Excerpts

As you may know, I have a bone to pick with anyone who says that passion doesn’t matter.

To discard passion (or authentic interest) is to drain the life force from the learner and therefore from the work. Am I going to bring my best efforts to something that holds no interest for me? Am I going to achieve flow? Am I going to strive to challenge myself? — Why Skills Don’t Trump Passion

Newport’s book has some good advice for 18-25-year-olds who have been pushed toward achievement their whole lives and who have a non-reality-based, pipe-dreamy idea of what they’d really like to do, which they call their “passion.”

It’s advice for people whose interests have never been connected with their work in any meaningful way.

This advice doesn’t work for kids who are experienced at coupling their interests with real-world experience, knowledge, and skills. These kids have already deeply explored their interests. They already know what it means to get beyond the honeymoon period to the place where real, challenging work is required. They have experienced the deep pleasure of having real skills and doing meaningful work.

These kids have shared what they know with others. They’ve connected with their community. Their experiences have firmly planted them in reality. Their interests aren’t pipe dreams and fantasies — they are gateways to the nexus of “what I like to do,” “what I have to give,” and “what people will pay for.”

Most career advice is for kids who came up through the regular system. It won’t help kids who were educated via an alternate path.  — Why Skills Don’t Trump Passion

(I’ve been putting together a collection of quotes that I run across that address passion as it relates to learning and doing meaningful work. Check it out here: Passion and Meaningful Work.)

This past week I’ve been reading Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined (subtitle: The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness) and it contains some interesting material related to passion:

“Go to virtually any preschool or elementary classroom, and you’ll witness something rare: excitement. Whether it’s engagement in painting, make-believe games, or learning why the moon disappears, there appear to be very few young children with deficits in motivation. Children love learning. They want to figure out what this new, shiny world of theirs is all about.

Contrast this with a typical middle school or high school classroom. They can’t wait to get done with school and go on to ‘after-school’ activities. You ask them what they think of school, and many will say it’s dull, boring, and dry. Systematic studies show that intrinsic motivation decreases steadily starting from about third grade.” — Ungifted

We’ve talked about the fourth-grade slump before. And I’ve heard plenty of other theories about why it occurs just then — kids stop drawing every day, kids stop having art classes, kids have a lot less time to play and they become detached from the work at school because they have more homework and no autonomy. This slump is happening earlier and earlier, because school is becoming academic and monotonous earlier and earlier. (Here are some forum discussions about fourth-grade slump.)

I’m reminded of this quote I shared on Facebook:

[C]hildren have been taught from a very young age that their ‘grades’ matter more than the actual purpose of the assignment — just like ‘subjects’ trump true learning.

“[My son] loves math and science in nursery school — it's just that no one calls it ‘math’ or ‘science.’

In nursery school, math is called cooking, building, or drawing.

Science is called gardening, exploring, or playing in the yard (finding bugs and figuring out what they do is a specialty). 

What happened between nursery school and first grade that made us forget this? Why is it so critical for a first grader to learn ‘math’ as a stand-alone subject? What happened to building?” — Does Spelling Count?

Short version: Kids start out excited about learning and then we ruin it.

So how can we back up a step and put the excitement back into learning? We must — no surprise — making it more meaningful and more self-directed:

“[Vallerand and his colleagues] proposed a new theory [about passion], grounded in self-determination theory. They argued that everyone has a preference for some activity, but the reason an activity is preferable and enjoyable is because it satisfies the basic human needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Over time these activities can eventually become a central part of a person’s identity. For instance, while intrinsic motivation involves feeling joy from playing basketball, passion involves *being* a basketball player.

Vallerand and colleagues defined passion as ‘a strong inclination toward an activity that people like, that they find important, and in which they invest time and energy.’” — Ungifted

Note: intrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from within) decreases steadily starting around third grade. This is self-motivation: the stuff that spurs you to do things you want to do. Without it, you slide into becoming the typical passive student, just waiting to get this “learning” over with so you can get back to stuff you really want to do. (You’ve unfortunately learned to separate “learning” and “things you like to do” because — hello — you’ve seen them combined so infrequently.)

Back to that quote: Self-determination theory

“…identifies three innate needs that, if satisfied, allow optimal function and growth:

  1. Competence
  2. Relatedness
  3. Autonomy

These needs are seen as universal necessities that are innate, not learned, and seen in humanity across time, gender and culture.” — Wikipedia

In other words, for optimal growth, we all need these three things: to feel capable, to feel connected, and to feel in control of our own actions.

“A number of studies show that tasks that satisfy all three of these basic strivings lead to the highest levels of intrinsic motivation.

Consider a series of studies conducted by Maarten Vansteenkiste and colleagues on the importance of autonomy among a diverse sample of preschool teachers in training, college students majoring in marketing, and high school students. They found that students tended to show better learning outcomes when the material was framed in terms of intrinsic goals (such as personal growth, health, or community contribution) rather than extrinsic goals (such as money, an attractive image). What’s more, they found an increase in learning outcomes when students were made to feel as though they had choice over their actions (for instance, using phrases such as ‘you can’ and ‘if you choose’ in the instructions) rather than being made to feel as though they were being controlled (using phrases such as ‘you must’ and ‘you have to’ in instructions). Importantly, there was an interaction: intrinsic goals and autonomy worked synergistically to produce … more deep processing, greater persistence, and higher levels of performance.” — Ungifted

All of these things work together: self-motivation, persistence (or grit), deeper thinking and learning, and good, meaningful work. If you take a person’s autonomy and self-motivation away, you decrease their ability to learn and succeed.

You can see how this relates to PBH. To mentor self-directed learners, we must help them tap into their self-motivation, explore their deepest interests, connect with collaborators and mentors, contribute to the community — we must help them work independently and interdependently.

“[H]armonious passion was positively correlated with positive emotions, flow, concentration while engaging in the activity, and continued positive emotions … after engagement. … Barbara Frederickson and her colleagues have conducted an impressive amount of research showing that positive emotions lead to an ‘upward spiral’ of adaptive behaviors and better psychological adjustment. … This is why it’s so important that we foster a climate of harmonious passion in all students.” — Ungifted

“[P]assion isn’t an automatic consequence of performing well on an IQ test or getting good grades in school. Passion is activated by a clear set of conditions, and these rules apply to everyone; no one is immune.” — Ungifted

Help kids find their passion early and they can develop their signature strengths — they can figure out what they’re good at and who needs those skills and abilities. They can explore what interests them deeply and widely so that their career choices happen from a place of real knowledge and understanding.

The author goes on to say that passion — engaging kids with something they really care about — is essential, but passion must be paired with a growth mindset. Here’s Carol Dweck making that same connection:

Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.” Or, as his forerunner Binet recognized, it’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest. — Carol Dweck, Mindset

Passion, engagement, and a growth mindset — and … hope?

“According to [positive psychologist Charles Snyder and colleagues’ ‘hope theory’], hope consists of agency and pathways. The person who has hope has the will and determination to achieve goals and a set of various strategies at their disposal to reach their goals. Put simply: Hope involves the will to get there and different ways to get there.

Both are important. Life is difficult. There are inevitable obstacles. Having goals is not enough. One has to keep getting closer to those goals amid all the inevitable twists and turns of life. Hope allows people to approach problems with a mindset and strategy set suitable to success, thereby increasing the chances they will actually accomplish their goals.

“[H]ope, as defined by Snyder and colleagues, is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. According to hope theory, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way around.”

“…Snyder and his colleagues proposed that a person’s level of hope leads him or her to choose learning or performance goals. … [T]hose lacking hope typically adopt performance goals and choose easy tasks that don’t offer a chlalenge or opportunity for growth. When they fail, they quit. They act helpless and feel a lack of control over their environment. They don’t believe in their capacity to obtain the kind of future they want. In other words, they have no hope.”

“‘The Hope Scale’ … includes items relating to agency (such as ‘I energetically pursue my goals’) and pathways (such as ‘There are lots of ways around any problem’). … Hope also predicted semester GPAs, overall GPAs, and overall self-worth … as well as self-esteem, confidence, and mood.”

“It seems that performance can be enhanced in the short term by reminding people that they have the motivation and the means to pursue a goal.”  — Ungifted

Hope is so important, it “actually predicts law school GPA better than the LSAT” (How You Can Use the Science Behind Hope to Be Your Best).

How do you help your child be more hopeful? Perhaps by practicing hope yourself? Energetically pursue your goals — remind yourself of your motivation — and acknowledge that there are many different ways to solve the inevitable problems you’ll run across.

Hopefulness, Kaufman points out, correlates with divergent thinking: the ability to come up with a lot of different ideas. And as Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”

These individual studies interest me, but even more, I’m fascinated by how they fit together — how passion and mindset are both essential, how hope is slightly different from optimism and self-efficacy and all three are necessary. And what seems to tie it all together? Our innate human desire to control our own destiny — in our own way.

Finally, I found this lovely conversation between Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, and Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence) and Howard Gardner (known for his research into multiple intelligences, authentic understanding, and more):

“Goleman: When you talk about Good Work, you propose three tests that anyone can apply to their own work to ask the question, ‘Is the work I’m doing in this category?’ One is, it fits your values. The second is that it’s excellent work — you’re highly competent at what you do; you’re effective. The third is, it brings joy.

Gardner: …[W]e found, particularly in people who were working in very challenging professions or in very challenging milieus, that it was simply too difficult to be technically excellent and constantly reflecting about whether you are responsible and ethical. It was too difficult to do unless what you were doing was terribly important to yourself and you really felt it was your mission in life. You felt that you weren’t whole unless you were doing this kind of thing.” — Good Work: Aligning Skills and Values

In other words, values first, then goals and actions

“I…thought of a study that was done decades ago at MIT, of breakdowns that occurred at the age of 40, of people who had gone to MIT, had been very good students, had become middle or upper level executives at big engineering firms or professors, and that at age 40 they said, ‘Why am I doing this? What the hell for?’ They’d been on a treadmill where they had never been able to step back and say, ‘Is this important to me; is it meaningful?’ So, would that excellence and ethics and engagement and empathy have a natural connection, but they don’t. It has to be forged.” — Good Work: Aligning Skills and Values

“Goleman: What would you advise someone starting out in their career today; what would you advise someone, Howard, who wanted to have a career that was Good Work?…

Gardner: …Let me begin by saying that one has to decide what you really like to do and what you really would like to spend your life doing. And that’s much more important than deciding what particular job to hold… [Y]ou have to say ‘Where could I carry that out?’ and be very, very flexible about the venue and the milieu, but not flexible about what you really get a kick out of and think you can be good at. …

What we try to do in our courses in Good Work is, we say, we don’t care what kind of work you want to do, that’s your choice. But we want you to think about the kind of worker you want to be, before it’s too late.” — Good Work: Aligning Skills and Values

Deep interests — passions — do matter. If you want to do great work, you must start there, with the work you want and need to do.

And of course, that final sentence is, to me, a parallel of PBH. We don’t care what our child’s project topic is (her self-chosen work); we only care about helping her become a better learner — so she can move forward in life to do whatever it is she wants to do.

One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.” — Madeline Levine, Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More than Grades, Trophies, or “Fat Envelopes”

 

Reading and loving Madeline Levine’s book quoted above. It certainly resonates with PBH:

“[C]hildren must have the time and energy to become truly engaged in learning, explore and develop their interests, beef up their coping skills, and craft a sense of self that feels real, enthusiastic, and capable.”

While we all hope our children will do well in school, we hope with even greater fervor that they will do well in life. Our job is to help them to know and appreciate themselves deeply; to approach the world with zest; to find work that is exciting and satisfying, friends and spouses who are loving and loyal; and to hold a deep belief that they have something meaningful to contribute to society. This is what it means to teach our children well.”

"No child is better off in front of a computer or practicing times tables. Childhood is precious. It is not preparation for high school or college, but a brief and irreplaceable period of time when children are entitled to the privilege of being children."

“[M]y professional career [is] encouraging parents to be present with the child right in front of them rather than being overly focused on the future."

“We delude ourselves when we think that our parenting is the singular engine behind our child’s development. Your children come hardwired with interests, abilities, capacities and temperament. They will grow, more or less into the person they are meant to be whether they have one tutor or two, go to math camp or computer camp, work out twice a week or daily. I'm not saying that the opportunities we provide our children our meaningless. On the contrary, I’m asking you to consider the types of opportunities you are providing, what is motivating you, and how well these opportunities fit with your child’s particular nature." — Teach Your Children Well

Keeping these thoughts in mind…

The new trendy phrase in education is “deeper learning”:

Simply defined, “deeper learning” is the “process of learning for transfer,” meaning it allows a student to take what’s learned in one situation and apply it to another, explained James Pellegrino, one of the authors of the [Deeper Learning Report]. “You can use knowledge in ways that make it useful in new situations. … You have procedural knowledge of how, why, and when to apply it to answer questions and solve problems.” — How Do We Define and Measure ‘Deeper Learning’?

So, hmm … let me see if I’ve got this right. Deeper learning is … learning that you can actually use. Ah.

Why do we even need terms like “authentic learning” and “deeper learning”? Because, as you know, all learning experiences are not equal. All learning is not equally effective or lasting or useful or relevant. We call everything that happens in school “learning,” but how much of that do you remember? Use? How much of it do you carry into the future and how much of it do you discard like a flyer pressed into your hand on the street by a guy dressed like a giant hot dog?

Howard Gardner has been writing about authentic understanding and authentic learning for some time:

[W]e’ve got to do a lot fewer things in school. The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage. As long as you are determined to cover everything, you actually ensure that most kids are not going to understand. You’ve got to take enough time to get kids deeply involved in something so they can think about it in lots of different ways and apply it — not just at school but at home and on the street and so on.

Now, this is the most revolutionary idea in American education — because most people can’t abide the notion that we might leave out one decade of American history or one formula in math or one biological system. But that's crazy, because we now know that kids don’t understand those things anyway. They forget them as soon as the test is over — because it hasn’t been built into their brain, engraved in it. So since we know unambiguously that the way we do it now isn’t working, we have to try something else. — On Teaching for Understanding

This conversation, depressingly, occurred in 1993. And I quote: “We know unambiguously that the way we do it now isn’t working” — “we have to try something else.” And yet … we don’t.

Would you say that most students don’t really understand most of what they’ve been taught?

I’m afraid they don’t. All the evidence I can find suggests that’s the case. Most schools have fallen into a pattern of giving kids exercises and drills that result in their getting answers on tests that look like understanding. It’s what I call the “correct answer compromise”: students read a text, they take a test, and everybody agrees that if they say a certain thing it’ll be counted as understanding.

But the findings of cognitive research over the past 20–30 years are really quite compelling: students do not understand, in the most basic sense of that term. That is, they lack the capacity to take knowledge learned in one setting and apply it appropriately in a different setting. Study after study has found that, by and large, even the best students in the best schools can’t do that. — On Teaching for Understanding

Ooh, “the compromise” — so reminiscent of “the bargain”:

“Mostly what I see in my visits to middle and upper grades classrooms are examples of what of Michael Sedlack, et al. (1986), long-ago characterized as ‘the bargain’ — ‘you give me order and attendance, I’ll give you passing grades and [minimal] homework.’ - What I’ve Been Reading 3.14.14

On both counts, that’s quite a compromise — kids don’t have to learn anything as long as they go through the motions. Thanks, education!

Of course, there are many, many educators who hate this and want to change it. But haven’t there always been? And are things changing?

And where are the parents? Do they care about the bargain that bargains their child out of actually learning? The big compromise that means their kids get good grades and a diploma but they didn’t really learn anything? Madeline Levine again:

“When apples were sprayed with a chemical at my local supermarket, middle-aged moms turned out, picket signs and all, to protest the possible risk to their children’s health. Yet I’ve seen no similar demonstrations about an educational system that has far more research documenting its toxicity.” — The Problems with Parenting the Future Elite

It seems that as long as the system gets our kids where we want them to go, as a society we’re willing to ignore the underlying learning part of education. It’s not really about that, is it? It’s about jobs. And income. And status.

And are our kids even getting a fair shake in that compromise?

Why, Levine asks, do we continue to tolerate an education system that not only puts our children under intense pressure, but one that doesn’t even accomplish what it purports to be doing? After all, most children don’t make it to the most selective tier of colleges, study after study shows that excessive homework is useless at best and counterproductive at worst, and, finally, even business leaders are claiming that even the best of the American education system leaves graduates bereft of the skills one actually needs to make it in the 21st century. — The Problems with Parenting the Future Elite

With 45% of college graduates living back at home with their parents, can we seriously say that the education system is meeting its first priority, which seems to be job placement?

When I was a high school student my first real job was bagging groceries at Winn-Dixie. This wasn’t an unusual experience. I remember as a kid that many adults would tell me with no apparent embarrassment that their first job had been at McDonald’s. Holding a job like this was just part of the cycle of life

Two events changed this in the 1980s. The first was the recession, which shattered the illusion of American industrial dominance forever. The whole idea of a good job for life on the assembly line was now seen to be dangerously naive. This is the era when “you absolutely must go to college to succeed in life” meme took hold.…

The second was the closing of the bootstrap frontier. By this I mean the severe curtailing of the ability of people to work their way up from the bottom in business. …

With formerly entry level jobs increasingly ones with … a limited career path and low pay and benefits, and the only way to career success seen as being through college, a new concept of work started to emerge. In 1986 it was given a name, the “McJob.”

The phrase “McJob” was designed to label a real and important effect, and presciently so as we see today. Namely the bifurcation of the economy. Nevertheless, it went beyond a critique of economic conditions to something more fundamental; it said these were jobs not worth doing and unworthy of human dignity to hold. It eroded the idea of work itself as honorable.

Today I’m amazed how many teenagers and college students don’t work at all, especially not at old school grocery bagging or burger flipping jobs. It seems that you’re better off getting in more extra-curricular activities or doing volunteer work to burnish your resume than actually working, which says something profound.The Decline of Work

I find this fascinating to think about. The jobs I had as I worked my way through college profoundly affected who I became and what I chose to do with my life — far more than the classes I took. At the time, I was unhappy about how working drained my energy and took time away from, say, my essay on the Transcendentalists. But in the end, it was the work that taught me about myself, what I could do, what I wanted, and how to make a living. I graduated and immediately started my own business. I went back to reading for pleasure and learning for pleasure, and I continued to learn from actually doing real work.

Jobs, including low-level jobs, can be incredibly educational — about how to work with people, how to stand up for yourself, how to balance your own goals with the goals of your employer, and on and on and on.

If kids don’t have time to do real work while they are young, they are pushing all of these knowledge- and skill-building experiences off until after their education — until they are in their “real” jobs! (Pardon me, careers.) It seems we don’t have time for kids to do a lot of things during their education years:

- actually learn,

- explore their personal interests and talents,

- experience real work,

and much more, but that’s depressing enough. We have created a system where kids have to choose their future blindfolded. When they finally get the opportunity to really learn, they’re already heavily invested in a path they chose when they didn’t have all the facts they needed to make an informed decision.

You could say, oh, but you’re homeschooling so you can still do these things, and that is true! But here’s the thing: A lot of homeschooling parents not only follow the exact same high-pressure path that school kids take, but they double-down on it and use homeschooling as a way to increase their children’s academics and extracurricular activities. So homeschooling doesn’t really have anything to do with it. It comes down to parents and schools and communities: What do we want for kids? And are you willing to buck the trend to make it happen? Are you willing to break away from what everyone else is doing?

One thing we might do is simply throw out the weird, arbitrary calendar that’s imposed by the school system and our culture. Kids have to be doing X at Y age, period, and it starts in preschool and doesn’t let up until you’re married with a morgage and a child. Lets up, mind you — it never stops. How’s your retirement plan going?

That imposed calendar creates pressure within our kids and ourselves to get them moving along that conveyor belt at a brisk clip, checking off boxes along the way. When you think of the number of 20-somethings living with their parents after graduation, why not go ahead and take the extra time to really learn during those learning years?

[O]ur children are increasingly deprived of many of the protective factors that have traditionally accompanied childhood — limited performance pressure, unstructured play, encouragement to explore, and time to reflect.

“[W]e must embrace a healthier and radically different way of thinking about success. We need to harness our fears about our children’s futures and understand that the extraordinary focus on metrics — high grades, trophies, and selective school accpetances from preschools to graduate schools — is a partial and frequently deceptive definition. At its best, it encourages academic success for a small group of students but gives short shrift to the known factors that are necessary for success in life.”

“We know far too much about promoting healthy child development to continue to tolerate the myth that success is a straight and narrow path, with childhood sacrificed in the process. The truth is that most successful people have followed winding paths, have had false starts, and have enjoyed multiple careers.” — Teach Your Children Well

So here’s the question we must ponder: Are we willing to give our children the gift of the winding path?

 

“I woke up thinking a very pleasant thought. There is lots left in the world to read.” — Nicholson Baker

If you want to internalize a piece of knowledge, you’ve got to linger over it.” … “Evidence suggests that when it comes to knowledge we’re interested in — anything that truly excites us and has meaning — we don’t turn off our memory. Certainly we outsource when the details are dull … [b]ut when information engages us — when we really care about a subject — the evidence suggests we don’t turn off our memory at all.” — Smarter Than You Think

 

I shared this teacher’s open letter to Google on my facebook page:

Dear Google,

I wish you’d talked to teachers like me before you made that $40 million investment in Renaissance Learning.

I’ve seen the damage Accelerated Reader can do.

I witnessed it for the first time when I tutored a struggling 5th grader…eighteen years ago.

He hated to read.

He hated being locked into a level.

He hated the points associated with the books.

But more importantly, he was humiliated when he didn’t earn enough points to join in the monthly party or get to ‘buy’ things with those points at a school store full of junky prizes.

I’ve seen kids run their fingers along the binding of a book, a book they REALLY wanted read, but then hear them say, ‘But it’s not an AR book,’ or ‘It’s not my level.’

I’ve watched them scramble to read the backs of books or beg a friend for answers so they can get enough points for the grading period.

And I watched it slowly start to unravel S’s love of reading.Dear Google, You Should Have Talked to Me First

I have strong feelings about kids being allowed to choose their own books and given time to read for pleasure, and I have seen both teachers and librarians tell school kids at the public library to put their books back because they weren’t allowed (graphic novels) or weren’t the right level.

Short version: Kids benefit from reading both above and below their level.

Above (for example, if you let them check adult research books out of the library that you think are way too difficult for them), they have to employ decoding strategies, they have to search for what they can read and understand, they have to wrestle with unfamiliar vocabulary, and so on — they’re challenging their skills. Below, they can read a favorite book over and over again and become fluent at reading it.

In both cases, they are making choices from a place of true engagement and desire. That is a path toward using reading for pleasure *and* purpose.

In both cases, they feel great about themselves. They feel great about tackling and making sense of a book that’s “too hard for them.” They feel great about completely mastering a book and finding it really easy (and they remember when it was hard).

When we narrow kids’ choices to something that we have chosen for them, we are doing more than just killing their opportunity to enjoy reading for pleasure. We’re putting them in a place where they can’t win. If they read a book well, it’s because we chose it and it’s exactly calibrated to their “level.” If they don’t read it well, they’re failing at something we thought they could do. Instead of multiple opportunities to engage with books and feel like a winner, they get to feel either “adequate” or “inadequate.” That’s it.

(More posts about kids and reading: Reading and In defense of reading … which should need no defense.)

We can’t *teach* kids to love reading, but we can certainly do our best to allow them to develop a love of reading. We can let them choose their own books. We can give them a book allowance. We can make sure they have free time to read every day, and we can make sure we don’t pit books against the other things they love.

All of this boils down to: We don’t think it matters whether the kids are interested or not. We just don’t care.

There’s a kickback against passion these days (personally, I think it’s just a “let’s go against trend” scheme), but thinking passion doesn’t matter isn’t new — parents and educators have been saying it for decades. Adults think they can teach kids how to work hard by forcing them to work on something they don’t care about. Do they think kids will love to read if they do well on the language arts section of a standardized test? Love can’t be forced. You have to create the circumstances in which it can bloom and grow. You have to actively try to not crush the life out of it.

There’s also a kickback lately against grit (see here and here, for example) — people are saying that it’s all well and good to say kids need to be gritty, but privileged kids start out way ahead of the pack and it’s unfair to tell the other kids that their failure is because they weren’t gritty enough. Insult to injury, etc. But pay attention to this part of Alfie Kohn’s criticism:

Challenge — which carries with it a risk of failure — is a part of learning.  That’s not something we’d want to eliminate.  But when students who are tripped up by challenges respond by tuning out, acting out, or dropping out, they sometimes do so not because of a deficiency in their makeup (lack of stick-to-itiveness) but because those challenges — what they were asked to do — aren’t particularly engaging or relevant. — Alfie Kohn

and

A second explanation for students’ not rebounding from failure at what they were asked to do is that they weren’t really “asked” to do it — they were told to do it:  deprived of any say about the content or context of the curriculum.  People of all ages are more likely to persevere when they have a chance to make decisions about things that affect them.  Thus, the absence of choice might be a better explanation than a character defect for giving up. — ibid.

In other words, authentic interest and engagement matter. Authentic choice and autonomy make a difference.

Personally, I don’t see Duckworth’s or Dweck’s work being about character defects or criticizing kids — their work says that these are attitudes any person can develop. Message: Your fate isn’t set in stone — you can improve if you work hard. It’s about helping kids see themselves in a way that helps them develop a growth mindset. I do think cultivating a growth mindset is beneficial for all kids (and adults) — but I agree with Alfie Kohn that kids have to actually care about the work first. It does no good to try to force kids to be gritty and focus on growth if they don’t care about what they’re doing.

And Angela Duckworth knows that:

“This quality of being able to sustain your passions, and also work really hard at them, over really disappointingly long periods of time, that's grit.”Does Teaching Kids to Get “Gritty” Help Them Get Ahead? (NPR)

and

I don’t think people can become truly gritty and great at things they don’t love,” Duckworth says. “So when we try to develop grit in kids, we also need to find and help them cultivate their passions. That’s as much a part of the equation here as the hard work and the persistence.” — ibid.

You can’t throw out passion. You can’t throw out authentic interests. They matter. Put learning in the context of what kids actually care about and helping them become master learners is a million times easier.

The importance of a child's authentic interest cannot be overemphasized. Without it, learning is like pushing a boulder uphill. With it, we're pushing the boulder downhill. Note: Learning occurs in both directions. So why do we usually go with the uphill option? — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Things I get tired of in education:

- Calling new ideas “fads” as a way of dismissing them. We can’t afford to dismiss useful new ideas.

- Grinding good ideas into jargon and liberally applying said jargon to the old way of doing things (cough PBL cough).

- Pitting ideas against one another, as if education is one long cage match and we’re only allowed one winner.

Today’s take-away is this: No matter what else is happening in any learning environment, it’s always going to work better if the learner is authentically interested and engaged. You can keep pinging content at them, but as that quote way up top makes clear, if they aren’t really interested, it’s not going to stick. If you really want to help kids figure out what they’re capable of learning and doing, start in the area of their deep, authentic interest.

What I’ve been reading

Published by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2014 at 09:15 AM

“If you don’t take the time to get really clear about exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish, then you’re forever doomed to spend your life achieving the goals of those who do.” — Steve Pavlina, Personal Development for Smart People
 

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: School isn’t really for learning, and in fact, it inhibits our kids’ ability to learn.

Since learning well is the foundation to all success in life, that is no small problem.

This was a particularly depressing visit, not because it was atypical, but because of how typical it is

Consider the following two examples:

A ‘regular’ (non-honors) English class. Thirty-six students are sitting in rows in a darkened classroom at 10:00 AM. The teacher is showing final minutes of a video on a 1950s classic high school text. As I scan the rows, I see four students asleep with earbuds in place. Six students in the middle facing the teacher are carrying on a conversation having nothing to do with the subject of the class over the top of the teacher’s attempts to engage the class in a discussion. Four students sitting in the back are engaged in a valiant attempt to salvage the discussion by responding to the teacher’s questions. The teacher calls on these four students repeatedly. The remainder of the class sits silently, staring into space, waiting for the bell to ring.

An ‘honors’ English class. Thirty-one students are sitting in rows in a brightly-lit classroom, each with a fat three-ring notebook. By their dress, their ease of interaction, their casual demeanor of privilege, it is clear these are the ‘chosen’ students. The topic of discussion for the class is how to organize the notebook into a portfolio–which papers and quizzes go into which tabs, where to put teacher comments, what to do with class notes, etc. It is clear that the students are having a good time doing this; it is also clear that they have written a total of about ten pages of prose between January and May; and it is clear that the main reason they are having a good time is that they are forestalling whatever the ‘work’ is for that day. After 45 minutes of excruciatingly detailed, rule-oriented discussion of what goes where in the portfolio, the teacher suggests that the students spend the next 40 minutes silently reading a section of the text.

I wish these were exceptional examples. They are not. I wish that the teachers and administrators who were observing classrooms with me were as outraged by what we saw as I was. They were not.

“Mostly what I see in my visits to middle and upper grades classrooms are examples of what of Michael Sedlack, et al. (1986), long-ago characterized as ‘the bargain’ — ‘you give me order and attendance, I’ll give you passing grades and [minimal] homework.’

The only other public institution in our society that works this way, with this degree of focus and dedication, is the prison system. ”

“I wonder…whether [they] are aware of what classrooms in American secondary schools actually look like — the dismal, glacial, adult-centered, congenially authoritarian, mindless soup in which our children spend the bulk of their days.

I wonder whether people are aware of how robust the old ‘bargain’ is in the face of so-called ‘high stakes accountability’; how little the monolithic beast of American secondary education has been affected by the bright, high-minded optimism of professional reformers; how little the exemplars that professional reformers use to justify their role in society have actually affected the lives of adolescents.” — What Would Happen If We Let Them Go?

I wonder, too, whether parents really have a good grasp of what school looks like today. An professor of education told me that part of her job is observing student teachers who are placed in local schools. She is horrified by what she sees there. She says if her children were still in school, she would pull them out and homeschool them.

I gave a talk to a university class of elementary education students. They behaved exactly the same as the “chosen” students in the quote above. Out of two dozen students, two or maybe three were leaning forward, paying close attention, wanting to learn. The others were killing time until the bell rang. And they are our kids’ future teachers.

Last week I wrote:

Why are teens so uninterested in their own future? Perhaps because they’re so entirely uninterested in their present.

As a person who loves to learn and has two teen sons who love to learn — and as a person who has owned a school and spent seven years trying to create the optimal environment for learning — this makes me pull my hair out. How can this be happening and why don’t we change it?

Here’s a clue:

“[A 10th-grade girl] asked me:

I understand what you’re saying about trying new things, and hard things, but I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?

I was floored. All I could think as I talked to this poor girl is ‘America, you’re doing it wrong.’

I was 15 in 10th grade. If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time?

“Do we want a society that dreams new things and then makes them happen? I hear that we do, every time I hear a teacher, or a politician, give a speech. So why are we trying so hard to teach the next generation to do the exact opposite?” — Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail

It’s almost like this student doesn’t realize that school is for learning.

Students are rational beings. They know that school is about grades, not learning.

If schools were for learning rather than showing off, we would design them entirely differently.” — Schools Are Good for Showing Off, Not for Learning

Everywhere I turn these days, people are writing about Carol Dweck and the growth mindset. I am a big fan of Dweck and have been written about her a lot. But it is very evident that the way we are organizing education today is not for a growth mindset. This 10th-grader is not focused on growth. She is focused on protecting herself from failure.

Think about the way we punish schools for not meeting benchmarks for standardized test scores and you know our schools are not focused on growth. They are focused on protecting themselves.

So what do we do? Lots of suggestions here:

Realize that Out of School time tends to be more inspiring and powerful to lead to a life of creativity than school time.

Innovators tend to take responsibility for their own learning when they are on their own time.”

Show how getting Out of One’s Comfort Zone, taking risks, persevering and being energized by failure builds character and stamina which leads to breakthrough ideas.”

Have Adults encourage, support, and listen to children to better evoke a constant sense of wonder. Aunts, uncles, teachers, parents, friends of parents and even siblings who listen and mentor are more valuable than those who provide too much structure and rules that want students to be someone they are not.” — How to Inspire the Next Generation of Creative Thinkers and Innovators
How would that 10th-grader react to this list? I read it and think simultaneously “Yeah!” and “LOL nope, not gonna happen.” Because what part of this can be quantified and put on the test? How does this correlate to letter grades?
 
The first sentence is the most salient thing in the article: You better get your creativity out of school, because you’re not going to find it inside.
 
Here are some kids who did that:
“Ryan Orbuch, 16 years old, rolled a suitcase to the front door of his family’s house in Boulder, Colo., on a Friday morning a year ago. He was headed for the bus stop, then the airport, then Texas.

‘I’m going,’ he told his mother. ‘You can’t stop me.’

Stacey Stern, his mother, wondered if he was right. “I briefly thought: Do I have him arrested at the gate?”

But the truth was, she felt conflicted. Should she stop her son from going on his first business trip?”

“The college-or-not debate neglects other questions that high school students like Ryan and Louis and their families are wrestling with now: Go to class or on a business trip? Do grades still matter? What do you do with $20,000 when you’re 15? And when the money rolls in, what happens to parental control?

Things used to be linear. You went to a good school and you got a good job, and that was the societally acceptable thing to do,’ said Ms. Stern, Ryan’s mother, who was a straight-A student and is a graduate of Duke University.

Now, she said, ‘there is no rule book.’” — The Youngest Technorati

If you can start doing real work as a teen, is a college degree still important?
 
I don’t even think that’s the point. Why is it that we pit college against doing real work? Shouldn’t college be equivalent to doing real work? So what we’re talking about is doing real work and getting paid for it (and learning your skills primarily on your own, I’m guessing) vs. doing real work and paying someone else for the privilege (and being taught to do real things by professors — that isn’t what college was like for me, but let’s assume). These aren’t terribly different things; they are very similar things with terribly different price tags.
 
As pointed out by readers on Facebook, any kid who can write an app and earn $30,000 in high school should be able to figure out how to get a college degree if he or she needs it or wants it. Why the false dichotomy of school vs. real work/real world?
 
If we really believe that trite phrase “life-long learner” (and we don’t — please feel the power of my air quotes) then the transition from childhood to adulthood would look a whole lot different. We would be able to do real work and keep learning. They would complement each other, not be pitted against one another in the world’s most meaningless cage match. (Although it’s always fun to watch twins fight. Because that’s what meaningful work and learning are — the exact same thing.)
 
We were talking amongst ourselves on Twitter about how this article about teens doing real work started out strong but ended with a balloon-releasing-air noise:

Louis is committed to college, a view that solidified in the fall, partly after bearing witness to the experience of friends in the working world. ‘Their Facebook posts are all about work,’ he said. ‘Their lives don’t seem that interesting.’”

“He applied to Carnegie Mellon. He also applied to Georgia Tech, without parental prompting. It wasn’t lost on his father that both schools were far from Silicon Valley.

Louis said he wants ‘the full college experience.’ It’s almost as if he’s been given the gift of seeing an alternate version of his life — that of a passionate developer who leaps into the tech fray — and realizes that the real world is a lot of work.

I want to have fun,’ he said. ‘I still feel like a kid — kind of.’”

Is this a big win for parents who want their kids to go to college? It’s not like he’s on fire to go to college to learn. He wants to have fun. I’m seeing kegs in his thought bubble, not books and study carrels. This goes back to the idea that your four (or more likely five) years at college are a social rite of passage, not a deep immersion in learning and working — because, hello, work is boring. Louis already has that figured out! It’s work or fun and fun wins. Poor Louis. No wonder kids are taking longer and longer to finish their degree.
 
If your kid opts for college because he wants to hit the pause button on real life, that, to me, is not a win.
 
Here’s another quote from that same article:
Kane Sarhan…said that 20 percent of [teen] interns [in his program], making $25,000 a year, come directly from high school. But he also encourages college for many people, saying it’s the rare teenager who is ready for the “work, motivation and time” that it takes to go directly into the real world.
Okay, um. Let that sink in. Your teens aren’t ready for doing real work. They don’t have the motivation. They aren’t ready for the real world. Which means, presumably, that those things won’t be found in high school (and weren’t acquired in high school) — or even, apparently, in college. Only in the real world of work, which they will be completely ready for at age 22. Or 23. Or maybe a bit later; we’ll see.
 
Stating the obvious, but teens should be doing real work. Work and fun are not opposite poles. And if kids are just partying in college and not doing real work, then we’ve pretty much blown it. Our education system is a “delaying adulthood” system.
 
I’m going to end by quoting Meg Jay, whose book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter should really be read by all parents:

The longer it takes to get our footing in work, the more likely we are to become, as one journalist put it, “different and damaged.” Research on underemployed twentysomethings tells us that those who are underemployed for as little as nine months tend to be more depressed and less motivated than their peers — than even their unemployed peers. … Twentysomething underemployment is associated with heavy drinking and depression in middle age even after becoming regulrly employed.

Twentysomethings who think they have until later to leave unemployment or underemployment miss out on moving ahead while they are still traveling light. No matter how smoothly this goes, late bloomers will likely never close the gap between themselves and those who got started earlier. … Midlife is when we may realize that our twentysomething choices cannot be undone.

It is almost a relief to imagine that these years aren’t real, that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count. But a career spent studying adult development tells me this is far from true. And years of listening closely to clients and students tells me that, deep down, twentysomethings want to be taken seriously, and they want their lives to be taken seriously. They want to know what they do matters — and it does. — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter

I know you don’t need me to connect the dots for you, but let’s just say it out loud: As important as it is to not waste your twenties, it’s just as important to not waste your teen years.

This is a time when kids have the most freedom to learn and try and explore and do. And instead of encouraging them to make the absolute most of it — instead of filling that time with meaningful work and real experiences — we tell them to focus on getting good grades. Protect their GPA. Build a resume to get into the best possible college so they can enjoy a four- or five-year vacation before they have to face the real world and real work. If the economy’s down, that’s okay — throw a graduate degree on there as well. A few more years before reality has to set in.

If we really believe these incredibly negative things about life — that work is bad and fun is good and never the twain shall meet, that grades are more important than learning, that learning ends as soon as you get your diploma — then no wonder our kids are floundering.

There aren’t enough adults living lives that blend meaningful work and continuous learning. We somehow think our kids are going to spontaneously seek out something they’ve never experienced — a balanced life, challenging work, self-directed learning. But if they’ve never lived that way and they don’t know anyone who lives that way, how are they going to find that path and what is going to motivate them to walk it?

 

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass

 

What I’ve been reading

Published by Lori Pickert on March 7, 2014 at 07:43 AM

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.” — Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck

 

I am a fan of Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. (My favorite quote from that book: “Common sense is not common action.”) This week I’ve been reading his new book:

“As it turns out, IQ and technical skills combined predict only 20 to 25 percent of job success. That means that over 75 percent of your career outcome has nothing to do with your intelligence and training

If IQ is a bad predictor, maybe SAT scores, a more modern testing tool, would be better? Not the case. As a matter of fact, they are much worse. SAT scores predict only 8 to 15 percent of college freshmen’s GPA, which means that for around 88.5 percent of college students, SAT scores are no better at predicting academic success than a pair of dice. …

High school grades are twice as predictive of college success as SAT scores. [But a]fter a decade of research, [Thomas J. Stanley, PhD, author of The Millionaire Mind] found no correlation between grades and professional success: a coin flip would be as predictive of greatness as grades. This explains the oft-cited paradox that so many C students in business school end up running companies and so many A students end up working for them.” — Shawn Achor, Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change

One of the people who devised the Common Core is remaking the SAT and aligning it more with said Common Core:

report released last month by William C. Hiss, a former dean of admissions at Bates College, and Valerie W. Franks, a former Bates assistant dean of admissions, supports Wake Forest’s experience. They reviewed 33 colleges and universities that did not require SAT or A.C.T. scores and found no significant difference in college G.P.A. or graduation rates between those who had submitted tests and those who had not. Specifically, they saw that students with good high-school grades did well in college, even if they had weak SAT scores. But students with weaker high-school grades — even with strong SATs — did less well in college. — The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul

Will rehauling the SAT make it more predictive of job success? Why do I suspect it won’t?

“The predictive validity is going to come out the same,” she said of the redesigned test. — ibid.

Well, there you go. Roll of the dice it is.

 

 

If you’re creeped out that the Common Core guy is now redesigning the SAT, too, here’s what Lucy Calkins had to say about that:

With a redesigned SAT, Calkins thinks that too much of the nation’s education curriculum and assessment may rest in one person’s hands. “The issue is: Are we in a place to let Dave Coleman control the entire K-to-12 curriculum?”  — ibid.

Coincidentally, I had already read a slew of articles this week about the SAT…

Did you know employers might ask for your SAT scores years after you graduate from college? I didn’t!

Stephen Robert Morse was a candidate for a communications job when the recruiter told him to be ready to discuss his SAT score in a coming interview.

Mr. Morse, 28 years old, said he was “shocked” that a potential boss would be interested in the results of a test he took more than a decade earlier.

“When you’re hiring people and they don’t have a lot of work experience, you have to start with some set of data points.” — Job Hunting? Dig Up Those Old SAT Scores

Wowza. I liked what Lisa Nielsen said about this: “It is not that schools are failing to teach students to become skilled workers, but that schools are not providing them with enough experience doing things in the world.” (She said that here, apparently summing up something that Anthony Cody said, although I didn’t really get that from what Cody was saying. Just taking this statement out of context, however, I agree with it completely. Why don’t kids do more real things? As the last sentence of that quote says, without proof of actual experience doing things in the real world, we are reduced to numbers that may or may not accurately represent what we can do.)

If the idea of your SAT scores dogging you into your adult working life doesn’t disturb you, this bit from the same article might:

Cvent, which employs more than 1,400 people, hasn’t tested whether its best employees are also its top SAT scorers. “Knowing it’s a standardized test is really enough for us,” Mr. Eden said. — ibid.

Oh ho ho, hello. I wonder if that statement expresses the feeling of the people in charge of standardized testing for kids as well. Does it give accurate information that tells us something necessary and real? Oh well, knowing it’s a standardized test is really enough, isn’t it?

It’s long been said that the SAT is (grossly) unfairly weighted toward privileged students:

“There is a substantial body of evidence that the system is failing to reward students with high test scores who come from low-income families.” — The Reproduction of Privilege

“Generally speaking, the wealthier a student’s family is, the higher the SAT score.” — SAT Scores and Family Income

“SAT and ACT scores are weak predictors of grades and … they come with inherent social disparities.” — SAT Wars: Exposing New Evidence of Flaws in Standardized Tests

Standardized tests allow colleges to practice social discrimination in the name of academic selectivity, when, in reality, high school grades are the best predictor of future collegiate success.” — SAT Wars: Exposing New Evidence of Flaws in Standardized Tests

Wake Forest dumped the SAT requirement and lo and behold:

Wake Forest says its incoming classes are a lot more diverse — more low-income students, more racial minorities, more first-generation students — than they were when the university used to plug SAT scores into its admissions formula. — Wake Forest and the SAT

But hey, knowing that it’s a standardized test is really enough for us, right?

(I’m sure the SAT is changing so it will be more fair — or is it because the ACT test is gaining a lot of market share? Potato, po-tah-to.)

Is the SAT an accurate representation of how people will perform in the workplace?

I can’t think of a more useless indicator of the ability to be successful in one’s job. That’s because the SAT does not measure the soft skills that have proved to be so important in the workplace. I’m referring to such things as the ability to work with others and to endure in the face of failure. Further, what possible relevance do scores posted by high school seniors have a decade or more later?

Nevertheless, many companies persist in the fiction that the SAT is a reliable factor in predicting success.  Even when two candidates bring almost identical backgrounds, I doubt that the SAT provides any useful information in making a hiring decision. I tried to make a distinction between an aptitude test and an achievement test (UnSATisfactory, Education Week, Jun. 14, 2006).  But companies confuse the two when they say that the SAT measures the knowledge and skills in a given subject. — The Immortal SAT, EdWeek

Speaking of being disturbed, I was shaking my head over this article about a mom who took the SAT herself in order to coerce her son into caring more about college than Halo:

Her oldest child, Ethan, a B student with modest athletic abilities (yet several minor concussions), was a sophomore in high school. Stier, in her words, was “beginning to feel frantic.” Ethan would soon be applying to college, but what were his chances of getting into a good one?

“A possibility presented itself,” she writes. “Ethan could study for the SAT, earn high scores, and get a scholarship at a decent school.” There was just one hitch: Ethan wasn’t interested in studying for the SAT. He preferred playing Halo. So Stier thought she would model the behavior she was hoping to inspire: “I thought maybe I could motivate Ethan to care about the SAT, just a little, if I climbed into the trenches myself.” — When Grownups Take the SAT

I write a lot about modeling behavior; for the record, this is not what I mean. And let’s ignore that bit about several minor concussions (?!) — that would be an entire other topic.

There is a difference between modeling behavior and being coercive and manipulative. In my opinion, you get a lot further by living the life you hope your children will live — letting them see you work hard for something you care about, for example — than by trying to shame them into doing what you want.

Somewhere between the fourth SAT and the fifth, Stier’s project very nearly collapses, along with her family life. It’s summer, when no SATs are offered, and Stier decides this would be a good time for her and Ethan and Ethan’s younger sister, Daisy, to work together on their math skills. She brings the kids to a local tutoring center so they can all take a diagnostic exam. Apparently, the two teen-agers have not been consulted about this plan, because they react with fury. Stier, in turn, is enraged by their behavior. Harsh words are exchanged. That night, the kids decamp to their father’s house. Some days later, they reappear, but bad feelings linger.

“Ironically,” Stier observes, “it was now time for Ethan to begin studying for the SAT in earnest, and we were barely speaking.”

This is what I said on Facebook:

What happens when you wait until your children are teens and leaving home to get them involved in their own education? It doesn’t go well.

I don’t even understand how this happens. How are teens uninterested in their own future? How are they totally uninvolved in their own learning? How does a parent ambush teen children with unwanted summer remedial math classes? There’s a basic lack of communication and respect here that I simply don’t get. I guess this is helicopter parenting. I see it as micromanaging. If your children are teens, they are nearly adults. They should be immersing themselves in their interests, getting real experience doing things they want to do, and they should above all be very motivated to do whatever it takes to secure the future they want. They should be experimenting now, when the stakes are low, with taking responsibility for meeting their own goals. If kids are this checked out, how will they fare once there are no adults to tell them what to do and how to do it?

I tore this editorial out of the Chicago Tribune at least a decade ago, and apparently it still holds true:

As they near college, we drive exhausted teens toward milestones of success ruled by grades, standardized test scores, and the ultimate mark of achievement these days: a brand-name school. Spent and busy parents expect me, their college consultant, to nag, drag, and, if necessary, carry their reluctant, exhausted, and often passionless kids toward the finish line and a “top-tier” college.

When I ask what would happen if their kids were left alone to complete this process without parental fuel driving them, they are often confused by my question.

I see many teens of means with few interests and little idea how to pursue those mild passions they do have. Ironically, many are successful academically. Rarely, however, is their success driven by a quest for knowledge. Rather, they tie academic achievement to eventual financial success. — “The Dangers of Privilege and College Admission,” by college consultant William Caskey

I’m going to answer my own question: Why are teens so uninterested in their own future? Perhaps because they’re so entirely uninterested in their present.

Finally, the writer of the article (not the mother in question) sums up her own feelings about the SAT:

Whatever is at the center of the SAT — call it aptitude or assessment or assiduousness or ambition — the exam at this point represents an accident. It was conceived for one purpose, adapted for another, and somewhere along the line it acquired a hold on American life that nobody ever intended.

Is it just me, or do we still suspect the changes to the SAT aren’t going to make it any more relevant to real-world success?

Here’s a bonus thought. IQ is not immutable.

Wasn’t the IQ test meant to summarize children’s unchangeable intelligence? In fact, no. [Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test], a Frenchman working in Paris in the early twentieth century, designed this test to identify children who were not profiting from the Paris public schools, so that new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track. Without denying individual differences in children’s intellects, he believed that education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence. — Carol Dweck, Mindset

and

[S]cientists are learning that people have more capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than they ever thought. Of course, each person has a unique genetic endowment. People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but it is clear that experience, training, and personal effort take them the rest of the way. Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.” Or, as his forerunner Binet recognized, it’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest. — Carol Dweck, Mindset

Permanently tagging students with a score based on a standardized test that may have virtually no power to predict their success in their chosen work — and then forcing them to drag that number through college and out the other side into the working world — assumes that their potential can be summed up by a test taken when they were teenagers. It is a fixed, not a growth, mindset — and I imagine it does very little to convey to students that their actual success depends on their own effort.

Permission to be yourself

Published by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Today I was reading William Zinsser’s newest book of essays and was struck by what he said about his students, mostly women, who take his memoir-writing class:

Most of them are paralyzed by the thought of writing a memoir. How can they possibly sort out the smothering clutter of the past? But mainly it’s fear of writing about themselves.

… I want them to think of themselves as people — women who lead interesting lives and who also write, trusting their own humanity to tell plain stories about their thoughts and emotions. Why do they think they need permssion to be themselves? “Who would care about my story?” they say. I would. I give them permission to write about the parts of their lives that they have always dismissed as unimportant.

What Zinsser does for his students is what we do for our children when we support them to pursue their own meaningful work.

If they begin early enough, they may never hesitate and think that they need permission to be themselves. But if they start a little later, or if they hear messages from peers and the other people around them: Shh, don’t embarrass yourself. Don’t embarrass me. You’re not good enough. You’re not old enough. You’re not smart enough. Maybe later. Shh.

These messages don’t even have to be spoken out loud; they come through as gestures and grimaces and parents changing the subject. Enough of that and they may believe no one cares about what interests them. They may doubt that anyone will be interested in what they have to say. They may doubt whether they can be writers and artists and builders and makers. Does the world need or want what they can offer?

By being your child’s first audience, you send the message: Someone cares about what you think. Someone cares about what you make and do.

By supporting their work, whatever it is, you show them that they can produce what they consume. They can contribute something of their own. Their perspective and their opinion matters. Their ideas matter.

Many of us are paralyzed at the thought of doing whatever it is we want to do. We think no one cares or wants to hear what we have to say. We think our contribution is so negligible, it’s not worth anyone taking notice — and if they did take notice… well, our heart beats faster just at the thought.

When we do our own meaningful work and when we make it possible for our children to do theirs, we’re helping them avoid falling into this trap. They don’t need anyone’s permission to be themselves. They don’t need to be picked. They don’t need to be praised or rewarded. Their ideas matter. Their opinions matter. Their interests matter. The sooner they learn that — the sooner they know it’s true — the sooner they can own their feelings, their interests and talents, and their life.

Make sure they know they have your permission to be themselves.

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on September 28, 2013 at 08:21 AM

This week’s Facebook links (and some bonus finds) are a continuation of last week’s focus on college, learning to learn vs. learning to earn, and that elusive thing called happiness — or maybe we’ll settle for contentment.

I’m going to start with a great quote from Charles D. Hayes:

Millions of Americans have been so jaded by traditional education…they fail to comprehend that learning and quality of life are interdependent.

Traditional education has duped us into believing, or at least behaving as if we believed, that learning to earn a living is hard and that learning to live well is easy. But the evidence…suggests the reverse: we are good at earning a living, but not good at living a living. — Charles D. Hayes

Child psychologists in the UK have now extended adolescence to age 25:

“The idea that suddenly at 18 you’re an adult just doesn’t quite ring true,” Laverne Antrobus, a child psychologist at London’s Tavistock Clinic, told the BBC. “My experience of young people is that they still need quite a considerable amount of support and help beyond that age.” — Medical Daily

This is interesting, as I’ve just recently finished reading Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now. The idea of pushing adolescence to the mid-twenties sounds like what Jay describes as giving kids excuses to put off making serious decisions about their lives, their relationships, and their work. Jay, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with twenty-somethings, has a lot to say on this subject:

[S]ome underemployment is not a means to an end. Sometimes it is just a way to pretend we’re not working.

The longer it takes to get our footing in work, the more likely we are to become, as one journalist put it, “different and damaged.” Research on underemployed twentysomethings tells us that those who are underemployed for as little as nine months tend to be more depressed and less motivated than their peers — than even their unemployed peers. … Twentysomething underemployment is associated with heavy drinking and depression in middle age even after becoming regulrly employed.

Twentysomethings who think they have until later to leave unemployment or underemployment miss out on moving ahead while they are still traveling light. No matter how smoothly this goes, late bloomers will likely never close the gap between themselves and those who got started earlier. … Midlife is when we may realize that our twentysomething choices cannot be undone.

It is almost a relief to imagine that these years aren’t real, that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count. But a career spent studying adult development tells me this is far from true. And years of listening closely to clients and students tells me that, deep down, twentysomethings want to be taken seriously, and they want their lives to be taken seriously. They want to know what they do matters — and it does.

Back it all the way up to preschool and what do we find? Kids who are already afraid to fail:

“‘I asked the children to draw pictures of houses but they wanted me to draw the houses for them." Why? "They didn't want to get them wrong.’

Or: ‘We were talking about what things float and one of the objects was a sieve. I asked if a sieve could float and a child said “no.” And then he looked at me and said, “it could.” Why. He didn’t want to make a mistake.”

Or: ‘The children were drawing and one child asked, “Is this going to be in the grade book?’”

These comments are sadly typical. I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last week and a grandmother told of taking her grandson to kindergarten. He was beside himself with excitement to start school. A few weeks later that excitement had waned. She asked him what he was learning in kindergarten. He told her that he was learning to take tests.” — Kids These Days

What are we teaching kids in school if in early childhood they’re already trying to figure out the right answer vs. learning how to think? Already, they’re worrying about how to be good students vs. how to be good learners:

There is a difference between being a good learner and a good student, and in high school, my peers and I learned how to be good students.”

“…I became increasingly aware of the role that my current grades would play in my near future. Doing all of my homework no longer felt realistic. My friends and I realized we didn’t have to do everything assigned to us in order to succeed in high school.”

I hope college is where I can become a good learner.” — My Insane Homework Load Taught Me How to Game the System

We already know what type of education helps kids succeed *and* be happy:

“Dweck discovered two groups of students according to what motivated them.

First group, I’ll call the praise-seekers: People who are motivated to learn mostly to get high grades, pats on the back, and praise — and then profit post-graduation.

Second group, I’ll call the meaning-makers and mastery-seekers: People who are motivated to learn mostly by a desire to make meaning, to advance their own knowledge and skill set, and to use knowledge and skills toward a greater goal beyond their own advancement. 

In a longitudinal follow-up, guess which group, ten years later, was more content with work and life?

Yep, group two.” — A Job as Creative Quest

So most kids are afraid to fail and taught to seek praise and good grades — and they’re left unable to think for themselves, take good risks, and be resilient in the face of failure while pursuing important work.

Meg Jay again — on how we get sucked into making choices to please other people (parents, teachers, … and Facebook “friends”):

“Each person has an inherent urge to grow toward his or her potential, much in the way an acorn becomes a tree. But because we all aren’t acorns and won’t all be oaks, there is bound to be confusion about what exactly growing toward our potential means. …

Maybe we feel the cultural press to be an engineer before we find out what exactly that entails. Or our parents tell us more about what we should be like than what we are like. Or Facebook suggests that our … lives ought to look a lot better than they do. Scrambling after ideals, we become alienated from what is true about ourselves and the world.

Shoulds can masquerade as high standards or lofty goals, but they are not the same. Goals direct us from the inside, but shoulds are paralyzing judgments from the outside. Goals feel like authentic dreams while shoulds feel like oppressive obligations. Shoulds set up a false dichotomy between either meeting an ideal or being a failure, between perfection or settling. The tyranny of the should even pits us against our own best interests.

“Part of realizing our potential is recognizing how our particular gifts and limitations fit with the world around us.” — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade

Alexis Ohanian, young co-founder of reddit, says doing real, meaningful work matters:

Most schoolwork felt awfully irrelevant when compared to work that was actually affecting real people and giving me leadership opportunities (albeit digital ones), nurturing the community management skills that would come in handy later.

Learning how to learn is going to be the defining skill of this internet-enabled century.” — Alexis Ohanian

“Learning how to learn” is an oft-heard, even trite phrase. But are our kids really learning how to learn? Those preschool and Kindergarten children who are learning to game the system — and the high school students gaming it several years later — did they learn how to learn?

When will they, if that crucial lesson was skipped?

Some people believe a solution can be found in the maker movement:

“Based on 16 years of hearing pitches about the next great thing in education, what jumps out is that demand from young people — not the education industry's desire to supply something — is driving the maker movement. …

When schools do teach science, too often they are ‘telling students about science’ — and drilling for memorization — instead of engaging them. …

One way to activate student learning, as professor Sugata Mitra has shown through his famous Hole-in-the-Wall experiments, is to give kids the right resources and some motivating content and then get out of the way.” — Teach Kids to Make Things

I have a few bones to pick with the maker movement as adults have organized it for kids — there will be an upcoming post about that. Nutshell: Kids still don’t have enough control — and therefore they aren’t getting the full learning benefit. Until they set their own goals, determine their own deadlines, and measure their own progress, the maker movement isn’t giving kids what they could get on their own, building their learning from scratch. It’s Little League vs. corner-lot ball — the kids are along for the ride, but the adults are still calling too many of the shots.

And is the education system ever going to just hand over resources and content and then get out of the way? Not if they remain focused on test results.

Put these articles and results together and it’s clear that we’re not just choosing a less-beneficial education for kids, we’re putting them on a path that is going to affect their ability to be independent, self-directed learners who can find and do meaningful work as adults:

Thriving workers are 46% more satisfied than their peers.

 

They are 125% less likely to burn out than their non-thriving peers.

 

What’s characteristic of thrivers?

 

They have passion mixed with mastery. They love what they do, but they actively pursue more knowledge and skills.

 

A sub-title on the a Harvard Business Review cover sums it up: How Passion & Purpose Drive Profits. It does not read, ‘How Profits Drive Passion & Purpose.’” — A Job as Creative Quest

I’ll end by referring back to a quote from last week’s round-up:

What makes people successful,’ [Prof. Wadhwa] said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.

 

…[Y]oung people are often steered away from courses they would like to take in school by well-meaning parents, friends or teachers who tell them they will never get a job doing that. Real life often tells a different story. — Finding Your Element

Kids need to be doing real work that matters now — so they’re prepared to make a life as well as a living.

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on June 21, 2013 at 06:53 AM

So we enrolled the PBH Master Class this week and we ran out of spots in a day and a half — amazing. If you want to get an early shot at enrolling in the next class (date as yet unknown), you can put your name on a list here. No commitment, of course — you’ll just get first shot at signing up. This list will be closed on July 8. Thank you to everyone who enrolled and who spread the word!

I hope you guys have been keeping up with PBH Kids — the latest two projects are both LEGO-related and both awesome! If you or your kids want to share a kid-directed project (including work in progress), let me know!

My favorite link this week is from Sugata Mitra:

If examinations challenge learners to solve problems the way they are solved in real life today, the educational system will change for ever. It is a small policy change that is required. Allow the use of the internet and collaboration during an examination.

If we did that to exams, the curriculum would have to be different. We would not need to emphasise facts or figures or dates. The curriculum would have to become questions that have strange and interesting answers. “Where did language come from?,” “Why were the pyramids built?,” “Is life on Earth sustainable?,” “What is the purpose of theatre?” Questions that engage learners in a world of unknowns. Questions that will occupy their minds through their waking hours and sometimes their dreams.

Teaching in an environment where the internet and discussion are allowed in exams would be different. The ability to find things out quickly and accurately would become the predominant skill. The ability to discriminate between alternatives, then put facts together to solve problems would be critical. That’s a skill that future employers would admire immensely.

In this kind of self-organised learning, we don’t need the same teachers all the time. Any teacher can cause any kind of learning to emerge. …

We don’t need to improve schools. We need to reinvent them for our times, our requirements and our future. We don’t need efficient clerks to fuel an administrative machine that is no longer needed. Machines will do that for us. We need people who can think divergently, across outdated “disciplines,” connecting ideas across the entire mass of humanity. We need people who can think like children. — Advent of Google Means We Must Rethink Our Approach to Education

Another favorite Mitra quote:

We need a curriculum of big questions, examinations where children can talk, share and use the Inernet, and new, peer assessment systems. We need children from a range of economic and geographic backgrounds and an army of visionary educators. We need a pedagogy free from fear and focused on the magic of children‘s innate quest for information and understanding. — We Need Schools, Not Factories

So, Mitra says that employers would admire immensely these different skills children could learn if we moved past a testing-based form of education and into what I would call a research- and building-based form. What does Google really want?

“[S]ome of the biggest stalwarts of the hiring and recruiting world — the interview, GPA, and test scores — aren’t nearly as important as people think. 

Google doesn’t even ask for GPA or test scores from candidates anymore, unless someone’s a year or two out of school, because they don’t correlate at all with success at the company. …

Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment,’ [Google VP Bock] says.

While in school, people are trained to give specific answers, ‘it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer,’ Bock says. ‘You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.’”

Test scores don’t correlate with success — at least at Google.

I posted a few links this week about success — and how maybe we need to redefine that for ourselves.

“‘The way we define success isn’t working. … More, bigger, better — we can’t do that anymore.’ …

‘Right now, America’s workplace culture is practically fueled by stress, sleep deprivation and burnout.” …

The answer? To create a movement that embraces the idea that physical and spiritual wellness — from meditation to exercise to good nutrition — are integral to, not separate from, a successful life.” — A Call for a Movement to Redefine the Successful Life

And another quote from that article:

The idea that people are eager to find — or define — success outside the normal parameters is backed up by a study done for American Express.

The top ways people define a successful life, according to the study: Being in good health, finding time for the important things in life, having a good marriage/relationship and knowing how to spend money well. …

According to the Monitor report, many fewer people see owning an expensive car as a sign of success, while being satisfied and in control of your life have grown over the years. — ibid.

This article had some suggestions for redefining success:

“Most people who want a lot out of life are their own worst enemy. They take themselves too seriously. Judge themselves too harshly. Expect too much out of themselves and others. If you can learn to let go of all your expectations, quit trying so hard to get somewhere, you'll learn that just being you, present in this moment, is all that matters.” — Six Unique Ways to Be Successful and Happy

Sound good? Debbie Millman reminds us that our future is in our own hands: 

“Every once in awhile when we least expect it, we encounter someone more courageous, someone who chose to strive for that which (to us) seemed unrealistically unattainable, even elusive. And we marvel. We swoon. We gape. Often we are in awe. I think we look at these people as lucky when in fact, luck has nothing to do with it. It is really all about the strength of their imagination; it is about how they constructed the possibilities for their life. In short, unlike me, they didn’t determine what was impossible before it was even possible. …

If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.” — Fail Safe: Debbie Millman’s Advice on Courage and the Creative Life

What does it take to redefine success for yourself? It’s hard to swim against the current. It helps to have a community of like-minded people who are also trying to wrest control of their own lives and their own destinies. If you need a community like that, think about joining the PBH forum.

In PBH-related news, check out Dawn’s beautiful post about building the community she needed:

“The room held a calm energy. Plenty of people talking, but no raised voices. Plenty of moving around, but no running, either with or without scissors. In between directing one child to cut paper in thirds, lengthwise, hand-over-hand guiding another’s fingers in separating the delicate, gentle tissue layers to form the petals, and commenting on how a color choice resulted in a lovely representation of a real flower, I sensed the flow happening around me. Adults and children, solitary or in small groups, knitting, crocheting, beading. Sewing, stitching, tying, trying. Siblings assisting each other, showing their work to each other. Quiet concentration, satisfaction with effort and result.” — Show me what you’re working with @ Happyer at Home

If you are interested in building a community, check out these free guides:

The Introvert’s Guide to Building Community

How to Start a Project Group

Hope everyone has a great week — I’ll have a new PBH for Grown-ups post on Monday!

I love how through this group I can see myself making progress as I work through each of my concerns and challenges. So glad it exists!!!! — PBH forum member

[Lori] also has a great forum, not a boring old “look how wonderful we are” forum, but a really inspiring one full of practical ideas for implementing project-based learning. — Kate @ An Everyday Story

Friday link round-up + announcement

Published by Lori Pickert on June 14, 2013 at 08:31 AM

If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves. — Thomas Edison

First, the announcement:

PBH Master Class

In July I’ll be teaching a PBH Master Class. For six weeks, we’ll be reading selections from the book along with supplementary readings and new material I’ve prepared just for this class.

I’ll be leading and supporting class members in a deeper exploration of the key elements of this approach and helping you put these ideas into immediate practice.

This class is not only for homeschoolers — it’s for any parent (or teacher) who is interested in supporting children’s interests and helping them become active thinkers, learners, makers, and doers. Please share the word if you think someone might be interested or helped by this class!

You’ll also have the chance to make some like-minded friends who have the same goals and values for learning and supporting children. We’ll have a private forum where class participants can discuss each week’s focus and share questions, ideas, and issues. This forum will stay up after the class is over so you can stay in touch with your cohort and keep learning together and supporting one another.

I hope to have the sign-up page ready early next week. If you are interested and would like to receive the e-mail alert, please sign up here.

Thank you!

And now, this week on Facebook

One of the best things I saw this week was this short video about creativity versus looking for a particular answer. It’s well worth a couple minutes of your time.

Even when adults are trying to set up a situation where kids can be creative, if children get a hint that they are hoping they do something in particular, it will squelch their creativity. The children start trying to please the adults rather than freely making and building and having their own ideas. This video is a beautiful example of what can happen when we back off and drop our own ideas in favor of theirs.

I loved this post about children needing purpose in their work, which is the heart of PBH:

[S]tudents today may be high achievers but they have no idea what for. … [They] need to find a purpose in life — something meaningful to themselves that also serves the greater good. …

In a series of studies of over 1,200 youth ages 12 to 26, Damon found that those who were actively pursuing a clear purpose reaped tremendous benefits that were both immediate and that could also last a lifetime.

[I]mmediate benefits included extra positive energy that not only kept students motivated, but also helped them acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue their purpose, making them very strong learners.

Youth with a strong sense of purpose also benefited from positive emotions such as gratitude, self-confidence, optimism and a deep sense of fulfillment — all of which scientists have found help prevent depression and anxiety.

Students who carry this sense of purpose into adulthood may also benefit in the long run. Research shows that adults who feel their lives have meaning and purpose are happier, more successful at work, and maintain stronger relationships.” — Putting the “Awe” Back in “Awesome” — Helping Students Develop Purpose @ Edutopia

The sharing part of PBH taps directly into this. Connecting with their community and making a real contribution = purpose.

And this is so much easier to accomplish at home where kids can work on a project that is authentically meaningful and engaging to them!

Heather wrote a great post about mentoring your child to sew if you yourself don’t sew. She does a great job of outlining how any parent can be a supportive mentor in an area where they may not be particularly skilled:

“You might choose to learn with your child or you can help make it happen. Being a mentor means being a guide to something your child wants to learn. The great thing in this situation is that your child is coming to you with an interest. Just think of the intrinsic interest and motivation already at play! …

Remember that if you want your student to be in control and to lead the way in her endeavor to learn to sew, then the materials she needs for the job need to be at the ready. …Workspace is about making the project/learning activity accessible. I could make a long list of things my kids have ownership over in their learning and all of them involve us relinquishing control over workspace. We’ve worked to carve out spots for our kids to engage in what matters the most to them.” — Teaching Sewing in Your Homeschool (Whether or Not You Sew!) @ Blog She Wrote

She really gets into fine detail about environment, materials, and so on, so definitely check it out — you can apply the same ideas to any interest!

More and more people are stating the opinion that every kid needs to learn how to code. I really liked this article saying coding isn’t a golden ticket if kids can’t write — because writing is an essential skill to really succeed in business:

“Computer programming gets great press. … [Y]oung people have long been counseled on the advantages of learning how to program. … [Y]et, when I visit software companies, I often notice that the most successful employees aren’t necessarily the best coders. Instead, leaders in the software business are usually pretty good coders who also happen to be fantastic communicators. …

Whatever you do in the new economy, wherever you go, you’re going to be called upon to write. And the better you write — the more succinctly and confidently you wield language on the page — the more you’ll stand out. If you want to succeed, then, write. Learn to write, and practice every single day. …

Writing is really just a formalized way of thinking. Writing turns all those ideas that are flitting about your brain into a coherent picture of the world. That’s why you can’t ignore writing; in the modern economy, how well you write will often be taken as a proxy for how well you think.” — Class of 2013: Learn to write code. Sure. But really, learn to write.

As a person who’s been self-employed since college, I would add that writing is an essential skill for everyone, not just graduates seeking a job. If you can’t write a clear cover letter and resumé, your paperwork hits the circular file. But it was just as important for me to be able to communicate clearly to clients (and potential clients). How you write = how you present yourself to the world. The more we rely on the computer to do business, the less it’s about face-to-face contact and the more it’s about the page and the screen. Today, you may never meet in person the people you work for or the people who work for you — they will know you by your writing.

On the flip side, an interesting article from NPR about high school students reading less and less challenging works:

"‘The complexity of texts [high school] students are being assigned to read,’ Stickney says, ‘has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level.

Reading leads to reading… It’s when kids stop reading, or never get started in the first place, that there's no chance of ever getting them hooked on more complex books.” — What Kids Are Reading, In School and Out @ NPR

Wow, this sparked a huge conversation on twitter. Some people really wanted to stand up for YA and MG literature and pointed out that story and theme are just as important as technical reading level, and kids are more likely to be deeply engaged and have good discussion around a book they actually enjoy and understand. I don’t think it’s an either-or issue and I stand by my conviction that kids should be exposed to more challenging works in school. What say you?

We had another big twitter discussion about library reading programs, of which, as you may remember, I am not a fan:

[I]t’s a shame to treat reading as a sort of punishment — or something that requires a spoonful of sugar to go down, which is why I’m a curmudgon about reading programs that bribe kids with prizes or pizza if they read. Reading isn’t punishment — reading is one of the greatest things ever. When we act this way, we are sending a clear message that reading isn’t awesome — it’s something that requires cajoling, bribery, or denial. — In defense of reading, which should need no defense

Librarians insist that these programs bring more kids in to the library and get more kids reading — but it’s the adults who are pulled in by the programs, right? So I suggest we stop offering the bribes to the kids and give out free Starbucks coupons to the parents. I think it could work.

A couple of PBH for Grown-Ups-style links…

I liked this brief article about finding ten minutes in your day for the thing that matters to you — they were specifically talking about meditating, but the same thinking holds for anything you wish you could fit into your day:

“When was the last time you took 10 minutes to do nothing?

We may tell ourselves we take an hour to relax every night while we watch our favourite TV show or reading that book you never seem to finish. The half an hour journey to work with music from our iPod crowding the senses is also a familiar activity we may call our ‘chill time’. But in reality, none of the above is still not doing ‘nothing’.” — I don’t have ten minutes @ Scrawl Media

We have to use the time we have and prioritize the things that really matter. Find ten minutes for your meaningful work!

In that same vein, I like this series they’re doing at WhipUp — the quote is for the whole series:

“Stop listening to the advice of those that say it can’t be done, and seek the advice of those who are successfully doing what you want to do.”

Every day I see bad advice on Twitter and cringe. Be choosy about whose advice you’re seeking. Make sure they know what they’re talking about. If you want real, useful advice, take the time to choose mentors (even online mentors or authors) who have experience and success to back up their words. Think about the motives of the people who are offering you advice.

Do they want to be an insta-expert? (They spent a few hours reading about a subject online and now they’re an expert themselves.)

Do they have puffy ego issues? (They love being asked for help so much, they offer it whether they know what they’re talking about or not.)

Are they mostly focused on making money? (Have they had a long-term interest in this topic or is it just a niche they want to exploit?)

There is no substitute for doing your own research. Take the time to go to the library and check out a few books. Even a modest amount of familiarity with a subject can help you spot some of the people who don’t have the real knowledge to back up their faux authority. Then read their about page and make sure they’ve walked the walk before they started talking the talk. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted time and heartache.

Ooh, I got a little cranky there at the end! Thanks as always for your support of the PBH community! And don’t forget to sign up for the e-mail list if you are interested in the master class. Have a great weekend!

Friday link round-up + updated PBH group guide

Published by Lori Pickert on June 8, 2013 at 07:40 AM

Before we get started, I’ve updated How to Start a Project Group, incorporating the additional suggestions and questions I received after I posted the first draft. If you want to share strategies with other people who are using PBH in co-ops, summer camps, and family PBH groups, join the forum!

We missed last week’s round-up, so here’s what I’ve been sharing on the PBH facebook page for the past couple of weeks…

First, a beautiful blog post Abbey wrote about her “PBH conversion experience”:

“Tonight, I went beyond “mentally committed because this seems like the best choice.” Tonight, I became totally heart-committed and gut-committed to this idea of letting his interests spark and catch fire and burn through acres of material … because tonight, I saw the pure joy in his face at being able to soak up as much information as he could hold with the promise that he would be able to keep coming back for more the next day, the one after that, the one after that, as long as he wanted. …

It was passionate. It was instinctive. It was his idea, his momentum, his knowledge, his research. And yet now, without adult prompting or coaching, he has learned where Argentina is, how big Herrerasaurus was, in what period it lived, what it ate, what its bones looked like, and that it had a small role in the movie Jurassic Park. (A little pop culture knowledge is almost always useful, right?)

I know it might not be like this all the time, but it can be like this at least some of the time. I can do this… I can make this possible for him by creating an environment in which he has what he needs to do this for himself. For the first time, I feel certain that this is the right decision for him and for our family right now. He's more than capable — I’ve always known that.

Now I can picture what it looks like.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: My Conversion Moment @ Surviving Our Blessings

And this is a way we can learn, not just in childhood, but for life:

“Self-directed play allows both children and adults to develop a powerful attention strategy, a strategy that I call ‘relaxed presence.’ …

When you [read or built things as a child], nobody was giving you an assignment, nobody was telling you what to do — there wasn’t any stress around it. You did these things for your own pleasure and joy. As you played, you developed a capacity for attention and for a type of curiosity and experimentation that can happen when you play. You were in the moment, and the moment was unfolding in a natural way.

You were in a state of relaxed presence as you explored your world. At one point, I interviewed a handful of Nobel laureates about their childhood play patterns. They talked about how they expressed their curiosity through experimentation. They enthusiastically described things they built, and how one play experience naturally led into another. In most cases, by the end of the interview, the scientist would say, “This is exactly what I do in my lab today! I’m still playing!’” — The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World @ The Atlantic

Bridging from preschool age to Nobel laureates, how does self-directed play and learning look like for older kids? At the IL Math & Science Academy, students get 20% of their time (one school day per week) to work on projects of their own choosing — or just to play:

“Every Wednesday at [the Illinois Math & Sci Acad], students are free to work on whatever they want — to follow their particular passions through self-directed study, internships, or other projects.

“[Peter Chu] spent countless hours playing this Dungeons-and-Dragons-like computer creation, but playing wasn’t enough. He wanted to understand how the game worked and, more importantly, change the things he didn’t like about it. As luck would have it, DikuMUD was open source software, so he was free to download the code that underpinned the game and start hacking it — and that’s what he did.”

“Other IMSA alums have gone on to discover new solar systems, teach neurosurgery, and found such notable tech outfits as YouTube, Yelp, SparkNotes, and OK Cupid. And the spirit that moved Chu to teach himself programming is still very much alive and well.” — Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow @ Wired

This is compared to Google’s 20% time — a perk about which one employee said, “[W]hen you give engineers the chance to apply their passion to their [work], they can do amazing things.”

PBH is about giving kids time to work on their own deep interests, time when they are supported and mentored. It doesn’t have to be the entire curriculum, but it is essential for children to learn to direct and manage their own learning and their own meaningful work.

Kids need white space — they need down time. They need time to relax and play. And they need to develop the ability to manage themselves without being constantly kept busy with activities:

Modern parents are almost obsessed with filling up their children’s time. … [A]lone time is time a son or daughter uses to learn how to entertain themselves or just relax, without help or input from parents, siblings, friends, or babysitters. And it is a crucial aspect of the development of independence.

… The real world is not a constant party, or a day at camp. Real world includes downtime, and it includes alone time. And your job as a parent isn’t to entertain your children 24 hours a day. Introducing your child early on to the idea of spending time alone — and liking it — will help your son and/or daughter become a better companion to others and get more from their relationships with friends — and with you. They will grow to be an adult who can be happy on his/her own, or with someone else. And isn’t that the goal?” — Why Alone Time is So Important for Boys and Girls

In the forum we’ve been talking about how to help a child move from needing 24/7 interaction to being more self-directed.

Since it’s graduation season, we’ve been sharing some advice to graduates — advice that we can integrate into how our kids learn now:

“Jobs suck. At least the traditional version of a job, in which you do something you sorta hate, from 9-5p, and are paid for your time to just grit your teeth and do it. Let’s call this the ‘sell your time’ version of a personal business model: You sell your time to an employer, and they pay you for that time. …

There’s a better way — though it might not be the easiest way. … Learn to make something. Anything.” — New College Grads: Don’t Sell Your Time for a Living @ Andrew Chen

Real skills matter! In fact, they’re the most important thing potential employers care about:

“[T]wo of the first three people I hired for my new company made the decision not to get a college degree, and in both cases, it was the correct decision to make. If you talk to either of them, you will quickly realize that they are more intelligent and intellectual than 99 percent of the ‘degree holding’ population. They read more books than most college graduates I know.

Their head shots are prominently displayed on the ‘Our Team’ page of my venture pitch, and I have yet to have a single investor ask, ‘Where did that guy to go school?’ Investors prefer to ask, ‘What company did you steal them from?’

What’s more, skipping college puts pressure on young people to actually learn real skills and deliver real value — and that is a good thing.” — How Much Does Your College Degree Matter? @ PandoDaily

Scared to deviate from the crowd?

“Standing out seems riskier than conforming. But nobody ever talks about the risks of conforming: boredom (the worst of tortues), an uninteresting narrative (you'll never land your dream job), regret (we don't regret the things we do; we regret the things we don't do), a long and frustrated journey through the rest of your life (stemming from a lack of self-awareness).” — 31 Things I’d Have Told Myself Before College

Personalized education that focuses on your strengths takes you further than one-size-fits-all that focuses on your perceived deficits.

It can be scary to stand out, but even worse to blend in.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” — Bill Watterson

For those of you attempting to embrace your kids’ love of Minecraft and other screen-related passions, I have some good stuff to share this week:

“I think the potential is really there for us to be raising a new generation of young people who have grown up with technologies that allow them to pursue self-directed learning on their own terms and on their own time schedules.

This is very different from how kids learn in school, where they’re handed a set body of knowledge that they’re asked to master and the expertise really resides in the teacher.

When kids go online in these more informal contexts where they’re pursuing their interests, they can really go, look around, and connect with knowledge, people, online communities that really enable them to tailor and customize what they want to learn, when they want to learn it.

And that is tremendously empowering for kids and motivating for them to learn.” — Dr. Mizuko Ito on Teen Development Online: Interacting with Media

Are your kids fascinated with Minecraft? So are educators:

“‘[T]he really cool thing about Minecraft is there’s an invitation to be creative and an invitation to be customizable and an invitation to engage at that level that’s much more accessible and much more on the surface.’ …

‘I’m interested in how it is providing kids a space to create their own game space and to share those game spaces with each other,’ she says. ‘This is a huge departure, not only from previous games, but previous toys and objects that were given to kids to play. Kids always make their own games in backyards and in schoolyards. And now they have an opportunity to make those games part of their shared culture.’ …

Minecraft certainly promotes some healthy behaviors, she adds.

Aside from rule-free, creative thinking, Grimes says, it encourages and facilitates a healthy co-operation.

‘The fact that you can collaborate in building a world together, you know, it’s amazing,’ she says.” — Minecraft Game Being Hailed as a Teaching Tool

And:

Require self-direction.

Minecraft won’t do anything without the right input from the player. It doesn’t drag you along by the nose, but rather sits and waits for the player to do something important. And with every “correct” action by the player, they are rewarded with more freedom, opportunity and visual evidence of their decisions.” — 5 Lessons to Learn from Minecraft in Education @ TeachThought

Be sure to check out the great Minecraft projects being shared on PBH Kids!

Finally, some encouragement for the PBH grown-ups:

Eventually you will make a decision to forget your craft, or to zero in what you love most about it, truing to it fiercely above the urgent, the insistent, the loud demands that are yelling like a bully in your ear. Eventually it will be up to you to decide to turn a blind eye on the other things, and just pick this one thing. This one thing that feels important to you. That feels like the work you love, and just do it for an hour. Imperfectly. Even if it means you’ll be up a creek later. Even if it means there will be hell to pay. Even if it means the sky will fall. …

Eventually you will make the decision: to let circumstance define you, or to define your circumstance.” — Eventually You Will Make a Decision (or Reminders to Myself) @ Christina Rosalie

And:

Stop listening to the advice of those that say it can’t be done, and seek the advice of those who are successfully doing what you want to do.” — Best Advice I’ve Been Given @ WhipUp

Thank you for hanging out with me on PBH and being part of this community!

I have to say that being a PBH mom has helped me tremendously to see that while being there for my kids, I can support my own work and make my dreams a reality. Learning as I go. — PBH forum comment

Thank you for challenging us parents the way you continually do and sticking up for the rights of children. You know why PBH rocks above all other educational methodologies? Because it’s the only methodology I’ve encountered that requires parents to try to become the best possible version of themselves in order to walk the talk. — PBH parent e-mail

Genuine interest is the magic ingredient that makes learning meaningful — and it’s what learners require to make their best efforts.

When we label a child as a “reluctant learner,” we’re making a big mistake. Not only are we focusing on the reluctance rather than the learning, but we’re telling a child that he has a problem learning. We’re missing the fact that it’s we who have the problem, because we have failed to provide our child with a learning experience that is interesting, relevant, and useful.” — The Myth of the Reluctant Learner

 

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