Little Bobby sits in a classroom on a frigid Tuesday morning. He’s not sure whether it’s cold in the classroom, or if it’s just the impending test score looming over his head.
Ms. Ethelbaum walks to the front of the classroom where that dreadful stack of papers sits and festers.
Bobby thinks to himself.
Does she have to give the papers back today? I mean, we just took the test last week. Shouldn’t we have some time to mentally recover before you drop another emotional bomb on us.
Bobby looks to the right and sees the almost palpable giddy anticipation Tiffy has as she awaits her test paper.
Last week Tiffy all but begged Ms. Ethelbaum to grade the papers during lunch so she could find out if she made an A+ or an A++.
Suddenly the temperature seems to rise 15 degrees in an instant. Bobby is still cold but now he’s starting to sweat. The teacher starts on the far side of the classroom and starts to hand back the papers.
Bobby thinks to himself. I don’t know what I’ll do if I bring home another bad grade. My mother will be heartbroken. We work so hard to prepare for the test, but it seems like the class is going 90 miles an hour with no signs of slowing.
The teacher reaches Tiffy’s desk first. Bobby doesn’t even turn his head, he’s been through this before. Tiffy lets out the loudest whisper possible.
Ms. Ethel baum shushes her.
Not everyone did so well Tiffy, be nice.
Bobby thinks. Crap she’s talking about me, I can feel it. Please lord let me have done well on this test. Just once, please please please!
Bobby stares into his lap.
I don’t want to see how close Ms. Ethelbaum is, and I most certainly don’t want to see this test score. There’s a reason they blindfold you when you stand in front of a firing squad, and that’s exactly what this feels like.
Suddenly Bobby feels the whiff of air the comes from the paper landing on his desk. It’s face down.
Thank goodness for small victories. At Least I won’t have to add humiliation to today’s terrible, no good, very bad day list.
Bobby takes a deep breath.
Why do I have to go through this every week. I should just relax right? I studied, I probably did fine.
Bobby hears a whisper from his right.
PSSST!!! What did you get?
I really really hate when she asks me that. Oh well, better get this over with.
Bobby takes his right hand and moves it from his lap to the paper on his desk. He can feel Tiffys eyes shamelessly staring as he uncovers his doom.
As he turns the paper, the shear amount of red ink is staggering. Finally his eyes center on the circle in the top center of the page. D minus! And to add insult to injury, there’s a note scribbled next to the grade.
You need to study next time.
Bobby’s heart plummets to his stomach. This isn’t fair, we studied so hard!
Bobby’s eyes start to well up, and Ms. Ethelbaum notices his crestfallen state.
Some of us aren’t really cut out for math, it’s not your fault.
That’s what it was like for me when I sat in class as a child. That feeling of the universe conspiring against me personally and seeming to favor people like Tiffy. I use to think, what did I do to deserve to be dumb.
I can not express to you the frustration and anger that comes from a grownup telling you that you’ll never be able to do something, when your entire life is still in front of you.
I wrote this article because, like me, school work does not always come easy to my son. He doesn’t struggle as much as I did, but I think he gets his extra smarts from his mom. I know their are other parents and teachers out there who have kids that struggle. So if you do, keep reading.
As in little Bobbies case, there are many students, sons, and daughters who put their hearts and souls into trying to succeed at school, only to have their failures drag them down through grades and test scores. There’s no wonder that many kids lack the drive to persevere when perseverance leads to the same outcome as quitting.
What worries me the most about my son’s school work struggles, is how easily he is discouraged. After I thought about it, however, I don’t think it’s his fault.
The quicker you understand something the more people say things like “Your smart”, “you should be a doctor” and so on. If it takes you a while to learn the information, people may say “he’s a little slow”, or “she’s academically challenged”.
Of course he’s discouraged, the judgement you endure for just trying can be harsh. At least if you quit you can say, quitting is the reason you failed.
This isn’t how the world really works anyway. In the real world if it takes you two hours to understand something that took everyone else one hour. It really doesn’t matter as long as you spent the two hours.
Mastery and the end result is what the world cares about.
If you compare this to video games, where the point is mastery and the journey, the goal is in finding a game that is fun to try and try again, until you finally master it.
Truthfully this is the way life works. If you approach life and especially school like a video game, everything becomes much more bearable, the good and the bad.
This way of thinking is actually supported by research.
It turns out that the biggest predictor of success isn’t really test scores or how quickly little
Bobby can memorize his times tables, it’s grit, self control, and having a growth mindset.
Angela Duckworth from the Duckworth Lab at University of Pennsylvania is famous for her research on Grit and Self-Control. In a 2007 paper she and her colleagues reported that Grit is a better predictor of high school success than IQ.
You may be wondering exactly what grit is. Professor Duckworth defines
Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.
That’s the very fundamental quality required for successful video gaming.
It doesn’t stop there. Carol Dweck, a Professor at Stanford University has some equally interesting findings. She has found that people can be divided into two mindset categories. One is a fixed mindset and the other is a growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe you are born with a finite amount of talent and ability and there’s not much you can do about it. People with a fixed mindset must always worry if they “have what it takes” to succeed.
People with a growth mindset believe their innate talents are a starting point, but through effort and perseverance more is possible.
It won’t surprise you to find out that people with a growth mindset face challenges with optimism and positivity while those with a fixed mindset run from the challenge. In Professor Dweck’s TED talk she even mentioned a study where one of the participants said they would cheat next time if faced with a similar challenge.
You may be thinking, wow cheating, that’s just wrong, but what option do you have if you believe you’ll never be smart enough.
The truly sad thing about this is that kids start off believing anything is possible, and then the system beats them down so much that they start believing talent and ability are just God’s lottery system. In fact in a book by Mary Cay Ricci titled “Mindsets in the Classroom”, 100% of kindergartners have a growth mindset but by fourth grade 42% demonstrate a fixed mindset.
Is there a worse way to fail our children, then to convince them that their dreams are probably impossible?
This brings me to Mario Brothers. My son has a video game called Super Mario Maker. In this game he creates his own super Mario world that he or more likely his mom can play( she’s a great sport).
One Saturday evening I happen to witness this process of his. I watched him build, test, and then retest his creation with painstaking attention to detail. I saw him make something, test it, and when it didn’t work, redesign and then retest. He did this over and over again until finally it was to his liking.
You’re probably thinking that this is no surprise. Kids spend tons of time playing creative
games like this one and MineCraft. Big Whoop right? NO, these creative games are truly no different than what their learning in school, the only difference, is how it is presented and how it is evaluated.
There is no penalty for trying over and over again in video games, because the journey is most of the fun, and mastery is the prize. In school sometimes we don’t care about mastery, just the test scores that tell us how much you haven’t mastered.
Most of us would concede that this is not the best system, but it is our current system. So where do we go from here? Super Mario Maker might be an excellent example of grit applied to a very specific activity, however, its not going to get my son into college. Or at least it probably wont.
There are some activities and games that can help promote Grit and a growth Mindset. In a an article titled Reclaiming Children and Youth, Erik Laursen (the author) says one way is to talk or read about people who have exhibited grit. If done enough times, hopefully the theme will sink in.
If you’re looking for something more cutting edge. There is an educational version of MineCraft. If your son or daughter is anything like mine, they love to play MineCraft and would spend an unhealthy amount of time playing if allowed.
I encourage you to ask your child’s teacher, or if you are a teacher, look into bringing this technology into your classroom. The next article I wright, will be about MineCraft education and game based learning strategies for your student or child, so be sure to sign up to the email list so you’ll know when it comes out.