This past Sunday, I attended the funeral of Mrs. Fania Gross, who was a teacher for many years at PHDS and impacted the Hebrew language program at the school. My wife and I had a special relationship with Mrs. Gross, and she was extremely fond of the school and always appreciated reading of our accomplishments. At her funeral, the school was prominently mentioned and it was requested that contributions be given to the school in her memory.
Over the course of Pesach, I had the opportunity to deliver a variety of parenting workshops. One of these workshops focused on a topic that I have addressed in this forum in the past: the role of praising student effort over intellect. In the past, many schools would encourage award assemblies, which, for the most part, highlight gifted learners for their G-d-given strengths, and not those who are only successful after putting forth great effort. In “Growth Mindset,” Carol Dweck suggests that students who are praised for raw intellect become easily frustrated with any tasks that they cannot accomplish with ease, and this affects their academic performance. Students who are praised for their effort actually look forward to challenge and continue to grow in their performance.
Recently, I read an article in one of the most prestigious educational journals, “ASCD,” on the topic of “Research Says/Grit Plus Talent Equals Student Success,” written by Bryan Goodwin and Kirsten Miller. The article points out that Cedric, a student who was born in a drug-infested neighborhood and whose father was in jail, somehow beat the odds. He graduated from high school and Brown University with honors and is on his way to earning graduate degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan. A key factor in Cedric's success was his mother, who maintained high expectations for her son, as well as his personal drive for success. He had the inner strength to shun drugs and violence and to study deep into the night. Researchers have found this quality to be as crucial as cognitive ability to student success.
As Paul Tough (2012) notes, many educators have begun to believe that improvements in instruction, curriculum, and school environments are simply not enough to raise the achievement of all learners, especially disadvantaged ones. Also necessary is a quality called grit, loosely defined as persistence over time to overcome challenges and accomplish big goals (Duckworth, 2013; Shechtman, DeBarger, Dornsife, Rosier, & Yarnall, 2013). Grit comprises a suite of traits and behaviors, including
1. Goal-directedness (knowing where to go and how to get there).
2. Motivation (having a strong will to achieve identified goals).
3. Self-control (avoiding distractions and focusing on the task at hand).
4. Positive mind-set (embracing challenge and viewing failure as a learning opportunity).
Researchers have long known that each of these qualities influences student success. But they are still teasing out how the combination of these qualities creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Twenty-five years of research has shown that giving students challenging goals encourages greater effort and persistence than providing moderate, "do-your-best" goals or no goals at all (Locke & Latham, 2006). However, simply setting a high bar is inadequate. Students also need the will to achieve goals (Poropat, 2009); a growth mind-set, or the belief that they can become smarter and turn failure into success through their own efforts (Dweck, 2006); and the ability to delay gratification and stay focused on the task at hand—what psychologists call self-regulation.
I have found that we can help our children develop the above-mentioned skills by modeling a strong work ethic, taking an active role in our children’s education, and encouraging them to set goals and solve problems independently. We are hopeful that, with the help of Hashem, by following these strategies, we will continue to be successful in our endeavor to guide our children in these trying times.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman