As the mother of two boys at the beginning of their educational journey, reading Josh’s book couldn’t have been more timely for me. One thing I’ve learned in the last few years is how different my children are when it comes to learning styles. My younger son just turned five and is in a Pre-K program. He’ssibling-rivalry-boyswildly imaginative, bright, independent and headstrong. He’s a rule breaker. My older child is almost seven and in first grade and couldn’t be more different. He’s the scientist who relies only on fact and has little room for make believe. He doesn’t like confrontation or getting in trouble and has a hard time entertaining himself. He is a gifted learner, which we identified very early in his life. Add to this a recent diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder and we’ve got a complicated kid on our hands. How would he fare in the public school system? If I was struggling with just two different learning styles at home, how does a teacher accommodate 25 different learning styles in the classroom?

While trying to accommodate their different learning styles will be an ongoing challenge for me, a universal concept that I picked up on a few years ago, and that was reinforced to me in Josh’s book, is the idea that we should not praise results but rather the effort put forth to obtain those results. This makes complete sense to me and, as easy as it sounds, I don’t think I was using this concept when praising my kids. When I really started listening, I heard myself saying how smart they were or how cute they looked. Things, by the way, that they have no control over. My intentions were good, of course, but I came to realize that I was praising talents and abilities that they were born with and not the effort they put forth in using those gifts to accomplish a task. The words we use now “I’m so proud of how hard you tried”, “I love how much effort you put into that project”, are not only better for my kids to hear, but more accurate. I would prefer that they try something harder and only fair marginally well, rather than doing something easy that doesn’t take effort and pass with flying colors.

pitch-praise_3747537_arThis concept of rewarding effort over ability works for any learning style; for challenged learners, gifted learners, adult learners. It’s true for all of us and the sooner these messages are reinforced the sooner we will realize our full potential for who we are supposed to be and not who we are in relation to others.  If my child is putting forth his best effort and still getting average grades, isn’t there something wrong with that? Isn’t the system flawed when my child studies hard, puts forth the effort, does his best and gets a “C”, versus a child to whom the answers come easily, needs to put forth no effort and gets an “A”? Neither child in this scenario is receiving the right message. Either you’re working hard to fail or doing little to succeed.

I believe my children are at a critical stage where their learning habits are being developed, their ideas about what it means to succeed are being molded, and their image of themselves as learners are being formed. While major changes in the public school system may be too tall of an order, adjusting our thinking as parents, teachers and educators may get us a little closer to redefining success for our children.

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