It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it…..

Posted by Alison W on May 30, 2016

As I sat contemplating this week’s task I started to think about the times that I have given up on something too difficult, did that mean that I was of a fixed mind set or did it mean on that particular day it was all too much so I walked away? Who knows? I do know however that there haven’t been many times that I have willingly given up. My family have always just called me stubborn….

Without being flippant, I really get the importance of having grit and determination, it will get you through things that sheer ability will not. I see it in my children, I have one child who appears to have a natural academic ability, she picked up reading so quickly that within 3 months of starting school she was being sent to read with year 1 pupils and yet when she encountered something that required a little effort on her part it was tantamount to being asked to walk on water. My other child however, has always been just a little better than of ‘average’ ability and yet there is nothing she cannot do or at least attempt. If it’s a little hard, isn’t that normal? Well you just try harder or you do it again. As a parent, guess who I worry about more.

Our brains are a funny thing, the more we learn about the plasticity and adaptability of our brains the more we see that our futures are in our hands, how we are able to ‘brain train’ ourselves and future generations into future ‘smartness’. A point that Angela Lee Duckworth makes eloquently. The limitations that we put on ourselves are in fact the very same limitations that control aptitude across the board but most especially within a learning environment.

As we have seen previously, Jo Boaler is a great advocate for change within our education system, her dislike of a streaming system within schools quite apparent. I do however find myself agreeing with her. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up, whether you have top sets and bottom sets or Blue groups and Red groups children are aware of what is being created and as such take on board the implications. And if you are told something often enough, especially as a child by an adult it has to be true. Right? Already you are fighting an uphill battle to overcome those prejudices, as if education wasn’t hard enough.

Personally I feel that grit and determination are both really important life skills that we should be sharing with the younger generation, but if it also aids learning and improves achievement surely it becomes a fundamental skill for the classroom as both student and teacher. I guess our biggest problem is how to overcome deeply held cultural beliefs about learning, how do we overturn over a hundred year’s of dogmatised streaming with in our educational system? I guess that also comes down to mind set, do you give up because the progress is too slow or do you press forward determined to achieve great things….


  1. jat32
    2 June 2016

    I enjoyed your article Alison, One of the things that I didn’t put in the article but I am wondering about is whether teachers need to be more open about what they are trying to achieve through their teaching i.e. it isn’t just how to answer a maths problem but it is their whole approach to learning and that they will receive praise for effort and grit….

  2. pepsmccrea
    7 June 2016

    Very strong analysis. You’ve covered a lot of significant ground here! I suppose your final point is the most important – that we’ve got some big cultural issues to work with in order to start to build in that future ‘smartness’

  3. Fintan Donnellan
    8 June 2016

    Yes, I agree that knowledge of the plasticity of the brain and how it can grow with use is really powerful. We all know that we get better at something with practice, but to know that it has a physical change on your brain completely changes your outlook on learning. Would this be useful for kids?

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