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Why You Want Your Child to Get Stuck

Brain Research Friday, 26 Aug 2022

As we begin another engaging and joyful school year, it may prove helpful to consider what established brain research teaches us about how
students learn and grow intellectually. On the heels of a wonderful workshop on learning and the brain that our faculty/staff completed this
week with Rebecca Hendrickson, here are ten take-aways from Rebecca and the research that we ask all NPES parents/caregivers to keep in mind when interacting with their children about learning:

  1. Human brains are not fixed biologically to be able to perform certain tasks better than others, i.e. there is no such thing as a congenital
    “math” brain or “creative” mind.
  2. All brains have neuroplasticity, that is we have the ability to rewire our own brains to accomplish new things; we rewire our brains
    through faith in our ultimate success (attitude), our acceptance of and resilience for struggle as what learning looks like, and our
    receiving the supports needed for us to struggle productively to reach a goal we have set for ourselves.
  3. Getting stuck is required for learning and growth to take place; learning is not knowing “answers”; it’s a process of wondering, seeking, and finding new skills and concepts with both failures and successes along the way.
  4. Mistakes are to be celebrated as interesting stops along the journey to learning something new and meaningful that we will hold forever.
  5. Fear of failure is natural and should be acknowledged, but we must help children overcome this fear and embrace curiosity and the excitement that accompanies lasting growth.
  6. Being wrong only feels bad because we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that being smart is being perfect; the truth is, perfectionism prevents us from reaching our full academic potential and literally limits the breadth and depth of our learning.
  7. Engaging in productive intellectual struggle and the growth that follows is an equity issue; every child deserves the right to make mistakes, to struggle, and to celebrate their own impactful growth when they’ve overcome the challenges to getting there.
  8. High expectations for students matter, but we define high expectations not by expecting students to be correct (taking no risks to grow) but by how they exert themselves through sustained and purposeful effort, making plenty of mistakes as they go and integrating them into their learning process.
  9. Students of all ability levels grow more when they make mistakes than when they avoid them.
  10. Adults can serve as models for learning and growth by admitting mistakes and helping children see how we learn from them rather than shame ourselves (or others), as well as by engaging in what Dr. Amanda Jansen calls “rough-draft thinking,” that is demonstrating that we revise our learning as we go, focusing on process over product, and on growth over certainty. Academic excellence emerges from a genuine process of faithful and productive struggle, not from innate intelligence.