Teaching Kids Grit – Punishment Doesn’t Work

We need to think about  how to close the academic achievement gap in a totally different way!

As is often the case, The Atlantic Magazine published an excellent article on how kids really succeed! See: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

The article is wonderful because it is based in science. And I am a firm believer that if you want to actually create change, taking a reality based and therefore science based approach is the best approach.

The author of the article, appropriately named Paul Tough, says that neuroscientists have shown that early childhood stress (toxic stress) while adaptive in the moment, can cause responses that are maladaptive in a learning environment. These adaptations to stress actually make it more difficult for the child to cope with adversity when they need to not flight or fight, but to calm down and try again. Basically – stress interrupts executive functioning which makes it harder for kids to function well in a school environment which requires A LOT of executive functioning skills.

Kids growing up poor (which 51% of the kids in our schools do) experience more stress than kids growing up with economic stability.  There is a direct connection to the stress a child experiences growing up and their academic achievement and there is therefore a direct connection between poverty and difficulty attaining academic achievement.  Lack of academic achievement causes stress, the child reacts as we all do to stress – fight or flight.

By the time kids whose stress levels are such that they don’t function well in school get to middle school, they are labelled as chronic misbehavers. Most schools have a discipline approach to these problems.  In other words, we punish these kids in the hopes that the punishment will spur them to behave better. The problem is that a) punishment doesn’t work.  It’s actually counterproductive and tends to strengthen the behavior you don’t want. (for more on this read my book The Bully Vaccine - http://amzn.to/2cp9hBJ)

To quote the article: “With the neurobiological research in mind, it’s easy to see that kind of behavior—refusing to do what adults tell you to do, basically—as an expression not of a bad attitude or a defiant personality but of a poorly regulated stress-response system. Talking back and acting up in class are, at least in part, symptoms of a child’s inability to control impulses, de-escalate confrontations, and manage anger and other strong feelings—the whole stew of self-regulation issues that can usually be traced to impaired executive-function development in early childhood.”

I teach reality based decision making for effective strategy development. One of the ways to tell that your strategy isn’t reality based is if it doesn’t work. It is clear that our current strategies to fix the economic/academic achievement gap hasn’t been working. If we want to close the achievement gap we need to stop doing what clearly hasn’t’ worked and try something else.  That something else should actually deal with the actual real problem these kids have instead of our assumptions about what we think is wrong.

Kids who have adversity induced stress related neurological problems need support, nurturing, community, engaged individuals in their lives to help them learn the stress coping strategies that they haven’t yet learned.

You can’t teach a kid to cope with stress by giving them more stress. You teach them to cope better by modeling for them how to respond to stress. That means teachers that don’t get mad when they are frustrated by a kid’s inability to focus or pay attention.

Another thing we need to change is how we teach. People learn when they are intrinsically motivated to learn. Asking kids to do boring repetitive stuff is not intrinsically satisfying. It doesn’t create engaged learners. What kids need is some level of autonomy, independence and control over their learning.  And yes, read the article there is research to back this up.

So what is the solution? Help teachers create a sense of belonging in the classroom, help teachers figure out how to give kids more control over their learning while still keeping “discipline” and safety.  And finally, we need to pay attention to the mental health of all our students.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...