How Children Succeed

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (January 17, 2015)


Over Christmas, I read a book that I really enjoyed. Entitled ‘How Children Succeed’, the author goes on a journey of discovery to find out what makes children succeed. Through looking a series of scientific studies, interviewing and studying individuals over a period of time, speaking to experts in the field of education, the author Paul Tough comes to the conclusion that is the subtitle of the book: ‘Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character’.


In the world today, every person is aiming for success. Every parent wants his child to succeed and thrive in the world. Each person’s definition of success may vary but in the book, success is defined as doing well at school, attending and completing college and finding a well-paying job. And in Paul Tough’s findings, he found that a person’s success can be determined by non-cognitive skills (including grit, curiosity, character traits) more than by academic results.


One of the stories Tough shares is a program in the United States that worked with low-income and low-performing students in high school. These students were given extra classes to help them improve their academic scores and the focus was entirely on their cognitive skills (Math, science, language skills). They found that after the programme, students improved in their scores, so much so that many were about to go to college, something that they would not have been able to had they not worked on their academic, cognitive skills. However, they continued tracking these students in college and they found that a considerable number of them did not complete college. So their academic scores got them into college but they didn’t complete it. Why?


They found that these students struggled with self-control, perseverance, diligence, handling friendships and emotional issues which caused them to suffer in their academics. So they chose not to continue with their degree. So, even though they had the cognitive skills to handle college, they were not equipped with the non-cognitive skills to thrive.


In the book, he shares the ‘Marshmallow Experiment’ that was executed in the 1960s by Walter Mischel. In the experiment, children were placed in a room individually and were given a marshmallow on a plate. They were told that if they could refrain from eating the marshmallow and wait until the adult returned to the room, he/she could have 2 marshmallows instead of the 1. As the experimenter left the room, the child would be left alone in the room whilst being secretly filmed. Some children could not resist and ate the marshmallow. Others tried distracting themselves by looking in the other direction, singing or making up stories. And some were able to withstand the temptation and wait for the adult to return. They later tracked these children during school years and college then adult life and found that they children who had more self control and were able to delay gratification, did better in school and were more successful as adults. So their non-cognitive skill contributed to their success.


Tough also shares how non-cognitive skills can be measured and can be taught. Contrary to popular belief, character traits such as self-control, perseverance, responsibility etc can be nurtured and taught. And if those character traits are the ones that can determine success, it’s a good idea to start now!



#CharacterEducation #success #self-control #perseverance #diligence #non-cognitive_skills #marshmallow_experiment #character_traits

孩子的成功之道


我在聖誕假期裏讀了一本好書,名為《How Children Succeed》(中文版:《孩子如何成功:讓孩子受益一生的新教養方式》)。作者保羅.塔夫經過多番研究採訪,追蹤了不同孩子的成長階段,並走訪了多位教育專家,最終得出一個結論:恆心和好奇心等性格的隱藏力量是孩子的成功之道,他以此作為本書英文版的副標題。


每個人都渴望自己成為人中之龍,而為人父母者更是希望孩子能成龍成鳳。每個人對「成功」的理解有所不同,本書作者將其定義為:在學校表現優秀、取得大學學位和找到一份高薪厚職。然而,他認為成功並非完全取決於學業成績,取而代之,非認知技能(Non-cognitive skills)──例如堅持不懈、富好奇心等性格特徵──其實更為關鍵。


其中,作者分享了一項美國的實驗結果,尤其發人深省。研究人員為來自低收入家庭、且成績較差的高中生安排額外課程,幫助他們提高認知能力(例如數學、科學和語言能力等)以改善學業成績。結果顯示這群高中生的學業表現的確大大改善了,有些甚至成功考獲大學的入場券。但隨著研究繼續,當中竟然有一定數量的學生不能順利大學畢業。到底在什麼地方出了錯呢?研究人員發現這些學生缺乏自制能力、恆心及毅力,在處理友誼及情緒問題方面感到吃力,因而影響學習成效、甚至要放棄學位。由此可見,單靠認知技能仍不足以應付生活挑戰。


另一個值得一提的是沃爾特.米歇爾在一九六零年代進行的「棉花糖實驗」。這個實驗要求孩子單獨留在裝有攝錄機的房間裏,並給他們一人一塊棉花糖。研究人員其後離開房間,並告訴孩子如果他回來時棉花糖還在,便能得到多一塊作獎勵。有些孩子從一開始便直接吃掉棉花糖;有些則為了抗拒誘惑而嘗試做小動作來分心——背向棉花糖、唱歌或講故事。最終有部分孩子成功延遲了自己對棉花糖的欲望,他們等到研究人員回來兌現了獎勵。經過長時間的追蹤研究,米歇爾發現這些經得起眼前誘惑的孩子有較佳的自制能力,長大後更容易成功,進一步證明非認知技能正是成功的關鍵。


更重要的是,作者徹底扭轉了我們一貫的想法,非認知技能如自制能力、恆心和責任感等是可以被開發和量度的。所謂性格決定命運,從小培養孩子好性格是邁向成功的第一步!

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