 

Have we been focusing on the wrong skills and strategies? In a way no we haven’t but as antashjm pointed out we are placing a lot of focus on teacher centered instruction and standardized testing, when maybe we should be thinking a little more outside the box on both counts.

On the same page the author has an interesting quote I’ve heard repeated before in different contexts, “What matters most in a child’s development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.” That is a great quote and one I adhere by. Trying to cram as much information as you can into a child's brain their fist few years, in my opinion, does not equal whether he or she is successful or not.   



Posts: 94
Reply with quote  #8 

***“persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.” Page xv


I believe that the qualities/non-cognitive skills*** noted above start from the moment of birth and how these are fostered are mostly by the child’s parents and other family members such as siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles or even close family friends.  And the opposite of those traits can also be negatively enforced by family members.   For example:  Children watch their parents and how they react to different stressors day to day life, a death in the family, illness, financial set-backs, conflicts, etc.  Responsible parents:  Pay their bills first and then use discretionary income for recreation, etc.  They mow the yard on a regular basis so it doesn’t become over grown and then almost impossible to mow.   Most parents model self delayed-gratification in the realm of taking care of mundane household and lawn chores week in and week out.  Then they can go on that weekend trip to Six-Flags or to their favorite dinner theater or ….  And for some students these character traits are also fostered through their spiritual/religious upbringing.  A child hopefully has a regular bed time, enough rest, and a full belly.  This is a sound basis for the child to start each school day and shows love, caring, persistence, and conscientiousness on the parents in caring for their children.  Then when the child starts school these qualities continue to grow and are influenced by their teachers.

I don’t necessarily agree that we are focusing on the wrong skills.  When school begins the student’s teachers and classmates have influence over shaping these traits as well.  And I believe some of it happens naturally through the course of a regular classroom day.

In my opinion, learning in general fosters persistence and self-confidence when focusing on what the child already knows, and building from there.  This helps the students to realize yes they can learn more. Also, making sure the child has opportunities to be proud of their accomplishments and successes in the classroom.  Each 6 weeks at the school I tutor at, awards are given to those who make A honor roll, B honor roll, A/B honor roll and most improved to name a few.  And classroom jobs such as roll taker, lunch counter, paper passer, etc. can give the student a sense of responsibility and build up conscientiousness.  Another trait builder is students going to a younger classroom to meet with their reading buddy.  Plenty of teacher modeling on new subject material builds up confidence and helps the student to get started.   Curiosity is fostered in the types of lessons the teacher presents.  Self-control comes through classroom procedures and practicing them and doing them over when not done correctly.   And from the opportunity to work in pairs or small groups and learning to get along with others fosters self-control, self-confidence and curiosity.  

Lastly to have persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence are:

 “Those traits - an inclination to persist at a boring and often unrewarding task; the ability to delay gratification; the tendency to follow through on a plan – also turned out to be valuable in college, in the workplace, and in life generally.” From page xix 



Posts: 65
Reply with quote  #9 
This is a really tough question. I think our testing system has gotten us away from being quite as "free" to teach the skills that we, as teachers, long and desire to teach. There is so much curriculum thrown at the kids so quickly that it makes it challenging to teach it in a way that allows the greatest growth of well-rounded skills. However, that being said, I do think our education system as a whole has progressed to more differentiated, higher level thinking, student centered instruction. I think necessary life skills, social skills, and thinking skills are incorporated into the activities and lessons in the classroom. And, as mentioned by the poster above, these skills should be fostered and taught in other areas of life too...not just at school. So, hopefully what the kids aren't receiving in the classroom, they are receiving in other areas of life. It's a tricky balance. So, while I think there could be some improvement, as Tough mentioned....and we could be more heavily focusing on the skill set he is referring to....I don't think we are just focusing on the "wrong" skills. I know that everyone is going to have a different opinion on this. My mom always said, as a parent (not a teacher), that the education system focused on all the wrong things. She used to say that what we had in knowledge from school, we lacked in common sense.

Posts: 83
Reply with quote  #10 
"...persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence."
Are we focusing on the wrong skills in education?

I am an early childhood educator. I have found an overall lack of curiosity in my classes the past few years, and it is heartbreaking as well as frustrating. I see children who are rarely willing to persist in an activity if it is the least bit challenging.
My classroom is set up to encourage independence in my students, but first we have to find a way to promote these personality traits.
We spend a remarkable amount of time on social-emotional skills (including handling stress, using self control, and managing emotions), with the hopes that this early intervention will truly make a lasting difference.

In answer to the question, I believe students need instruction in both cognitive and noncognitive skills. Maybe our education system needs a better balance.

Posts: 5
Reply with quote  #11 

Much has changed over the past few decades both in education and in society, so I do not agree that we have been focusing on the wrong skills and abilities for this long.  I have been teaching for the past few decades and have seen the pendulum swing on several educational approaches and issues.  From my experience character education is a relatively new topic, as is social emotional learning.  As educators we want our students to be successful and well rounded and will alter our activities and plans to meet students' needs.  For example some students come with better organizational skills and more perseverance, so less time and emphasis is given to those. Teaching is a science without a precise road map that fits all.  I've been through professional developments geared toward getting students to work cooperatively and through ones where being independent thinkers is stressed.  Using manipulatives was a highly desired technique for years in math and then project based learning and drama based learning became buzz words along with using math journals and writing more in math.  The use of calculators and the emphasis on problem solving has decreased the amount of time devoted to "kill and drill" basic operations.

Mandated testing continues to evolve and has certainly taken away a teacher's flexibility and with that I believe some joy for both teachers and students.  

When families fail to meet the needs of children the school often tries to fill the gap. An example is schools providing breakfasts.  By teaching in two different districts with students having different needs, I have seen where the different districts both attempt to provide what their students need most - whether it be more rigorous, challenging material or as Tough says developing a set of qualities that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.


Posts: 32
Reply with quote  #12 
I do agee with Tough that we have been using many ineffective strategies, but believe we are focusing on the correct skills to arm children to succeed in today's environment.  Rather than standardized testing, parent's (guardians) and teacher's should team up for individual assessment and monitoring. Understanding that parents (guardians) have little time to conference, emailed newsletters and individual email updates are imperative.  In addition, encouraging each child in the classroom to contribute something to every lesson (whether written or oral contribution) would motivate better listening skills in the child.  Games and contests encourage a more exciting learning environment, and inarguably a fun class is the best learning environment.  This also encourages better social skills.  Having said all of this, it is close to impossible to accomplish these strategies in the overwhelming size that classrooms have become today.  Our government is failing the educational system with severe underfunding, and until this is corrected the above strategies are going to be difficult to implement.

Rita Wilcox

Posts: 13
Reply with quote  #13 
Although I have only been teaching for 3 years, I have been a parent for 27 years.  As a parent, I was disappointed by the low level of rigor required of my children by all but the exceptional teachers.  As a teacher, however, I am understanding that academic rigor can be daunting for students who do not possess self-confidence.  I find myself increasing my level of support and encouragement to those students who need an emotional boost.  I believe that our educational system is focusing on the right set of skills for our students, but that these skills alone are not enough to ensure a successful life.

According to Mr. Tough's presentation of studies conducted to determine levels of parental impact on offspring, he determines that children need constant emotional support from the very beginning of their lives in order to nurture the skills needed to handle stress.  In particular, the study involving mother mice and their pups was very informative since it demonstrated the calming effects of a mother's touch (licking and grooming) on her stressed pup.  The calming effects translated into pups that thrived:  "They were better at mazes.  They were more social.  They were more curious.  They were less aggressive.  They had more self-control.  They were healthier.  They lived longer" (pg. 32).  For humans, the "licking and grooming" is observed in an Attachment Theory study beginning with mothers and their month-old infants, and then later at one year of age, and finally during their preschool years.  The researcher, Mary Ainsworth, noted that "the children whose parents has responded most sensitively to their emotional needs as infants were the most self-reliant... And early attachment created psychological effects that could last a lifetime" (pg. 34).

Our educational system does a great job of teaching the academics to our students, and it is doing a great job responding to their increasing emotional needs.  However, school and teachers can only do so much with the students.  I believe that our society, our nation, our leaders need to take a serious look at the current mental health system in our country, and take action to implement more diagnosis, more help, more assistance, more facilities which in turn will produce a more stable and nurturing population.

Posts: 8
Reply with quote  #14 
I teach middle school, so my view is based on their abilities as I see in my classroom. I teach children of all different levels in my 7th grade classroom. I have had as low as 3rd grade math abilities. It seems that by the time I get most of these lower level children, they have lost their desire to learn. I think there should be some balance in what skills are taught. In the beginning the larger focus should be on how to learn, "persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.” Then, as children grow these should be less of a focus.
I am often surprised and disappointed by how much I have to focus on building students' confidence. Not to say that I shouldn't help build them up, but just (in their own mind at least) that they're so far below their abilities. I have to teach life lessons I never imagined. I have to teach personal skills that a 2nd grader should know.
I think the huge focus that has been placed on testing and such have very negatively affected our children.

Posts: 27
Reply with quote  #15 
"persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.” 

I think that many things have changed over the past few decades that have allowed for the change in what is expected for students to know by the time they enter school. From an environment standpoint, there seems to be an entitlement for students of the current generation in such that when things are given, it is easier to quit (not be persistent, lack of curiosity, and having grit to accomplish) and students feel that they lose self-control when they become older because there is no one there to give them what they are wanting. Therefore, there is a domino effect that relates to self-confidence because they did not learn how to obtain whatever it is they are desiring. They are expecting it. An example of this happens with the grading policy of no "0's" allowed. I understand that you want students to be accountable for knowing the information they have chosen to miss, but they have come to accept that whether they complete the assigned task or not, they will be passed on. Therefore, lessening the learning of persistence, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence because they accept that they are a failure while still expecting someone to pick them up and take care of them. But, this is learned behavior for many as they come from parents or family members that are passing down these same characteristics. I feel that we have moved from high expectations, not that this is what we want, but because our hands are tied in many ways. Thus resulting in serious consequences. The system has lost its effects pertaining to consequences; therefore, making it difficult to educate those lacking the above traits as well as teaching them these traits without reinforcement from outside influences. 

Sherry Ayres
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