As someone who cried herself to sleep over her middle school math homework, I know that trying harder isn’t always the solution.
I believe the real solution is not to try harder, but to try again, differently: with a new tool, or with a different approach, or even just after taking a break to refresh your mind.
Perhaps the reason why some of the Chinese students discussed in the article (or students anywhere in the world) appear to have more of an “innate willingness to work hard” is just because they’ve learned how they learn most pleasurably and effortlessly. Maybe they’ve learned how to create flow states for themselves so they enjoy what they’re doing, instead of just grinding it out.
As a learner, I feel like the most useful thing I can do is examine how I learn best. And when I’m learning that way, it might not even feel like I’m working hard—it might actually feel effortless! From the outside, it might look like I’m a “hard worker,” but actually, I just don’t want to stop, because I’m in the zone.
As an educator, I feel like my own role is to help students learn how they learn best—so they can choose to learn what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, and do what they want to do, how they want to do it. Not just in school, but for the rest of their lives.
There’s always going to be some sort of gap between the way people teach us and the way we best learn. Our task is to find out how to create our own optimal conditions, no matter what we’re given.