Continuing where we left off in Part 1, here is a sampling of our observations from tutoring in terms of the anxiety and stress level that students have. Kids are stressed because they are over scheduled. They are starting to hone their college lists, and worry about it in the 8th grade. Students are being taught that the grade they receive equates to who they are. They struggle on tests due to not knowing the difference between learning and memorization. If they are not in the top or bottom echelon in class, they get ignored.
But mostly kids are stressed because too often they are made to feel that their best simply isn’t good enough.
Recently, in a conversation I was having with a college professor, she shared an interesting interaction that took place with a student. The student was struggling with a concept, and at the same time was doing very well in the course. At one point the professor said to the student, “you’re on the right track, just keep doing your best.”
The student replied, “I don’t want to do my best, I want to do the best.”
This is where many students find themselves, and while it’s certainly good to strive and push ourselves, that is a pretty high bar to get over. Test scores, quarterly grades, mid-terms, finals, MCAS, SAT, and GPA. These are just a few of the numbers that middle and high school students are all too familiar with. On one hand, they are being told that being a good person matters, and that being a productive member of society is also about being well rounded and having good values. On the other, they are judged at every turn in very distinct and objective terms, and those terms seem to have little to do with them being a well rounded human being.
The system is hyper-focused on results, and very little energy is given to exploring the process. This is problematic.
In her book, The Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck discusses process a great deal. Through many studies that she has led, one of the conclusions she has made is that “it’s better to praise students for their process, for their practice, study, persistence and hard work, than to simply praise their intelligence.” This way of thinking calls into question our antiquated notions around who is intelligent and who is not.
What if, instead of praising a student who gets an A by telling her how smart she is, we instead talked with her about how she got that A by being prepared, studying hard, or other comments related to her process.
In tutoring, one of our goals is to help students understand their process. Whether the results they have received are good or bad, exploring the process that led to that result is vital. It can help them to see what is working and what needs to be changed. It’s not about telling students to study harder or longer, or telling them they are lazy (even though sometimes they are!). We need to show them what effective studying looks like, break down their unique process to see what works and what doesn’t, help them understand how they learn best, and consistently reinforce these ideas over time.