Student News

A Response to: Is Your Child a “Warrior” or “Worrier”?


The first part of the article Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure and Others Fall Apart? mainly focuses on student anxiety related to test-taking with fleeting mentions in other arenas, such as sport or artistic performances.  According to authors Merryman and Bronson,  how one deals with stress – whether one uses it to perform better or to perform less than optimal –  has much to do with brain chemistry:

“The people who perform best in normal conditions may not be the same people
who perform best under stress,” Diamond says. People born with the fast-acting enzymes “actually need the stress to perform their best.” To them, the everyday is underwhelming; it doesn’t excite them enough to stimulate the sharpness of mind
of which they are capable. They benefit from that surge in dopamine – it raises the
level up to optimal. They are like Superman emerging from the phone booth in
times of crisis; their abilities to concentrate and solve problems go up.

Some scholars have suggested that we are all Warriors or Worriers. Those with fast-acting dopamine clearers are the Warriors, ready for threatening environments where maximum performance is required. Those with slow-acting dopamine clearers
are the Worriers, capable of more complex planning. Over the course of evolution,
both Warriors and Worriers were necessary for human tribes to survive.

But doesn’t it depend?
We all know the student who can waltz through a theater performance yet crash and burn during a test, or a high school student who is a confident test-taker but chokes during a speech.

1480686042-4718-in-a-jar-thumb-300x431-1024So while the single-shot stakes of a standardized exam is particularly ill suited for Worrier genotypes, this doesn’t mean that they should be shielded from all challenge. In fact, shielding them could be the worst response, depriving them of the chance to acclimate to recurring stressors.
Johnson explains this as a form of stress inoculation: You tax them without overwhelming them. “And then allow for sufficient recovery,” he continued. Training, preparation and repetition defuse the Worrier’s curse.

It would be fairly difficult to go through life “shielded from all challenge”.  Sounds like practice-makes-habit but aren’t we talking about test prep and how to practice how to take a test?

(See  my review of Sian Bellock’s book in the post Choke, Test-Takers: A New Way to Look at Test-Prep? )  And shouldn’t there be other forms of assessments, such as portfolios of work as expressed by educator Tony Wagner in his book, Creating Innovators?

The article then advocates for more competition – the right kind – among students to acclimate them to the stresses one needs to be able to handle
in life.  The authors make the case that  the SAT and other high-stakes standardized tests “lack the side benefits of competing that normally buffer children’s anxiety.”  The answer?  Bring on academic competitions such as spelling bees, Math competitions and chess clubs.

High-stakes academic testing isn’t going away. Nor should competition among
students. In fact several scholars have concluded that what students need is more academic competition, but modeled on the kinds children enjoy.

One would think the above-mentioned forms of “right” competition usually would be selected by students themselves. In other words, these are venues of choice.  I would think a poor speller wouldn’t exactly be thrilled by the prospect of a public spelling bee competition.  Rick Lavoie tackles the issue of competition along this line of thinking.  In fact, he believes
there is another greater motivator which I won’t spoil for you – check out
The 3 Myths about Competition: How it affects student motivation.

What say ye on this topic?  You may also want to see the Kindergarten Test Prep video below, especially the 2:30-4:00 mark – it’s a gem.  You’ll see
what I mean.  Video runs 5 minutes.