Any teacher can tell you that students learn at different rates. Children tend to have varying levels of aptitude in their subjects. And as teenagers, their interests will diversify even further.
When a student has to learn something, their disposition towards the subject matter can make a huge difference in terms of the learning curve. They will throw themselves into an activity if it’s something they love. If they are indifferent to a lesson, they get bored easily. They can miss important facets or fail to retain anything in the long term. And if a student dislikes a subject, they might be inclined to give up at the slightest difficulty.
Good teachers know that their influence can prove critical in the long term. Similar to how a crisis intervention team (CIT) program can help save individuals experiencing a breakdown, teachers can keep their students from associating learning with frustration, failure, and negativity.
But teachers can’t always be around to intervene and help students. Kids continue to learn even when they’re not at school. Eventually, everyone will have to move on and face learning challenges as adults. For practitioners of education, parents, and other adults who can guide children, the question is of vital importance: how do you encourage them to stick through lifelong difficulties?
Growth and grit
In recent years, the concept of a ‘growth mindset’ has proven influential in the realm of learning. This approach encourages a student to embrace the entire process of learning. It includes the effort involved in working around or overcoming obstacles, and the overall progress made.
The quality of grit, which blends passion and commitment with dedication, is also recognized as playing a pivotal role in long-term success. Regardless of natural talent, having grit and being growth-minded will enable anyone to stick with their efforts and achieve bigger goals.
Increasingly, adults on the path of self-improvement have found them to be useful tools in their continuous learning efforts. But what works for a grown-up learner might not necessarily be the answer for children, or at least not the complete solution.
The missing element of range
The author Malcolm Gladwell is widely credited with popularizing the concept of the “10,000-hour rule”. Yet in researching his influential, bestselling book Outliers: The Story of Success, he drew from a narrow range of careers and practices. A career playing golf or classical music will benefit significantly from 10,000 hours of practice. And for that, a child will want to have a high level of persistence.
But most children don’t grow up pursuing such careers. Some kids have a natural level of talent that makes it easy for them to stand out and suggests a clear career path while they’re still young. The majority, though, explore different interests. At such an early age, few children are so sure of what they want to be when they grow up. As kids, our development can change course and meander multiple times. And often, as adults, we’ll realize that most careers require diversity and adaptability.
It’s this challenge that David Epstein explores in his book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. The thesis of his work is that instead of persisting in one specialized skill, most adults need to dabble and find range first. Once you’ve found a career that matches well with your passion and competencies, you’re more likely to find success and derive satisfaction.
Encourage career breadth
Thus, by adopting a long-term outlook, educators can approach the challenge of improving learning by facilitating the development of vital components. Students should have a growth mindset and enjoy the process. They need to have the quality of grit so that they don’t give up easily. And to tie everything together, they must be encouraged to explore different career streams.
By allowing students to explore a wide variety of interests, you are giving them the chance to learn more about themselves. They might discover that they only enjoy certain aspects of a skill. They might realize that they are only after the external markers of success or engagement in an activity. Or they could find that something they previously disliked was delightful.
Taken too far and too early, a focus on grit and growth can leave young students feeling as though they are forced to do something. If you manage to balance that with a long-term view of developing range, you can help them retain those crucial qualities and apply perseverance when it matters most.