Task Persistence

good job!Children who struggle to read, write or spell are often criticized for being “lazy.” They’re “not trying,” the thinking goes, and so they get blamed for failing to measure up to their peers. On the flip side, children who excel at academics are often praised for being “smart” and “talented.” What we know about language-processing disorders, such as dyslexia, and what we’re learning about learning should call both of those approaches into question.

In a recent post, I talked about the significance of delayed gratification or strategic allocation of attention as components of effective learning. In this post, I’d like to talk about another tremendously important learning skill: task persistence.


What is Task Persistence?

Task persistence is simply the ability to stick with something in spite of distractions, physical or emotional discomfort, or lack of immediate success. We are familiar with the image of the Olympics-hopeful athlete, visualizing the goal and practicing without regard to weather, worries, or even injuries. That’s task persistence.

In a September 14, 2011, New York Times article, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” Paul Tough talks about how educators and psychologists are working to understand why some students succeed and some don’t and how the notion of character comes into that equation — things like self control (remember the allure of the marshmallow in the delayed gratification studies?), passion and task persistence. The author quotes Professor Angela Duckworth: “…learning is hard. True, learning is fun, exhilarating, and gratifying — but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging. . . . To help chronically low-performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.”

Still speaking of Duckworth, he goes on to say, “People who accomplished great things, she noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take. She decided she needed to name this quality, and she chose the word ‘grit.’” Duckworth even developed a “Grit Scale” index — a quick self-assessment that could predict success.


Mindset and Task Persistence

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has spent most of her career studying what she calls Mindset and has written a book by that title. As the Mindset website explains,

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

Interestingly, Dweck draws a fine point on the hazards of “praising brains and talent” and emphasizes the importance of a growth mindset “based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” Her curriculum, called Brainology®, puts the growth mindset philosophy to work.

I’m going to talk more about praising effort/grit instead of brains/talent in another post, but here are a couple of examples. Parents can often be heard saying something like, “You’re so smart!” or “You must be really talented to be able to do that!” Instead, more character-building praise would be, “Good job! You worked really hard on that!” or “Wow! I can see that you put a whole lot of effort into that picture. It was worth it!” or “I like how you continued working until you finished the job. It would have been easier to just quit and go play games, but you stuck to it and worked hard.” In these examples, the child is being praised for effort — praise that helps the child see his or her own contribution to success — instead of for something that the child is “born with.”

Carol Dweck says, “When children have a growth mindset they believe in effort.” Effort, like “grit,” is just another name for task persistence. Duckworth’s studies, Dweck’s research and the Brainology curriculum are completely consistent with what we do here at Lexercise. We believe that with the right attitude (growth mindset, task persistence) and the right tools (Lexercise), children who struggle to read, write and spell can overcome their challenges and take their place alongside their peers.

If your child has difficulty reading, writing, or spelling, I invite you to have a look at our Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment page or to contact us at info@lexercise.com.

One Response to Task Persistence

  • Scott T. commented

    Good post Sandie. Po Bronson talks about the importance of persistence in a chapter in new book titled Nuture Shock – how false praise can break down persistence. This chapter reinforces your thoughts that praising for effort is more important than praising IQ. Good stuff.

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Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC

MA/CCC - Cofounder and CKO

Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.