What does it take to get really good at something?

Kathleen Cushman’s latest collaboration with students brings youth perspectives to that compelling question, while grounding their inquiry in the cognitive research on motivation, practice, and mastery. In this presentation, she uses the voices and images of her young co-investigators to illuminate the factors that move youth to tackle challenging tasks and to persist through their difficulties, whatever the learning environment.


Cushman began the nationwide “Practice Project” (an initiative of the nonprofit What Kids Can Do) by having students analyze their existing strengths, in order to gain insight about how we develop expert habits of mind and work. As these young people further investigated expertise in their local communities, they came to understand in very different ways the pursuit of excellence in school. The resulting book, Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery, calls teachers and learners to shape a new dialogue and a common language in the service of fostering genuine knowledge-building communities.

Click here to see a video introduction to Fires in the Mind by Kathleen Cushman and the students of What Kids Can Do.
Click here for a playlist of short videos in which students describe their process in "getting good" at various things in and out of school.

Click here to download free chapters and other resources from the blog “Fires in the Mind.”

Kathleen Cushman is an educator and journalist who has specialized in the lives and learning of youth for over two decades. In 2001 she co-founded the nonprofit What Kids Can Do (WKCD), and under its auspices she has since published nine books in collaboration with youth.


Cushman’s latest book is Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery (Jossey-Bass, 2010). On her blog, she facilitates a national conversation with educators and parents about motivation and mastery, in school and out.
Cushman’s other books with youth include Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students (New Press, 2003) and its two sequels, Fires in the Middle School Bathroom (New Press, 2008) and Sent to the Principal (Next Generation Press, 2005, 2006). She is also author of the two-volume First in the Family: Advice about College from First-Generation Students (Next Generation Press, 2007, 2008). With Adria Steinberg and Robert Riordan, she co-authored Schooling and the Real World (Jossey-Bass, 2000).