Thursday, April 30, 2015

Read: On process, perserverence and praise

Praising our children is a norm. We cheer the baby taking his first shaking, drunken steps. We declare our love for every painting or drawing that the six year old churns out. We push and encourage, and celebrate successes. Yet, it seems that praise may be beneficial or detrimental, depending on what kind of praise is given:

"The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them. 

Praising children's innate abilities, as Jonathan's parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” (consisting of personal effort and effective strategies) rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life."

Focusing on growth and process makes sense. After all, not every child grows up to be a genius or prodigy. Even talent can only get you that far, and behind each genius is a  whole lot of hard work and dedication: 

"And yet research is converging on the conclusion that great accomplishment, and even what we call genius, is typically the result of years of passion and dedication and not something that flows naturally from a gift. Mozart, Edison, Curie, Darwin and C├ęzanne were not simply born with talent; they cultivated it through tremendous and sustained effort."

So how can we cultivate that growth mindset in ourselves and in our children? The article has various recommendations (it is a really good read and I highly recommend it!), one of which is to read and tell stories of people who have attained achievements through hard work. We've been reading more children biographies these days, and here are a few titles that might help to explore that idea more:

:: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

This beautifully illustrated book by award-winning author and illustrator Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet (whose partnership previously produced biographical gems such as A River of Words, and A Splash of Red) tells of the story of Peter Mark Roget, the creator of Roget's Thesaurus. We follow Peter as he grows up and learns that books can be good friends, friends that don't have to be left behind if you move. We see him making lists. Lists of Latin words, of the things he learnt, of plants and insects, as he wandered through the parks of London:

"His mother complained that Peter was always scribbling. But Peter's word lists were not just scribbles. Words, Peter learnt, were powerful things. And when he put them in long, neat rows, he felt as if the world itself clicked into order."

We see Peter studying to be a doctor, and becoming a tutor as he waits to be old enough to be taken seriously as a doctor. We read about him treating the poor and sick, while working on his lists at night. We see shy Peter being able to give lectures to science societies, and still working on his Thesaurus even after it was published, so that "whenever you need it, you can still find the right word". 

What I so loved about this story of Peter Roget is being able to trace the creation of the Thesaurus as part of his life. Writing lists was his passion, but we are able to view him as a regular person: holding a job, having a family and children, working long hours at night to pursue his passion. This is definitely a book that celebrates process rather than just talent!

:: On a Beam of Light:

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own resason for exisiting." 
- Albert Einstein

And so we see little Albert as a child, not speaking much, but looking "around with his big curious eyes", as his parents worry about how their child was not like any other children. We see him asking question after question, provoking his teachers label him a disruption to the class. Who would have thought that such a child would turn out to be one of the world's most brilliant scientists? 

We read of the boy who dared to be different, who read and wondered. Who grew up wanting to teach, but having to work in a government office. Who only managed to be recognized for his great ideas when he was much older. Vladimir Radunsky's quirky sketchings go very well with this story of the man with the wild hair, who didn't like to wear socks with his shoes, and sometimes wandered about eating an ice-cream cone.

I love this book for how it shows that success sometimes does not come immediately, and how an inquiring mind is key to understanding the world around us. The book briefly introduces some of Einstein's discoveries, while focusing on his constantly working mind that puzzled over the mysteries of the universe:

"Everywhere Albert went he tried to figure out the secrets of the universe. And he never forgot about the beam of light that he rode so long ago in his imagination. Albert figured out that no person, no thing, could ever zoom through space as fast as a beam of light."

While celebrating the genius of the man, this book also reminds us that great discoveries come with time, and hard work.

:: The Iridescence of Birds:

Most picture-book biographies of artists tend to focus on the work of the artist (if you are looking for a good title in that aspect, try Matisse, the King of Colour from the Anholt Artist series). However, this story on Henri Matisse veers from the norm to focus on a bigger question:

"Why do painters what they do? Do they paint what they see or what they remember?"

This book follows the life of young Henri, and how his parents (particularly his mother) nurtured his love for colour and pattern. We see his mother filling the house with colour: painted plates on the wall, arranging fruit and flowers with little Henri, and hanging red rugs on the walls of the house. We finally see how this little boy grows up to be a great painter who painted light and movement, who painted his feelings and what he remembered in his childhood.

The text is simple and almost poetic, and I enjoyed this fresh look at the artist. I was also reminded that while talent is innate, interests and ability can be nurtured, and parents have a powerful influence on their children in that aspect. It certainly encourages me to continue to create and celebrate art in our home!

PS: We will be adding more book recommendations over in our FB folder "Rave Reads". Do like the folder to keep updated on new recommendations, since these tend not to show up in the newsfeed otherwise!

PPS: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Linking up with:

Growing with the Tans


  1. Such lovely books with powerful messages! Thank you for sharing. I'll try to get them from the library soon. :)

  2. "The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus" seems like a wonderful book to read. Can't wait to check them out! :)

  3. Indeed,I love the concept of growth mindset! The right word comes at a right time asI am finding ways to inspire my eldest to write. Lol. Will share this great review post!



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