WorldView: A Language Blog

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How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

By Denise Phillippe | Published: April 25, 2014

By Denise Phillippe

Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) belongs on the “must read” list of anyone raising children or working with them in a school or camp setting.

Author Paul Tough contends that non-cognitive skills or character strengths are more tied to success in school and in life than are academic skills. Based on research, Tough makes the argument that resilience and self-control, for example, matter more than standard measures of intelligence. And that they matter more than the kind of early, intensive academic preparation that many parents assure their children receive.

Cited research has been conducted in schools, in low and high income areas, in after-school programs, in labs with young children, in labs with mother and baby rats, and in health care settings. In addition to reading the studies, the author also interviewed the researchers.

Various character strengths—also known as non-cognitive skills—can be identified, but chief among those contributing to success in school and life are:

  • grit
  • self-control
  • zest
  • social intelligence
  • gratitude
  • optimism
  • curiosity

Importantly, these skills can be learned, practiced, and taught; they are not unchanging. In fact, these skills are rooted in brain chemistry and can be molded by home, school and out-of-school environments. Research from many perspectives indicates these skills are better predictors of success than IQ scores.

The ideas presented in the book are important related to raising any child from infancy and to working with children from impoverished backgrounds as well as with children being raised in such protected ways that they are shielded from life’s regular difficulties, which also serve as potential growth opportunities.

Camps are places and spaces in which non-cognitive skills can be practiced and learned; certainly at Concordia Language Villages our villagers develop cognitive skills through language learning, as well. Children have a chance to try new things in an environment that promotes learning new things. They are supported in learning new things, and they are supported in “failing forward” if the new thing doesn’t come easily. They are encouraged in persisting and overcoming and interacting positively with others. The language learning AND the character building that young people do at a Concordia Language Villages assist them on a path to a better, more successful, more fulfilled future. 

About Denise Phillippe

Denise Phillippe is the director for staff development and a member of the Concordia Language Villages' leadership group.  Denise has been on staff 31 years, including 12 as dean of the French Language Village.  She is fluent in French and has studied German.  Denise earned a bachelor’s degree in French and English from Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., and a master’s degree in French linguistics at Indiana University-Bloomington. 

She completed doctoral coursework in foreign and second language education at Ohio State University-Columbus.  Before working full time at Concordia Language Villages, she taught French at the high school and college levels for many years.  At Indiana University, she taught language teaching methodology and supervised French Department graduate student teaching associates.

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