Saturday, January 2, 2016

Favorite comments of '15, cont: SteveH

On Problematizing grit:

SteveH said...
"Leaving a high-flying job in consulting, Angela Lee Duckworth took a job teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school. She quickly realized that IQ wasn’t the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled."

Grit was her main conclusion for explaining why some kids do well in math and some do not - so much so that she is building a career out of it?"

Duckworth graduated from Harvard University with a B.A. in Neurobiology, and from the University of Pennsylvania with a Ph.D. in Psychology."

You see what you are ... and what sells. "The Duckworth Lab"

I'll call this the "Willingham Effect" - It's all about me.

And this makes me really sad.

"The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Born This Way Foundation"

Talk about ignoring variables.

Forget the fact that grit is improved by carefully ensuring mastery of math skills on a unit-by-unit and year-by-year basis. It's not some vague internal skill that creates success while K-8 educators do whatever warms the cockles of the fuzzy educational hearts.

Success breeds success. Small and continual successes build confidence. Grit can help, but that is built on doing things that one does not really want to do, viz. individual homework assignments and weekly quizzes, not in-class group discovery where some can do little work and others learn to be driven only by the process and not results.

What, exactly, is the problem? Did she calibrate it? Duckworth taught math in seventh grade and filtered reality through her own training and biases. Her conclusion was that grit is the main variable. If her students were properly prepared in math in K-6, would she be talking about grit? No. The students would be successful in math at some decent level. If her seventh grade kids could not do adds and subtracts to 20, would she be talking about grit? No, she would be talking about educational competence.

In computer science, where you have to fix programs that could have all sorts of interacting problems or errors, you don't use guess and check as the solution technique. (Which my old students loved to use.) You start with a number that is wrong. A specific number. This is like an anecdote. You have to understand exactly why that number is wrong. You have to dig into the code to see exactly where that bad number comes from. You trace it back to its source. It could be just a one-of-a-kind error, as in an anecdote, but more likely than not, the fix solves a whole class of problems. I never see this approach in educational research. They just use guess and maybe check.

In Duckworth's seventh grade class, did she trace any one student to see exactly why they were doing poorly in math? Did she trace any one student to see why they were doing well in math? Was the difference grit? I doubt it. She would have seen one student who immediately got stuck because of knowledge and skills gaps - such as making mistakes with minus signs. The better student would have moved right along doing the problem showing skill and knowledge, not grit. One can be successful in school without grit. Isn't that the goal of education?

Many times when I have to learn a new topic or subject, I will find books and explanations that leave me with the feeling that it can't be this difficult. I don't rely on grit to solve the problem. I find a new book.

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