Flutes and pianos

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From Business Insider, “Science says that parents of successful kids have these 7 things in common” by Drake Baer, Mar. 30, 2015, 2:57 PM: Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/parenting-successful-kids-2015-3#ixzz3XcCjKIv6

I pulled the following text from the article’s end, a section on the benefits of teaching a growth mindset.

Where kids think success comes from also predicts their attainment.

Over decades, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has discovered that children (and adults) think about success in one of two ways. Over at the always-fantastic Brain Pickings, Maria Popova says they go a little something like this:

A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.

A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of un-intelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.

At the core is a distinction in the way you assume your will affects your ability, and it has a powerful effect on kids. If kids are told that they aced a test because of their innate intelligence, that creates a “fixed” mindset. If they succeeded because of effort, that teaches a “growth” mindset.

In one study of 4-year-olds, Dweck let kids choose between solving easy or difficult jigsaw puzzles. The kids with a fixed mindset chose the easier one, since it would validate their god-given abilities. The growth-oriented kids opted for the harder puzzle, since they saw it as an opportunity to learn.

Like Popova notes, the “fixed” kids wanted to do the easy puzzle since it would help them look smart and thus successful; the “growth” kids wanted the hard puzzles since their sense of success was tied up in becoming smarter.

So when you praise your kids, don’t congratulate them for being so smart, commend them for working so hard.

Eduhonesty: Being pretty sick of testing, I thought I might (gasp!) write about another topic. I failed, but here’s my latest fail, complete with a picture of the family piano. The young man on the piano has children older than he was in that photo now, children whose feet once dangled down from the piano bench until we had a special, matching, oak footrest made.


How do we convince kids to view their intelligence as malleable and expandable? For my own kids, the piano offered at least one direct connection to a growth mindset. Intelligence and intellectual progress are tricky to measure, while the tinkling of piano keys reflects learning in a straightforward, easily-seen dynamic. In our house’s music room, years of piano lessons unfolded; simple songs became complex sonatas, and end-of-practice chocolates became gold medals and trophies.

As we layer test upon test, packing our classrooms with strategies for score-improvement, music programs are being sacrificed in many districts because their content cannot teach to the tests. Of the three music teachers in my school, only one kept her position for next year. Music’s connection to higher math and English scores lacks immediacy in these frantic times, so administrators trade in music programs for alternative electives more likely to boost scores.

For America’s kids, these lost music programs carry costs that may not be obvious on the surface. What is the cost of not finding out that hard work and practice can result in the ability to play the string bass? The cost of never getting the opportunity to discover that persistence can make a good drummer out of somebody who fumbled those drumsticks for months? We are taking successes away from a group of kids who need successes, kids who don’t believe in themselves anymore, not after years of dodging through the data-strewn minefield that the average school represents. Those music classes might restore some cracked and battered self-esteem or, if not, at least provide students with a few hours of solace as they crash through the educational underbrush, stumbling toward their next test.

The above article discusses a critical point. Intelligence doesn’t amount to much without effort. Any teacher knows that. America’s children require palpable opportunities to create efforts that yield results. Four years in band can rescue a boy who might otherwise have dropped out of school. Choir class can be the one, bright light in a girl’s school day. Why do we need to keep our music classes? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”

In the silence between, we can pause to hear the music that has been sculpted by hours of practice and hard work. In the silence between, we can make out the clear connection between effort and creation. Tests are measurements, not creations. If we want to teach effort, we have to provide opportunities for creation, and a chance to learn the connection between work and the stretching of our abilities. Some students may make that connection in mathematics, some in music, and some in track and field. Our students have innumerable talents and interests.

We talk a lot about diversity nowadays. I’ll submit one last thought: As we hone in on mathematics and English to the exclusion of all other subjects, we are damaging and even destroying much of the diversity that once made America’s schools great.