A 5 Star Idea with a 4 Star Outcome
The book Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why was written by Paul Tough in 2016 and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as a follow up to the research he conducted for his previous book How Children Succeed. As a teacher, the topics that everyone strives to accomplish is understanding how children succeed and being able to find ways to help them succeed. Based on a need to understand those aspects drew my attention to reading more in depth about it. With the rise in high stakes standardized testing, there is a modern obsession with raising students test scores instead of focusing on how to support children into exploring ways to be curious, optimistic, persistent and use self-control. Tough’s book is built around the idea that children in poverty struggle in school which results in lower test scores and affects students throughout their life, making it crucial for educators to understand the affects of growing up in adversity, especially since childhood poverty is on the rise. Since 2013, more than 51% of the nation’s children “fall below the federal government’s threshold for being low income, meaning they are eligible for free or subsidized school lunch” (p.1). After hitting this milestone, American public schools are now making a mission to help children in poverty succeed which is where Tough developed his 125 page book.
Throughout Tough’s book there are 23 sections where he breaks down each topic. The sections are: adversity, strategies, skills, stress, parents, trauma, neglect, early intervention, attachment, home visiting, beyond the home, building blocks, discipline, incentives, motivation, assessment, messages, mindsets, relationships, pedagogy, challenge, deeper learning, and solutions. I love how these sections flow together seamlessly and build off of each other as more information is given to the reader. Tough begins by explaining how adversity affects student success from birth and moves into discussing the importance of non-cognitive skills like persistence, growth mindset and grit which is best learned through experience as opposed to explicit instruction. Tough states that “No child ever learned curiosity by filling out curiosity worksheets” (12). Throughout the book, Tough mentions the work of Deci and Ryan which stresses that non-cognitive abilities can be improved, but it involves more than simply rewards and punishments. He notes that education is not about overloading students with random standards based information, but creating excitement and drive to explore and experiment more, which can be a difficult task for students in poverty who need additional support.
Tough explains that children who do not come from a home where they are able to form secure attachments to positive adults do not have the perseverance, grit or non-cognitive traits necessary to be successful. Character is developed in environments which children form secure attachments to teachers and caregivers, and are taught in ways that stimulate their autonomy and ability to solve problems. From this, he introduced ideas and suggestions for educators to help develop those skills within students. Tough mentions Deci and Ryan’s work by stating that the three basic human needs that need to be supported in the classroom are autonomy, competence and relatedness. By creating environments that promote these three feelings, students are more motivated and more successful. Overall throughout the book, Tough stresses the importance of the environment children are in whether it is at home or at school.
New York Times said it best that Tough “Illuminates the extremes of American childhood: for rich kids, a safety net drawn so tight it’s a harness; for poor kids, almost nothing to break their fall.” Although students in poverty face many obstacles at home that challenge their ability to succeed in school, Tough mentions that the school environment needs to change. He closes out the book by stating that we need to change our policies, practices and way of thinking in order to help children succeed. As a teacher, we can provide 6 hours a day of a supporting environment starting at the age of 5, but what he also states is that the early years of a child’s life is when they are most impacted by adversity. Amounts of stress and a lack of serve and return interactions affects children starting at a young age. To me, it seems like the real issue surrounding this book is poverty throughout the United States. For a teacher, he gives many ways to help children succeed who grow up in adversity which is beneficial to know, but it seems like the best way to tackle the issue is to focus on decreasing poverty throughout the United States. Although I believe that every new teacher could benefit from reading about child development to understand how childhood environments affects children and learn best classroom strategies, I think this book is also suited for new parents to realize how important the early childhood environment is for their children. If you are interested in learning more about Tough’s point of view, his books are available on Amazon and at major bookstores with a retail price of $18.99.
- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (7 August 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1328915425
- ISBN-13: 978-1328915429
- Product Dimensions:: 13.5 x 1 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 150 g
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