Parents and teachers regularly struggle with finding a balance between challenging a child’s intellect and promoting their self-esteem. We want to stimulate and promote higher-order thinking skills while at the same time wanting to build a child’s confidence so that they feel good about their accomplishments. We want to push our children to succeed but are often concerned that pushing too hard will create an unhealthy amount of stress.
But when faced with this conundrum, we don’t realize that some level of stress is good and is, in fact, an important part of dealing with life’s challenges. This type of stress is often referred to as “eustress,” and was first identified by a world-renowned expert on stress management, Dr. Hans Selye. Eustress is the type of stress that makes us feel good and fulfilled, like the feeling we get when hitting a home run or scoring the winning goal. Eustress is what makes us want to practice our serve or free-throw over and over until it has been perfected. And from an educational standpoint, eustress is what a group of Fourth Grade students were feeling today when they were comparing the relationships between numbers in Pascal’s Triangle to a problem involving combinations of pizza toppings.
The recurring comment heard during this math lesson was that it was “hard,” yet the students diligently worked together in small groups, comparing notes and using a variety of methods as they pooled their collective knowledge in an attempt to solve the problem. When subsequently asked if they liked the assignment, they were unanimous in saying that although it was “hard,” they also had “fun.” As one student stated, “I feel like my brain just exercised!”
The idea that hard work in school results in long-term success also made the news today when the findings of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. This international study compares the assessment results for 15-year-old students in the areas of reading, mathematics, and science literacy from 65 education systems representing approximately 80% of the global economy. Asian economies, including Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, once again consistently placed in the top ten across all subject areas. According to the PISA report, “Practice and hard work go a long way towards developing each student’s potential…”
The evidence is clear: we need to push our children to learn at the highest possible levels. Posnack teachers are encouraging students to move beyond their comfort zones, exercise their brains, and experience the feelings of satisfaction and achievement that result from eustress. Thomas Edison has been quoted as saying, “There is no substitute for hard work.” Whether it’s on the ball field or in the classroom, nothing can replace, as one Fourth Grade student called it today, “brain exercise.” And that’s just a fancy term for hard work.
Follow this link for more information on the PISA study.