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becoming-brilliant-bookIn their new book, Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor in UD’s School of Education, along with co-author Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University, focus on the six skills they say will help children become the thinkers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Published by the American Psychological Association, this book is rooted in research on child developmental.  (Listen to interview with Golinkoff/Hirsh-Pasek on Brookings Institution podcast).

They argue that the American educational model is not adequately preparing its tiny citizens for success in the 21st century. Today’s kids need well-developed “soft” skills, referred to as the 6Cs,  to thrive in the global workforce.

The 6Cs stand for:

  • collaboration
  • communication
  • critical thinking
  • creativity
  • confidence
  • content

These so-called “soft skills” are anything but; they are foundational to children’s success in the workforce as well as in their personal lives.

Since the advent of high stakes testing under No Child Left Behind, schools rely largely on the “font of wisdom” model where a teacher talks at the class for the bulk of the day. Yet research doesn’t support that kids learn best this way. Instead, studies suggest kids flourish when they are more actively engaged in learning.

Critical thinking/Communication/Collaboration

“One of the things we have learned from the science of learning is that we learn more when we are active then when we are passive,” said Golinkoff. “In schools today, children are in many cases “receiving” as opposed to “putting out.” We want children to have to think and take their thinking to new situations and new problems so we know that they really learned something because they can apply it in new ways.”

By offering multiple choice testing, we discourage children from thinking about alternative approaches to solving that math problem or alternative reasons for why the Civil War might have occurred,” Golinkoff asserts.”We really want to get kids thinking and fighting about ideas.”

She insists children can’t become good collaborators if they can’t communicate their ideas persuasively. “You have to be able to speak and make an argument and you have to be able to listen – a lost art – and to write well. These are the kinds of communications we all need to be able to use in our daily lives.”

Collaborative learning versus competitive learning

Competitive learning is kids vying against each other for the best grade. There can only be one winner. Many of us grew up in educational systems like that and if it happens all the time, it gives you the impression that it’s “me against the world.”

Research tells us when we evaluate children based on scores, it is not as effective as when we tell them “you tried so hard, that was great!” When we praise children for effort, they are more likely to try and solve new problems.

“We are worried about what goes on in school from a competitive standpoint. When there is only one winner, children may not feel motivated enough to keep working,” said Golinkoff. “We don’t want kids to give up when they fail. You learn so much from your failures.”

Collaboration isn’t used enough in our schools today because children take tests as individuals. You can’t work with your group on the test, so that’s why group learning is discouraged. But in life, people collaborate in offices, among corporate locations and even across international boundaries–with people they have never met.

We need to help children develop the skills to work together rather than as individuals. It’s through collaborative learning that you learn to compensate for your own weaknesses. You learn to control your impulses, to listen to others and to compromise. And in some cases, you learn more because you hear the ideas of others and have to figure out how to accommodate them.


It’s undeniable that if you want to make a contribution in a field, you have to know something about that subject. If you want to work in accounting, you have to know something about accounting. The problem is that we have made content the most important thing we teach kids.

In many ways, we are teaching the basic skills like we did in the 19th century with memorization. A certain amount of drill and practice is essential, but even that can be done in a fun way. It needs to be more than just copious worksheets.

Children must develop basic skills, but they also must know how to use that knowledge. They need to apply it to new situations, to solve other problems, whether inside or outside the classroom.  This happens by teaching a subject using authentic problems – problems that really happen in the real world.

Golinkoff provided this example. “When I was in the fourth grade, our teacher gave us stopwatches in groups to time ourselves reciting the multiplication tables and see if we could beat our own times. I loved that! It was so much fun! Even drill and practice can be done in a way that makes children joyful and excited. I worry children are not experiencing enough joy in school. The more their wheels turn, the more they learn. They have to be active.”


CEOs of corporations have complained that their employees lack creativity. Some of that comes from schools that have a lot of bubble tests where there is one right answer.

“We visited a school in Pennsylvania in which they were teaching the theme of flight. They had the room decorated with things that fly, maps on the wall with destinations marked. They had to do math and science and reading assignment all involving the concept of flight. This is the kind of thing that really gets kids going!” said Golinkoff.

This project-based approach integrates the learning and makes it all seem worthwhile. It helps a child realize why they are learning these things. This approach can also feed into children’s imaginations and we shouldn’t neglect that. Stories that are fantastical engage children more and yield more learning than stories that are realistic. And, nurturing imagination feeds into creativity.

What can parents do to strength the 6Cs in their kids?

At the end of every chapter are suggestions that parents can follow in their own homes and lives to increase their children’s abilities as well as their own. There are ways in which you can engage in these skills in everyday life that will encourage your children to engage in the kind of thinking that they may not be urged to do in school.

For example, if you have a household problem, share it with your kids. Say, “What do you think we should do about this?” You might be surprised at the kinds of solutions that your kids, who are not yet jaded and don’t know what the typical solutions are, will come up with for you.

“Society thrives when we craft environments, in and out of school, that support happy, healthy, thinking, caring, and social children who become collaborative, creative, competent, and responsible citizens of tomorrow,” said Golinkoff. “It’s not all about achieving success in the school or in the workplace. It’s about becoming a good person and a part of a community.”


Brookings blog on Becoming Brilliant.