Monday, January 21, 2013


This is a book that recently has gotten a lot of attention--among parents, teachers, and people just wanting to know the secret to success (who doesn't?). I enjoyed the discussion of current research and case studies, but also felt myself extending that to the thing that's always on my mind: literacy. How can these ideas presented in this book help us understand the process of helping kids become more successful readers? Like I've said before, reading is essential to success in school and life. So it makes sense that in understanding how children succeed, we can also gain understanding in how children can succeed in reading.

If you're looking for someone to whisper the secrets of success in your ear, or give you the quick how-to of making your child successful, this book won't give you that quite so easily. It's written in a journalistic style (well, Paul Tough is a journalist, after all). Expect an excellent and engaging quality of writing, which supplies theories, facts, and ideas more than outright solutions. The case studies are very insightful; I enjoyed reading about all these people who are trying so hard to make a difference in the world, even if I did feel a bit weary of hearing about chess after a while.

One of the main ideas behind the book--which is somewhat conclusive from the title--is that grit, curiosity, independence, and self-reliance are some of the aspects of character that successful people possess. What makes that premise about success even better is that this is something we can change. Even though rooted in areas of the brain that govern who we are and what we do, we can help young people to develop more of these things and by so doing, bridge the gap between them and their peers who do possess these qualities from and early age as a result of their parents or life situation or other cause. This is good news for struggling readers because there is room to develop and change, to be more successful and literate as they grow and develop these aspects of character that will make them more successful.

Part of being successful is learning how to deal with failure. An idea that is not new (really, ask anyone who's been successful at something) but that is highlighted in How Children Succeed mainly through the exemplary case study of Spiegel, the public school chess teacher. Her students, while disadvantaged in many ways, were able to be highly competitive and successful because after every game they had the task to "look deeply at their own mistakes, examine why they had made them, and think hard about what they might have done differently" (121).This process can also be labeled as metacognition (to put it more simply: thinking about thinking). I LOVE that Tough made this connection between metacognition and managing failure. This concept is SO, SO IMPORTANT in learning, especially in learning how to become a better reader. Look at why you didn't understand what you read, and what you can do differently to understand what you read? Perhaps you need to re-read? or summarize what you've already read so it'll make more sense? Good readers do this naturally; struggling readers need to spend a little more time in metacognition examining what they did and what they can do to be more successful at reading. Not only that, but how many struggling readers have faced failure in reading before, but not managed it properly? Made excuses to get out of reading, or lied on reading reports and logs? Managing failure in reading is crucial if struggling readers have any hopes of improving.

Have you read this book? What did you think of these ideas? Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series!

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