Paul Tough’s: How Children Succeed

Non-cognitive skills, such as perseverance, curiosity, and self-control, are just as important as cognitive ability to the success of an individual.


How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character is powerfully written and I loved reading it (and highly recommend to anyone interested in education). All the research behind the biological explanations for variation in achievement levels based on socioeconomic divisions was eye-opening. The good news is that once we identify these differences, we can address them.

The following from the book broke my heart:

“Most of us feel nothing but sympathy and understanding toward the ten year old boy in poor circumstances. But toward the fourteen year old – not to mention the eighteen year old he will soon become – we usually feel something darker: anger and fear, or at least despair. …the ten year old and the fourteen year old were the same child, reacting to the same environmental influences, buffeted by the same powerful neurochemical processes.”

Teacher Takeaways

  •  The part of the brain most effected by early stress (prefrontal cortex) is also critical in both emotional and cognitive self-regulatory activities. Children who grow up in stressful environments find it harder to concentrate, sit still, follow directions, and rebound from disappointment.
  • Implementation intentions, if/then statements that link obstacles to ways to overcome them, are powerful tools.
    • If I get distracted by TV after school, then I will wait to watch TV until after I finish my homework.
  • There are no good kids or bad kids. Only some kids with good habits and some kids who have bad habits. Habits are difficult to change, but not impossible.
  • If you teach kids to pay attention to their character, their character will transform.
  • Tools of the Mind focuses on children learning self-regulation skills.
  • Self-regulation skills are especially important in school. We are constantly asking students to keep track of various tricks and expectations that require cognitive impulse control to overcome the immediate and instinctive reaction. For example: a zero means one thing on its own but something different with a one in front of it (10 <> 0.1 <> 0).
  • To help chronically low performing but intelligent students, parents and educators must first acknowledge that character is at least as important as intellect.

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