Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why by Paul Tough

22. Deeper Learning

  • In this century, deeper-learning proponents argue, the job market requires a very different set of skills, ones that our current educational system is not configured to help students develop. They are: the ability to work in teams, to present ideas to a group, to write effectively, to think deeply and analytically about problems, and to take information and techniques learned in one context and adapt them to a new and unfamiliar problem or situation. Such skills need practice. At many schools run on deeper learning principles, there is an ethos that celebrates peer critique, revision, and tinkering. Student work often goes through many drafts over the course of the school year, based on feedback from teachers and classmates. You are much more likely to find these ideas in use if you visit a school in a well-off neighborhood. Deeper-learning methods, when employed well, produce measurable benefits for students in poverty.

23. Solutions

  • First, we need to change our policies. Consistently creating “fortified environments” for poor children will mean fundamentally rethinking and remaking many of our entrenched institutions and practices such as: how we provide aid to low-income parents; how we create, fund, and manage systems of early-childhood care and education; how we train our teachers; how we discipline our students and assess their learning; and how we run our schools.
  • Second, we need to change our practices. The project of creating better environments for children growing up in adversity is, at bottom, the work of individuals. Which means that the teachers, mentors, social workers, coaches, and parents who spend their days working with low-income children don’t need to wait for large-scale policy changes to be enacted in order to take actions today and tomorrow and the next day that will help those children succeed.
  • Finally, we need to change our way of thinking. Helping children in adversity to transcend their difficult circumstances is hard and often painful work. It can be depressing, discouraging — even infuriating. But what the research shows is that it can also make a tremendous difference, not only in the lives of individual children and their families, but in our communities and our nation as a whole.

About the Author

  • Paul Tough is the author of three books and a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and a regular contributor to the public radio program This American Life. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, GQ, and Esquire. He has worked as an editor at The New York Times Magazine and Harper’s Magazine, and as a producer for This American Life. He was the founding editor of Open Letters, an online magazine. He lives with his wife and two sons in Montauk, New York. For more information, please visit PaulTough.Com, or follow Paul on Twitter: @paultough.
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