Friday, August 1, 2014

Getting Tough on Character

I recently finished Paul Tough's How Children Succeed, which provoked tremendous thought for me on what he calls character, and what I call work habits, in the classroom.  Among his many salient points, here were a few ideas I earmarked:

    • Referring to the work of Angela Duckworth, "she found that standardized-test scores were predicted by scores on pure IQ tests and that GPA was predicted by scores on tests of self-control" (153).  In this same section, he refers to similar research which has concluded that the best indicator of a student's future success, which he defines not just academically, but also personally, such as a student's future ability to marry and stay married, is not ACT or SAT, but rather a student's GPA, regardless of the type of school where he or she earns that average.  Tough suspects this fact is attributed to the fact that GPA measures not intelligence factors pivotal to success, such as motivation, perseverance, time management, and responsibility.
    • Later, in addressing how we might cultivate such qualities in our students or our children, he emphasizes the importance of letting kids fail in a safe environment, and confronting those failures with honesty (183).
If accurate, these findings should be staggering in public education as, though a student may not be able to change the quality of schooling he or she gets, character is a great equalizer which can be produced in any environment.

He gives a couple specifics as to what cultivating character looked like in his research.  For instance, these are the character report cards KIPP schools use, which each student gets in addition to his or her academic report card.

I guess what I'm searching for is what it might look like to tackle this on the micro level in my own classroom. Carol Dweck inspired me to look at this "non-academic" side of my work in the classroom several years ago, and I've been experimenting with versions of helping students reflect on and cultivate what KIPP calls character since, but I've been unable to do it successfully and without tremendous amounts of push back.  For instance, in the last 2 years, I've given a mini-version of that report card for a work habits grade and, interestingly, have never encountered more contention from an assessment.

I'm searching for others' suggestions and success stories, hoping before the year begins to reinvent how this looks in my classroom so I can cultivate what Tough postulates are the biggest predictors of my students' success, not just in schools, but in life.  I'm also wondering if such "report cards" are necessary; for instance, do students already look at their GPA and see those grades as indicators of hard work, responsibility, motivation, etc. or do they simply see them as products of IQ?  What is our role and responsibility as teachers in helping students be reflective about how their work habits directly correlate with their successes and failures?

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