Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When Passion and Perseverance Carry the Day

How do our children grow to become capable, successful young men and women? Angela Duckworth studied successful children and adults across a wide range of schools and careers and says the most significant predictor of success she found is grit. “It’s not good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t I.Q. It was grit,” which she goes on to define as “passion and perseverance…”
 
Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, has developed something called a “growth mindset,” which is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, and that it can change with effort.

Children who can see failures as temporary and as learning opportunities will become more successful than those who believe that failures are permanent and can’t be overcome. Developing grit takes a growth mindset.
 
Paul Tough, the author of “How Children Succeed,” says noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than sheer brain power to achieving success.
I was reminded of this last summer just before I walked my daughter, McKenzie, down the aisle on her wedding day.
 
The day dawned with an overcast sky, and the weather app on my iPhone showed a large green expanse heading in from the Pacific and covering the Olympic Mountains to the west. It did not look good for a 5:30 outdoor wedding. McKenzie, now a Seattle native, seemed calm. At 2:30, with chairs and tables already set up, a light rain began to fall. My daughter, looking out the window and getting ready for the big day, seemed unaffected, while her father began a slow panic.
 
By 4:30, the tables and chairs were beading water, but there was a break in the drizzle and towels were found to wipe everything dry. By 5:15 sunlight was beginning to break through, and I saw my daughter for the first time in her wedding dress. I stood there unable to say a word, fearing I'd become an emotional wreck. Not only was she beautiful, but I was filled with pride at what she had pulled off in planning the day.
 
As we waited to walk down the aisle, I wanted to say something memorable, but all that came out was an attempt at humor to the effect of, “Hey, let’s skip this and just go get some dinner together.” To which she replied with great calm something to the effect, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Deal with it, Dad.”  I was a mess, but McKenzie stood radiant, fully present and in control. It was her day, and she was loving every moment of it!
 
If we want our children to become self-confident and successful, they will need a growth mindset and many successes and failures at solving tough problems. My daughter has developed perseverance and grit by successfully working through many setbacks in school, sports, work and life. We never rushed in to rescue her, but instead helped her to find ways to solve her problems and to know that her successes were hers, not ours.
 
I have been proud of McKenzie’s successes in school, where her writing and grades carried the day, but on the most important day of her life, she proved that persistence, self-control, self-confidence and grit were all she needed to carry the day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Helping our Children to be Successful

Tremendous importance has been put on "smarts" - intelligence as measured by IQ, grades, and frequently SAT and ACT scores.  Sure, you need a certain level of education and ability to get a job but, "smarts" in the real world isn’t so much about intelligence or IQ. It’s more about grit, tenacity, courage and hard work.

My daughter is a tenacious sales person for a well known business internet provider. She tells me that there is a direct correlation between the number of calls she makes each week and the number of sales she is able to close. I can’t argue her numbers, but I also believe that her ability to be successful and make those calls each day - week after week, month after month - has more to do with tenacity, the ability to take rejection and, most importantly, to learn from each of the 10-20 calls a day she makes. She has put herself on a fast learning curve, discovering quickly, each time she contacts a potential customer, what works and what doesn’t work. She has learned techniques to overcome rejection and not just accept it. She is also learning the rewards of delayed gratification and self-discipline. These are important life skills that reach far beyond the degree in Political Science she earned four years ago.

CEO Tom Georgens of NetApp, the $6.3 billion data storage company, made a very interesting observation: “I know this irritates a lot of people, but once someone is at a certain point in his or her career – and it’s not that far out, maybe five years – all the grades and academic credentials in the world don’t mean anything anymore.  It’s all about accomplishments from that point on.” He goes on to say, “I don’t even know where some members of my staff went to college or what they studied.”

Greg Becker, CEO of Silicon Valley Bank is quoted as saying, “Some of the better venture capital firms that I know want people who are scrappy, who have been through trials and tribulations. These people will figure out a way to make it work, no matter what.” I would add that these are the qualities and experiences that every employer wants.

So, how do schools and families help our young people to develop these talents? The old
saying is, “If you want your child to become a problem solver, let them solve problems.”

Here are some things that parents and teachers can do to prepare children to develop the skills they will need to be successful in the world of work:
  • Promote perseverance
    • Help your children to:
      • hold high expectations for themselves over an extended period of time
      • place a high value on challenging goals and low estimates on the costs of working toward those goals
      • see that goals are feasible
      • maintain high expectations despite failures and setbacks
      • (Note: Watch this TEDX Video by Angela Duckworth)
  • Be a nudge
    • Let your kids know that you expect them to do their best and create a structure that will help them do it
    • Learning any new skill, athletic, musical, or otherwise, is not easy. Nudging also means scheduling
  • Welcome boredom and frustration
    • Success comes with challenges along the way. Confusion, frustration and boredom are part of the voyage.
    • Help kids to learn that accomplishments are not always easy and that having a hard time doesn’t mean they are stupid
  • Let her or him fail — and model resilience
    • Letting her fail and pick herself up is probably the most important skill a child can learn
    • Share your own failures and how you overcame them. Modeling is powerful calm and determination in the face of your challenges.

We need to help our children to see that IQ and SAT scores are not what define them. In the real world, perseverance, delayed gratification and self-discipline are the "smarts" that our children need to be successful. When we help them to develop these qualities, and not step in to rescue them every time they face a challenge, we will be doing our jobs as parents and teachers.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Learning to Play or Build a Resume?


As our juniors begin thinking about the college application process, I am reminded once again of the pressure they feel to enhance their resumes with long lists of volunteer work, awards, recognitions, honors, clubs, athletic and artistic accomplishments, and demonstrations of leadership. All of this is in addition to the academic expectations of a high grade point average, outstanding SAT scores, mastery of a foreign language, and multiple AP and advanced classes.

It makes me wonder when our students have time to play, spend time with their families, reflect, and get to know themselves. A recent article by Peg L. Smith, CEO, American Camp Association pointed out the importance of play in the lives of young people and how its loss can actually work against the presumed gains of an enhanced college resume.
She quotes Stuart Brown, the author of Play: How it shapes the Brain, who writes, “There is a great deal of evidence that the road to mastery of any subject is guided by play.”
I frequently hear parents lamenting the fact that they are constantly running their children from one organized activity to the next after school and on weekends, leaving no time for their children to be creative or to explore on their own. They then frequently comment that in their youth they would take off on their bikes on Saturday morning and return in the late afternoon after a day of play and exploration with friends. Parents cite the many images of violence and abduction as the reason that they tend to micromanage their children, but this tendency may be slowing down their children’s natural development.

Smith reports that evidence suggests unstructured play has been on the decline since 1955 along with a parallel decrease in children’s access to the outdoors. She states that the average radius of play is only 500 square feet and that outside play has decreased by 50% according to the Children and Nature Network.

Brain research has repeatedly discovered the brain thrives and develops its greatest potential when it has been allowed to create multiple techniques to acquire and process information. It is critically important that it be stimulated through experimenting, engaging with their friends, solving problems, and through opportunities for movement and exploration. Smith challenges us to ask if we are exchanging opportunities for the brain to develop “how” to learn with “what” to learn. She avows, “This is a misguided notion. One’s ability to discover meaning is always more valuable than information alone.”

We may discover that helping our children to have more opportunities to play and explore will serve their long-term success more than having them engage in the organized activities that now dominate their college resumes.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Innovation Ready?

With over two and one-half billion people now using the Internet, the access to information and the speed of collaboration and professional expertise through instant communication has never been easier.

Many believe that the most successful workers in the future will be those who are able to think and act entrepreneurially. Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter suggests that a winning strategy for the future of work is to be able to “design your own profession and convince employers that you are exactly what they need.”

Tony Wagner, in his latest book, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World,” writes; “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate —the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”

Our future college graduates may have to invent” a job rather than follow in our footsteps of “finding” a job.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Of Sailing Ships and Steam Engines

Attending the NCAIS Innovation Conference last month, Grant Lichtman reinforced the concept that the world of work and education is rapidly changing.
 
Education, which was once a closed system where the teacher knew and controlled all the information and knowledge, has quickly become a widely dispersed commodity through the ubiquitous sharing of information on the internet. Information can now be easily accessed through a few quick key strokes, and knowledge can be gained from taking any of a number of online classes.
 
This radical change is causing disruptions in an educational system that has been firmly in place for over 100 years. This system came about as a result of the industrial revolution which needed employees to work in factories, and who could sit for long periods of time, follow directions, perform repetitive work, and use specialized knowledge.
 
The competitive market place that we currently have doesn’t need such workers, and our educational system must and is changing to keep pace. Where the industrial model was built on creating contained, controlled, predictable, scalable, repeatable, and measurable systems, today’s model for growth and development calls for a system that is creative, adaptive, permeable, dynamic, systemic, and self-correcting. This new way of thinking is radically different, and our schools are feeling the impact.
 
As Christensen and Horn shared in a recent New York Times article, we are in the midst of tremendous change in how teaching and learning take place and we are struggling to design an appropriate educational system for the new “normal.” While the article focuses on colleges and universities, their line of thinking applies equally to K-12 schooling.
 
The analogy that is used in the article is the emergence of steam engines used in transatlantic travel. They point out that, in the early 1800’s, steamships were fairly unreliable and used mainly on inland waters. By 1819, transatlantic trips were being made using a combination of sail and steam engines, and by the early 1900’s sailing ship companies were out of business. “Adapt or Die,” could be an applicable slogan.
 
Higher education is caught in the cross-hairs of rising cost and the disruption in the educational model that technology brings with it. Many colleges and universities are moving to online classes which take the form of blended, flipped classrooms or MOOCs. This hybrid use of technology, in combination with a traditional model, is the same that was used as steamships began to replace sailing vessels. History shows that steamships won the contest in delivering cargo and passengers across the oceans, and there’s no doubt that technology will become the dominate educational delivery system in the very near future.
 
Christiansen and Horn go on to say that research shows “industries teach us that those that truly innovate – fundamentally transforming the model, instead of just incorporating the technology into established methods of operation – will have the final say.”  They also offer that as online learning evolves, students will be able to customize their experiences. That is to say, they could have choices, though more expensive, in designing their college experiences by taking classes on campus, socializing and living with other students. The opportunities and combinations could become endless. Some students may choose to “mix and match” their experiences by taking online classes, living on a campus, living abroad, or attending learning spaces such as Dev Bootcamp in Chicago and San Francisco.
 
At the recent SAIS conference in Atlanta, Ian Symmonds pointed out that “mature industries, like schools, don’t change rapidly.” It’s true, but if schools are not in touch with new technologies and a rapidly changing world of work they will become obsolete much faster than the demise of the sailing ship industry.
 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Learning Strategies


In today's information age, learning how to learn is as important as
what to learn.

Schools are very good at teaching students what they should know in order to pass a test. What is frequently missing is teaching them how to engage in a robust learning process that will help them to become lifelong learners.

Research has found that low performing students usually don't understand or know the strategies that lead to effective learning. Teaching students good learning strategies can lead to markedly improved learning outcomes according to a recent article in the journal, Instructional Science.

The authors found that students who know how to use appropriate strategies to understand and remember what they read score significantly higher on tests. As part of their study, the authors administered an assessment to find out how often the students used the following learning strategies:
  • I draw pictures or diagrams to help me understand this subject.
  • I make-up questions that I try to answer about this subject.
  • When I am learning something new in this subject, I think back to what I already know about it.
  • I discuss what I am doing in this subject with others.
  • I practice things over and over until I know them well in this subject.
  • I think about my thinking, to check if I understand the idea in this subject.
  • When I don't understand something in this subject I go back over it again.
  • I make a note of things that I don't understand very well in this subject, so that I can follow them up.
  • When I have finished an activity in this subject I look back to see how well I did.
  • I organize my time to manage my learning in this subject.
  • I make plans for how to do the activities in this subject.
The study found that those students who used fewer of these strategies to think through their subject matter reported having more difficulty in school.

A paper published in Psychology Science in the Public Interest evaluated ten techniques that many students have been taught for improving their learning and rated their effectiveness.

The two techniques that had the highest rating were Practice Testing and Distributed Practice.

Practice Testing is one of the most powerful ways to reinforce learning. Multiple choice testing is effective, but practice tests that require more detailed answers are most effective. And, practice testing where students create the questions themselves rates very high. Using flashcards is a great way to practice testing, as is using a system such as the Cornell note-taking system.

Distributed Practice spreads learning over a period of time. Research has found an interesting correlation between how much you study a subject over time and how long you will remember it. Combining distributed practice with practice testing is a powerful learning combination.

The next two learning techniques that garnered a Moderate Rating were: Elaborative Interrogation and Self-explanation.
Elaborative Interrogation involves concentrating on "why" questions rather than "what" questions and creating questions for yourself as you are working through a task. An example might be to ask yourself, after reading through a text, "why is this true or not true," "why does x=y?" and use your answers to make your notes.

Self-explanation has to do with explaining and recording how a problem is solved as the problem is being worked through. This can be rather time consuming, but has been found to be moderately effective in learning new material.

Although the following were rated very low in utility, there are times that they can be effective. These were Summarization, Highlighting, Keyword Mnemonic, Imagery use for text learning and rereading.

The point is, content and the ability to feed it back on a test is important, but it frequently results in short-term success. If we want our students to retain information and develop into life-long learners, we must provide them with the tools to do so.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Happiness Factor

There are many theories about the best ways to teach and how learning takes place. There are literally hundreds of books and thousands of articles on the topic.  But, I would put my money on one consistent finding. Students who feel safe and happy, and enjoy where they are, they tend to behave well and learn.

While the overall climate of a school is critically important, the key to any school is what happens each and every day in the classroom between the teacher and his or her students. It doesn't matter where the class is located, what the subject is, whether it's low tech or high tech, large or small. What matters most is the teacher's attitude about teaching and the students. If there is an overall positive atmosphere, a feeling of being known and valued along with a feeling of success, students can and will actively engage in learning.

Simply handing out rewards to make students feel happy isn't what I'm taking about here. To be happy at school, students need to feel that they are undertaking work that is of value to them. This is different from happiness that comes from a teachers' approval or doing what is expected. Even elementary students understand the difference between a reward or recognition for doing what is expected and for success in doing their work.

Middle school students and teenagers in high school gain their happiness the same way. Knowing that they are valued and respected for something that they have attained brings true satisfaction and happiness to them. And, I've found that secondary students like a good joke generated by the teachers every now and then.

Walking around school and seeing smiling and laughing students always brings a smile to my face, because I know that this is a place of happiness and that happiness leads to successful learning.