Rob shares his thoughts on the state of education as well as important details that parents can use to help support their child's learning.

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Just Keep Swimming

You are not alone

My brother, a board certified plastic surgeon, can solve complex algebraic equations in his head, whereas I someone with a specific learning disability have always struggled to understand algebra. This doesn't mean that I can't solve algebraic equations, it just means I have to work harder and often longer than my brother to master the same material.

To do this, I engage a non-cognitive skill called "grit" (i.e. displaying perseverance for long-term goals despite challenges, much failure and adversity). Grit, can be a far greater factor in determining an individual person's overall success in life than their intellectual ability. Success can easily be defined as having an intense passion as well as talent for a particular skill. If grit is a skill, it can therefore be taught just like one is taught how to read.

The essential question is : "How do we help a person increase their grit?". The first thing you can do is abolish the false prophecy that "everyone is a winner". Not everyone has earned the privilege of a trophy! When you are trying to increase another person's level of grit, you may need to attach an external motivator (i.e. a tangible reward) prior to the start of the task as a means of keeping them engaged. Think about it, the vast majority of us put in a 40+ hour work week not because we want to but because we are motivated by the privilege of owning a home, taking a vacation, buying our children toys, etc. If these rewards aren't motivating to you, then you may be unemployed.

The next thing that can be done is making sure there are opportunities for a person to struggle or even fail. If a person is struggling, while it may be more expedient for you to complete the task for them, your good intentions are more likely to harm them in the long run. Remember, we don't live in a world that rewards those who can't. I'm reminded of a student with low functioning autism who couldn't hold a pencil, write their name, manage their clothing, or open a bag of food. When expectations were placed on this student, they simply waited for an adult to complete the task for them. During breakfast, while all the other students eagerly opened their prepackaged foods this student would sit there waiting, occasionally making a flaccid attempt to open their food. Very quickly, the student would give up and an adult would take over because it was easier than teaching them how to be independent. This student was learning that they didn't need to try because someone would eventually do the work for them. What this student needed to be taught was not only how to complete these everyday tasks but also that it's equally vital that they not give up. Today, this student can write their name, open packages of food, and independently perform many other tasks because they were eventually taught and required to try, try, and try again!

Finally, using a calm and reassuring voice, it is important to talk the person who has recently failed through their failure (i.e. what they did right, wrong, etc.). This will allow them to better understand how to tackle their next challenge as well as how not to repeat the errors that may have contributed to their recent failure. When talking to the person who failed, share with them times when you struggled or outright failed. This allows them to understand that they are not alone, everyone fails, and that failure is something to learn from, provided they try again!

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