Please explain the importance of teaching character development, especially traits such as hope and grit. How can educators foster these traits in the classroom?Hope and GritWhat do educators need to know about the differences in cognitive development between boys and girls? How can educators apply this information (boy/girl cognitive development) to help students learn more effectively? References
Please explain the importance of teaching character development, especially traits such as hope and grit. How can educators foster these traits in the classroom?
It does not matter if you are a parent, teacher, or administrator; we all want the same thing. We want our children to be happy, healthy, and to be in education programs that best fit their academic, physical, social, and emotional needs. We want them to live an integral and productive life. We want our students to move away from wasting and toward thriving across the lifespan.
When educational psychologists conduct research they often use Dr. Francois Gagné’s (2004) Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent to frame their definition and ideas about giftedness and talent. Gagné’s model tells us that gifts are innate abilities. Through the individual’s developmental process, internal and external catalysts positively or negatively impact the development of those gifts as they develop into talents. A new model (figure 1), seemingly inspired by Gagné’s thinking, has recently been developed by Dr. Michael Sayler (2009). In this model, Sayler offers a new meaning for “GT” – Gifted and Thriving. In his model, Sayler theorizes that talent development is very important but talent development alone is not enough for the gifted to thrive. In addition to talent development he explains two additional developmental paths leading to constructs that bring about fuller development of the whole person. The path to character development is through positive friendships and positive relationships with others, this includes teachers. The path to integrity, unity of life, or holiness is through development of spirituality – the idea that you are part of something greater than yourself. Like Gagné, Sayler theorizes that there are internal and external catalysts impacting each of the developmental pathways in a positive or a negative way, allowing for the manifestation of talents, character, and integrity. In addition, Sayler theorizes that talent, character, and Integrity are interactive and reciprocal in nature. Meaning talent development can impact the development of character and integrity, character development can impact talent development and integrity, and integrity can impact the development of talents and character. Finally, overlaying the outcome constructs is a continuum. At one end is personal thriving and at the other end is personal wasting. The more positive development of talents, character, and integrity that occurs, the closer one moves toward thriving and away from wasting across the lifespan.
There are a number of examples of gifted business people, politicians, healthcare professionals, athletes, lawyers, musicians, artists, etc. who fully develop their gifts into talents but moved away from thriving and toward wasting in their life because of a lack of good character and integrity. These individuals are examples of why talent development is just not enough for the gifted. The essence of the importance of teaching character to gifted students lies in Sayler’s model. Teaching character and helping students develop positive character traits aids in the development of talent, integrity, and ultimately happiness and thriving across the lifespan. Through knowledge of what constitutes good character, gifted individuals are better equipped to develop good character and recognize good character in those with whom they align themselves. Those positive relationships help shape the character of the individual and aid in talent development and the development of an integral life.
Hope and Grit
Two important character traits that are currently being researched in relation to education are hopefulness and grit. The idea of hope can be somewhat nebulous. You might hear a student say, “I hope I get a good grade on the next math test.” What does hope mean in that statement? Is it just a positive desire or a good feeling? To evaluate and analyze hope in relation to education, the construct of hope must be defined. C.R. Snyder (1994) defines hope in terms of it being a cognitive construct that is goal oriented and is created from the joining of two elemental pieces, 1) agency thinking, and 2) pathways thinking. Agency thinking is the personal belief in one’s ability to initiate and maintain actions toward goal achievement. Pathways thinking is the personal belief in one’s ability to create routes to goal achievement. When an individual has agentic thinking coupled with the ability to see and create multiple routes to a goal then the individual has hope of goal achievement. It is essential to teach gifted students the processes of developing cognitive hopefulness because gifted students often enter the classroom knowing much of the content that will be taught and with the capability to accelerate their learning of that which is not already known. Without the ability to set goals beyond the prescribed learning, the ability to identify and create multiple pathways to achieve the goals, and the personal agency to move on those pathways toward the goals, gifted individuals can become stuck in low-level learning situations. These low-level experiences create a dampening of effort, an avoidance of risk (academic and in other areas), underachievement, stress, boredom, lower self-esteem, and negative affect and emotions. Depression, stress, and boredom are the responses of gifted students when they cannot move forward in their area of talent (Csikszentmhalyi, Rathude, & Whalen, 1993). Experiencing negative emotions brings a narrowing of awareness, reduced cooperation, lower enjoyment, and increased disengagement and survival-oriented behaviors (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005).
When comparing high-hope and low-hope individuals, it has been found that the high-hopers think more positively about themselves, set higher goals, and select more goals. High hope individuals have a stronger belief in the likelihood that they will achieve their goals. They focus on success. If an individual lacks hope they believe that pathways to their goals are unavailable to them. They set low goals and have a sense of uncertainty and failure about being able to achieve their goals. Low-hope people have a tendency to experience negative emotions when working toward their goals (Snyder, 1994). Self-referential beliefs in situations of adversity are frequent in individuals who have a high ability to hope. Those who are hopeful have an undercurrent of internal self-statements such as, “I can,” I’ll make it,” and “I won’t give up.” As well, individuals who are high in trait hope trust in themselves to be able to adjust to prospective trouble and losses (Snyder, LaPointe, Crowson, & Early, 1998).
Teaching gifted learners to be hopeful in the education setting includes explicit teaching of the components of hopeful thought as defined by Snyder. It also encompasses modeling the process of hopeful thinking for learners, and having learners practice setting goals, using hopeful thinking, and engaging in metacognitive analysis regarding pathways and agency thinking, and movement toward goals. Instructors and parents should have students set long-term and short-term goals, identify pathways toward the goals, and scaffolding the movement and evaluation of pathways as movement toward goals occurs. Instructors and parents should help students build positive feelings about their capacity to move toward goals. They need to give students opportunities to overtly evaluate their feeling of capacity as they move toward the achievement of their goals.
Grit is a newer character term being used in education. The movement for the teaching and student development of grit is gaining steam in education circles. Angela Duckworth coined the term grit (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007) and defines it as passion and perseverance toward goal achievement over a long period of time. It is similar to hope, specifically the agency component of hope, in that it is goal oriented and individuals are expected to sustain movement toward their goal. Like those with high hope, gritty individuals would be expected to have a sense of agency and positive self-referential beliefs and self-statements as they move toward their goals.
Duckworth has indicated that research has not yet revealed how to make students gritty. It hasn’t told us how to teach students stick-to-itiveness. Teaching students Dweck’s theory of growth mindset seems to be helpful. When students understand that their ability can change with effort it would make sense that they would be motivated to develop stick-to-itiveness and become grittier. Developing a classroom culture where challenge and struggle are highly valued over right and wrong answers or test scores will also aid in the development of grit. Explicitly teaching students that sticking with goals to attainment is important to their development of grit. Allowing struggle helps the student experience how important tenacity and perseverance are. Educators should teach students about intrinsic motivation and expect intrinsic motivation. They must help students find and develop their passions. It is necessary for educators to focus on altering students’ attitudes about what is possible and bring them to the belief that the struggle will pay off.
What do educators need to know about the differences in cognitive development between boys and girls?
Anyone reading this article understands that boys and girls are different in many ways. I have been in education for 20 years and I have known from the first day that boys and girls act differently in the learning environment. Most teachers would say the same thing. Although the recognition of gender differences has existed for a long time, pinpointing the exact differences and why there are gender differences is being understood more fully as researchers explore gender learning variations and the reasons behind them.
Gender and education research has begun to show a mismatch between boys’ and girls’ learning brains and how education is being delivered. Educators and education researchers have spent many years researching and working on correcting negative gender biases toward girls. Finding ways to have gender equity for girls in our schools has been an important focus. However, statistics indicate that approximated 70 percent of Ds and Fs and half of As are earned by boys, 66 percent of learning disability diagnoses are dispensed to boys, boys represent 90 percent of discipline referrals, 80 percent of high school dropouts are male, and males make up fewer than 40 percent of college students (Gurian, 2004). This information gives indication that it is important to give more attention to what the boys in schools need as well.
The education profession as a whole needs more male teachers. Approximately 76 percent of teachers in the United States are female. This means that roughly 76 percent of classrooms have classroom routines, instruction, assignments, projects, assessments, classroom management, and behavior expectations, that are created, planned, and implemented through the female learning brain lens. This is good news for female students but not necessarily good news for male students as their learning needs may not always be met. Recognizing the differences in brain development can help educators find solutions to some of the challenges we face in classrooms.
The function and development of the lobes in the cerebral cortex are different for boys and girls. Girls have statistically significant differences in cortical development and use of the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes of the brain. For girls, the frontal lobe develops more quickly than the frontal lobe of boys which means that girls make fewer impulsive decisions and girls more readily and efficiently use the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes of the brain. Boys show a significant difference in the use of the cortex of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that receives information from the sensory systems, the spinal cord, and other parts of the brain that regulate motor movement. It coordinates voluntary movement. This gives reason to the difference in movement by boys in the classroom.
Neuroprocessing maps of the brain show lateralization of the boy brain activity with a pronounced difference from girls in the amount of cross hemisphere activity. A girl’s corpus callosum is up to 25 percent larger than a boy’s by adolescence. This allows more crosstalk in the brain which translates in to girls being better at multitasking, transitioning, and paying attention. Girls have stronger neural connectors than boys in their temporal lobes. These stronger neural connectors in the female brain allow for more sensually detailed memory storage, better listening skills, better discrimination among tones of voice, and greater use of detail in writing assignments. A girl’s hippocampus is larger increasing the girls’ learning advantage, especially in language arts. On the whole, the complexities of reading and writing come easier to the female brain and the female brain tends to drive toward stimulants that involve complex texture, tonality and mental activity.
Where the female brain uses the cortical areas of the brain for verbal and emotive functioning, the male brain uses these areas for spatial and mechanical functioning. This makes boys want to move objects through space – balls, model airplanes, their arms, their legs…. Boys have less serotonin and oxytocin, the primary human bonding chemical, than girls. This makes them more likely to be physically impulsive and less likely to combat their natural impulsiveness which makes it hard for boys to sit still and easy for them to turn and chat with a friend. The boy brain needs to enter a rest state in order to recharge, renew, and reorient itself. This rest state may look like falling asleep, tapping pencils or fidgeting in order to stay attentive. The male brain is better suited for diagrams, pictures, symbols, abstractions and objects moving through space than for the monotony of words. The more words a teacher uses during the lesson, the more likely a boy is to “zone out” or go into a rest state.
How can educators apply this information (boy/girl cognitive development) to help students learn more effectively?
As mentioned earlier, stronger neural connectors in the female brain allow for more sensually detailed memory storage, better listening skills, better discrimination among tones of voice, and greater use of detail in writing assignments. Educators need to openly teach and foster the development of listening skills and how to differentiate and understand the meaning of intonation of voice and body language. Instructors need to teach, reteach, model, and scaffold using and identifying detail in speech and writing
One option teachers can use to help boys with their need to move and be active in the classroom is Whole Brain Teaching and Learning techniques. These generally allow for more movement, a fast pace, and interaction in the learning. If possible, allow boys space to spread out if they need to. Allowing boys to move during the learning is important (Gurian, 2011). This movement can be as simple as allowing them to stand at their desk while answering or asking questions. Have a variety of seating options in the classroom. For example classroom seating might included traditional desks with traditional chairs, tables with chairs, or rugs for use when sitting on the floor. There are teachers who offer an exercise ball option as a replacement for a traditional chair. Varied seating options may lead to a classroom with more movement and noise but boys can actually stay more focused with a little bit of movement.
Boys are also better able to verbalize when they are “doing something.” Make stress balls available for students during class. Boys are able to follow instructions better when they are listed or bulleted instead of written in paragraph form. Don’t allow the boy brain to go into the rest state. Limit the teacher talk to intervals of 10 minutes with activities interspersed. Increase experiential learning by incorporating problem based learning projects. Let boys and girls choose topics that appeal to them by giving greater choice in what they read and write. Recognize that action, competition, and heroism are of interest to the boys and allow learning through action and competition. Use strategic grouping, offer single-gender learning environments by using single-gender groupings for different purposes in coeducational settings.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., Rathunde, K., & Whalen, S. (1993). Talented teenagers: The roots of success and failure. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, M., Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 92(6), 1087-1101.
Dweck, C. S. (2000). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.
Fredrickson, B. L., & Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition & Emotion, 19, 313-332.
Gagné, F. (2004). Transforming gifts into talents: the DMGT as a developmental theory. High Ability Studies, 15, 119-147.
Gurian, M. (2011). Boys and girls learn differently! A guide for teachers and parents. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Gurian, M., & Stevens, K. (2004). With girls and boys in mind. Educational Leadership, 62(3), 21-26.
Sayler, M. F. (2009). Gifted and thriving: A deeper understanding of meaning of GT. In L. Shavinina, The international handbook on giftedness (215-230). Amsterdam: Springer Science & Business Media.
Snyder, C. R. (1994). The psychology of hope: You can get there from here. New York, NY: Free Press.
Snyder, C. R., LaPointe, A. B., Crowson, J. J., Jr., & Early, S. (1998). Preferences of high- and low-hope people for self-referential input. Cognition & Emotion, 12, 807-823.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.