Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Review

               I’ve long been a voracious reader when it comes to fiction.  I inhale novels in a single day, and when I don’t have a book to read I feel adrift.  It’s an effort, however, to read non-fiction, and I’ve come to a conclusion as to why.  With fiction, I can immerse myself completely in that world, not coming up for the air of reality until I finish the book.  Nonfiction, on the other hand, is educating me, teaching me something that will have real-world application.  As I read, I am taking in the knowledge and applying it to my present or my future, and it takes a lot longer to get through a book that is much shorter than a Harry Potter installment.  Reading fiction is like a vacation, reading non-fiction is taking a class.  As an educator, however, I feel it is important for my own sake, not just for professional development, that I read non-fiction books that will help me help my students.
                A principal I greatly admire is constantly reading articles and books and sharing them not only with her teachers but on the school’s website.  She posted an article written by Paul Tough, which was actually a chapter from one of his books, and after reading the article, I knew the book was something I needed to check out.  It’s called How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.  The book focuses on non-cognitive skills, things that children do not learn from a math, science, language arts curriculum.  These traits, however, are just as, if not more important in setting a child up for a successful life.
                Tough talked to psychologists, educators, students, and parents to discover why it is that students who seem great on paper fail once they reach college.  He also looked at students whose school records would have you believe they are destined to become derelicts, and how they are succeeding in college where their higher-income peers are floundering.  Key characteristics were found, not unlike the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that can predict a student’s success far better than a standardized test score.
                Character education has been around since I was in school under the umbrellas of “No Bullying” and “Just Say No”.  It was generally the focus of once-weekly visits from the school counselor, or videos featuring a number of well-known animated characters.  Educators looking to prepare their students beyond mastery of content are now looking at inculcating character education into the daily culture of the school in a completely different way.  Students at the KIPP school are engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy – when they get in trouble, they are encouraged to dialogue about why they behaved that way, what would have been a better alternative, and how they can fix it in the future.  They receive behavior report cards, and the students are using the language in their daily lives.  They are developing traits like grit, and they know what it means and how they build it. 
                Tough doesn’t focus on and outline each of the seven traits that schools like KIPP are focusing on, but his profiles of students who are successful despite their circumstances are illustrators of how these traits come in to play.  Whether you teach at a Title 1 school or an ivy-covered East Coast institution, whether you teach kindergarten or high school, this book is applicable to you, and to every teacher and every student.  I cannot recommend it enough.

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