friday link round-up

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.

What I’ve been reading

Published by Lori Pickert on February 28, 2014 at 01:25 PM

“Learning is more than learning to conform.” — Paradoxes of Learning, Peter Jarvis

 

I’ve been seeing lots of articles lately about how employers no longer consider elite degrees as important or desirable as they once were.

“The least important attribute they look for is ‘expertise.’

Said Bock: ‘If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: “I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.”’ Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, ‘because most of the time it’s not that hard.’ Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.”

[W]hen you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.

“Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).

And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.” — How to Get a Job at Google

and

“[B]usiness leaders are now echoing Google by saying that college pedigree and major don’t matter as much as people think in hiring decisions.

A new Gallup survey finds that in hiring decisions, only 9 percent of business leaders say that the school on a candidate’s diploma is ‘very important,’ compared to 84 percent assessing knowledge in the field and 79 percent looking at applied skills.”

“Google’s head of people operations Laszlo Bock told the New York Times that top graduates can lack ‘intellectual humility,’ and that schools frequently don’t deliver on what they promise.”

“96 percent of college provosts say students are prepared, compared to 14 percent of the public, and 11 percent of business leaders.” 

“It could be that higher education is really not preparing people at all and we have a broken system, or just a fundamental misunderstanding. Either way it’s a tragedy…” — Survey: Businesses Don’t Care if their Employees went to Yale

So almost 100% of colleges think they’re doing a great job of preparing students for work and only 11% of business leaders agree. There’s a bit of a disconnect there.

So what about for future entrepreneurs? Does a top college degree matter there?

Recently a venture capitalist told students at the Harvard School of Business:

“It's really unfair to you guys, but I think you’re discriminated against now … I would bet a large amount of money that the overwhelming majority of us would not look favorably on a company started by one of you.” — Investor gives closing keynote at Harvard Business School

Ouch.

I’ve read several articles in the last few months saying that the biggest thing holding college graduates back from starting their own businesses is… wait for it… college loan debt.

The rising mountain of student debt, recently closing in on $1.2 trillion, is forcing some entrepreneurs to abandon startup dreams…

Some academic experts say leftover loans are the biggest impediment to upstart entrepreneurship by those who recently received college or graduate degrees. “I mentor students all the time," says Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford University Law School. "The single largest inhibitor to entrepreneurship is the student loans.” — Student Loan-Load Kills Start-Up Dreams

If student debt is a roadblock to economic opportunity, that really undermines a philosophy of how America has moved forward and prospered. — Millenials’ ball and chain: student loan debt

So your college degree creates a roadblock to your economic opportunity? Ouch again.

From the Harvard Business Review themselves:

A bachelor’s degree used to provide enough basic training to last a career. Yet today, the skills college graduates acquire during college have an expected shelf life of only five years… — Mind the (Skills) Gap

The Google tells me that average student loan debt is about $30,000 (and 70% of students graduate with debt) but that’s only the debt you walk away with — that’s not the cost of a college degree (remembering to factor in the opportunity cost of spending four or five years or more not working). Still, seems like you should get more than five years’ worth of knowledge for that kind of coin.

Paul Graham wrote about this way back in 2007:

It may not matter all that much where you go to college.

For me, as for a lot of middle class kids, getting into a good college was more or less the meaning of life when I was growing up. What was I? A student. To do that well meant to get good grades. Why did one have to get good grades? To get into a good college. And why did one want to do that? There seemed to be several reasons: you’d learn more, get better jobs, make more money. But it didn’t matter exactly what the benefits would be. College was a bottleneck through which all your future prospects passed; everything would be better if you went to a better college.

A few weeks ago I realized that somewhere along the line I had stopped believing that.

Either it won't help your kid get into Harvard, or if it does, getting into Harvard won't mean much anymore. And then I thought: how much does it mean even now?

It turns out I have a lot of data about that.

One of the most surprising things we’ve learned is how little it matters where people went to college.

I thought I’d already been cured of caring about that. There’s nothing like going to grad school at Harvard to cure you of any illusions you might have about the average Harvard undergrad. And yet Y Combinator showed us we were still overestimating people who’d been to elite colleges. We’d interview people from MIT or Harvard or Stanford and sometimes find ourselves thinking: they must be smarter than they seem. It took us a few iterations to learn to trust our senses.

Don’t you learn things at the best schools that you wouldn't learn at lesser places?

Apparently not. Obviously you can’t prove this in the case of a single individual, but you can tell from aggregate evidence: you can’t, without asking them, distinguish people who went to one school from those who went to another three times as far down the US News list. Try it and see.

How can this be? Because how much you learn in college depends a lot more on you than the college. A determined party animal can get through the best school without learning anything. And someone with a real thirst for knowledge will be able to find a few smart people to learn from at a school that isn’t prestigious at all.

[T]he great advantage of not caring where people went to college is not just that you can stop judging them (and yourself) by superficial measures, but that you can focus instead on what really matters. What matters is what you make of yourself. I think that’s what we should tell kids. Their job isn’t to get good grades so they can get into a good college, but to learn and do. And not just because that’s more rewarding than worldly success. That will increasingly be the route to worldly success. — Paul Graham

Our kids’ jobs aren’t to get good grades, but to learn and to do. That sounds right to me.

If this gives you the sads, I’m sorry — but I think it’s exciting. Things are changing. How we learn and how we work — it keeps on changing. As long as we’re up for it, and as long as our kids are, I think we’re all going to be fine.

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

As we get ready for the 93rd year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable and mediocre factory-workers?

The post-industrial revolution is here. Do you care enough to teach your kids to take advantage of it? — Seth Godin, Back to (the wrong) School

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer

Friday picks

Published by Lori Pickert on February 21, 2014 at 12:51 PM

Happy Friday! Here’s what I’ve been reading and thinking about…

Education has to focus on learning how to learn — metacognition.

School will still be important, but not to impart what happened during the Revolutionary War or to teach the quadratic formula.

School … should focus on teaching young people the intangibles, the things that make humans unique: relationships, flexibility, humanity, how to make discriminating decisions, resilience, innovation, adaptability, wisdom, ethics, curiosity, how to ask good questions, synthesizing and integrating information, and of course, creating.” — If Robots Will Run the World, What Should Students Learn?

Learning how to learn is actually meta-learning; metacognition is thinking about thinking. But the point stands — education that only focuses on facts is missing the deeper purpose of teaching: helping learners develop the ability to teach themselves.

When I was running my tiny private school, we created an alternative assessment (alternative to letter grades) that attempted to tell the story of the whole student: their thinking habits, dispositions, strengths, and so on. We had a list of traits similar to the ones listed above.

Question: When you think about how your child is doing — and how they compare to other kids their age — what do you think of? Is it a list like this? Or something else?

[I]nterest can help us think more clearly, understand more deeply, and remember more accurately. Interest has the power to transform struggling performers, and to lift high achievers to a new plane.”

And “if catching people’s interest is about seizing attention and providing stimulation, holding it is about finding deeper meaning and purpose…” — How the Power of Interest Drives Learning

Authentic interest is the irreplaceable first step. Next? Ownership.

Kids are more engaged and enthusiastic if they have some input and control, even if it’s not their own self-chosen work. If you can’t give them autonomy over the whole project, can you involve them in making substantial choices?

Speaking of real choice, just because a program says it’s PBL/inquiry-based/learner-centered doesn’t mean it really is…
[A] lot of supposedly participatory projects had a distinct air of tokenism. Children were being put on display, so to speak, as though they were actively participating, but they were not taken seriously.”
“Most school projects … are conceived and designed by teachers, representing lost opportunities for more engaged and profound learning.”
“A lot of adults are genuinely trying to be helpful … but they don’t maximize a child’s chance to contribute in a way that allows the child to prepare and be confident and give an opinion that is really likely to be listened to. They don’t involve them, because they don’t think the child will contribute anything serious that will really make a difference.”
“People think American children already have a lot of voice. I thought the same thing when I first came here. But having rights implies being listened to, as well as speaking, and being taken seriously. Being listened to is even more important than having the freedom to make a lot of noise.” — Are we taking our students’ work seriously enough?
No matter what a program says it cares about and no matter what type of values they say they’re implementing (and this goes for homeschoolers, too, as well as schools), what matters is what is actually happening in the room. Are your kids REALLY being listened to? Are they sharing decision-making? Are they driving the curriculum with their own questions and ideas? If they’re not, it’s not project-based learning. It’s not learner-centered. It’s the old product in a new wrapper — same ingredients, repackaged with new jargon.
We have to find a way to live our values.
• • •
What I’ve been reading (or rereading) this week:
[T]he view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.
“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.”
“[With a growth] mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. … [Y]our basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.
Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” — Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Learning is wider than education; education is only one social institution in which learning occurs, albeit the only one specifically directed toward it. Indeed, the reduction of human learning to the social institution of education is one of the typical features of the modern era. But all the social institutions together cannot contain learning, since learning is fundamental to human being and to life itself. These institutions exist only to facilitate the smooth functioning of the social system, and so they may often constrain learning. — Paradoxes of Learning
“Here’s a Twilight Zone-type premise for you.
 
What if surgeons never got to work on humans, they were instead just endlessly in training, cutting up cadavers? What if the same went for all adults — we only got to practice at simulated versions of our jobs? Lawyers only got to argue mock cases, for years and years. Plumbers only got to fix fake leaks in classrooms. Teachers only got to teach to videocameras, endlessly rehearsing for some far off future. Book writers like me never saw our work put out to the public — our novels sat in drawers. Scientists never got to do original experiments; they only got to recreate scientific experiments of yesteryear. And so on.
 
Rather quickly, all meaning would vanish from our work. Even if we enjoyed the activity of our job, intrinsically, it would rapidly lose depth and relevance. It’d lose purpose. We’d become bored, lethargic, and disengaged.

In other words, we’d turn into teenagers.” — NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

• • •
 

Friday Picks

Published by Lori Pickert on February 11, 2014 at 03:45 PM

If you read my post about job crafting on Tuesday, you may remember that the Harvard business school class of ’63 had a lot of advice about choosing work that aligns with your passions.

This week I read 30 Lessons for Living (a book of wisdom gathered from 1,000 “life experts” over the age of 65) and found similar advice:

“You know those nightmares where you are shouting a warning but no sound comes out? Well, that’s the intensity with which the experts wanted to tell younger people that spending years in a job you dislike is a recipe for regret and a tragic mistake. There was no issue about which the experts were more adamant and forceful. Over and over they prefaced their comments with, ‘If there’s one thing I want your readers to know it’s…’ From the vantage point of looking back over long experience, wasting around two thousand hours of irretrievable lifetime each year is pure idiocy.”

“After listening to a thousand of America’s elders give advice about fulfillment at work, nothing makes me cringe more than when I hear a young person describe his or her primary goal in life as ‘making a lot of money.’ … The experts have a real problem with this scenario. The view from the end of the life span is straightforward: time well and enjoyably spent trumps money anytime.”

“[Psychologists] use the word ‘eudaimonia’ (from the Greek) to describe happiness derived from activities that are rewarding in and of themselves. This is contrasted with ‘hedonia’ — as in hedonism. People with hedonic motivations look at work primarily as a way to acquire material possessions. In contrast, eudaimonic individuals who are motivated by goals that emphasize personal growth, contributing to the community, and meaningful relationships are typically much happier at work.”

What is the biggest regret people have at the end of life?

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” — Live without regrets — What are the top five career regrets?

Over and over again I hear adults making dour statements about how kids need to learn to buckle down and do hard and unpleasant things so they can prepare themselves for life and work in the future. What a depressing message: get used to dull, meaningless tasks because your life will be full of them.

If you don’t know that kids will work hard at something they really care about, then please give yourself and your kids the opportunity to discover that it’s true. Help them dig deeply into something they care about. Help them discover meaningful work now so they can keep finding it for the rest of their lives. They need to know what’s possible — and they need to know how to make it happen for themselves.

“Ask people what they want in a job, and meaningfulness looms large. For decades, Americans have ranked purpose as their top priority — above promotions, income, job security, and hours.” — The #1 Feature of a Meaningless Job

Does your child have the opportunity to work on self-directed projects that are meaningful, purposeful, and have a real impact on other people?

• • •

I shared this on Facebook:

A learner is entirely different from someone who is the subject of disciplinary action. They are someone who wants to learn. And the most powerful teachers for our children are [their] parents.

If I’m to set myself up as my child’s teacher, I must first have learned how to be self-disciplined. I must have addressed, and continue to address, my own emotional immaturity. I do this by becoming an authentic person, true to myself. In this way, my child learns from me to also be true to themselves — true to their heart’s deepest desires.

This is fundamentally different from hyper-focusing on our children’s behavior and constantly ‘disciplining’ — controlling — them to get them to conform to our wishes.” — Why Everything We Know About Discipline Is Wrong

How do we raise kids who are self-disciplined? First, by modeling. Then, by mentoring.

• • •

Another share from Facebook — I love this and I absolutely find it to be true in my own life:

“Your sense of time is actually answered by a simple question: how much are you learning?

“Monotony collapses time. Novelty unfolds it.”

[T]here’s the old adage about cherishing time, ‘The days are long, but the years are short,’ but, actually, it seems when you do things right, it’s the opposite: ‘the days are short, but the years are long’.” — How to Slow Down Time

Anecdotally among my friends on Twitter, it seems that when you are immersed in work that really engages you, time flies. And if you make the most of the time you have, you can find at least 10 minutes a day to work on what you care about — and in a year, it really adds up.

• • •

Over at Brain Child Magazine, they asked Should You Let Your Child Quit? I wrote a long comment in response:

“There are a few misconceptions here:

        - You have to do something you don’t want to do to learn how to work hard.

        - You have to do something you don’t want to do to do difficult things.

        - You have to do something you don’t want to do to learn how to persevere.

All of these are false.

It’s when you work on something you really care about — something that genuinely interests you, a goal that you really want to achieve — that you work your hardest. You learn what you are capable of. And children doing this work are most likely to work at their challenge point — the front edge of their abilities.” — read the rest here

You also might want to check out my checklist for good quitting in Perseverance and Grit vs. Knowing When to Quit.

 

 

“If we could be as efficient in supporting a child’s eagerness to learn as we have been in stifling this eagerness, this would revolutionize life as we know it.” — William Coperthwaite, A Handmade Life

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2013 at 08:51 AM

I have good intentions about doing this round-up every Friday, but is it just me or does Friday seem to come around every other day?

The last one I did was a month ago, so I have a lot of links to share.

First, I posted on Facebook a follow-up mini-rant about my post What’s wrong with DIY/Maker Faire/hacking/tinkering for kids — and how we can make it better:

Re: yesterday’s blog post about what’s wrong with DIY/Maker Faire/hacking/tinkering activities/clubs for kids and how we can make them better…

The pushback is “It’s not that bad.” It’s not that bad to give kids limited choice. It’s not that bad to give extrinsic rewards like badges. It’s not that bad to have all the kids following directions to build the same thing. Come on — it’s not that bad.

But it is that bad. Because we’re talking about big, countrywide initiatives where people are making money to create a structured, prepackaged, preplanned activity for lots and lots of kids.

It’s one thing to make a less-optimal choice on a rainy Sunday afternoon because it’s easy, you’re feeling lazy, and after all, it’s only once in awhile.

But when you’re building a giant machine that is going to be affecting the lives — the learning, the thought processes, the habits — of tens of thousands of kids, then you should be doing everything you can do to get it right.

“It’s not that bad” is not something we want to settle for when it would be just as easy to give kids the best. Let’s give them the best.

When you decide to be the only person nitpicking a whole host of popular groups, you have to expect to be labeled the crab of the internet.

 

I knew I was probably in for a firestorm of “What’s your problem?!” It’s hard to criticize people who are actively working to make something fun and educational for kids. But if someone has to do it, it may as well be me.

I loved this comment that Julie, an art teacher and parent, left on that post:

When I first read your comments and your article, I thought that I couldn’t disagree more. I love DIY and pinterest and my bookshelves are FILLED with art project books. I’ve never heard of diy.org so I've checked it out the past few days… and I’ve signed up for maker stuff online… bought many a pre-packaged project for the kids (and myself)… and I’ve taught many projects throughout the years that weren’t ‘cookie cutter’ (hey! nobody wants to be called that!) but all had the same goal. So, I’ve been thinking and even losing sleep over this topic, I’ve turned it over in my head… over and over. …

I’m inspired by it because I grew up in an era when art lessons where assessed the same way math lessons are — where there is a ‘right’ answer and if you get the ‘wrong’ answer (you didn’t paste that on right!) you get a bad grade. … If we continue to measure creativity and use extrinsic rewards that we turn into carrots, training kids to think they’re important (grades… badges…) then all we’re doing is perpetuating the machine that some of us are fighting so hard to change.

… Sometimes these things are nice to lean on, but are they truly authentic? Am I a better artist than little Johnny because I have an art school degree and awards? I never thought so, but those awards suggest otherwise. Those extrinsic awards are just proof that I got some support, somebody thought I was ‘good enough’ and I ‘earned’ a representation of that… But where is my representation of me thinking I am good enough??? Nowhere, not even collecting dust on a shelf. I’d like to say that I just ‘knew’ I was, but I didn’t. That is not what I want for my kids. I want them to first value and respect their own opinions and thoughts before what the world tells them to think.

My daughter is in a soccer class and I just learned that they had a drawing contest during class — whoever draws the ‘best’ witch wins a soccer ball. Well, they did this in class and their teacher decided whose witch was the best. My 7 year old was saddened that she didn’t win … This made her feel like she was not a good drawer and if she can’t win the contest at it, then why even draw? I was really angry to learn that they did this and it’s not what I signed up for. It made me realize that this sort of thing happens all the time everywhere, and I might have been the only parent that even cared because everyone else seemed to be used to it. Her friend Maddy won the ball. I was Maddy when I was a kid. I would win those drawing contests, but looking back… that is wrong that adults put themselves in the position to decide what is best simply because they are adults. …

As a kid, I would've cared about [badges].... but I also really craved that kind of approval. It would have been nice to get that kind of esteem through other avenues.

I edited the above for length; see the whole comment here.

This topic goes back to my post about the intellectual benefits of the real old-fashioned summerwhen we create structured activities for kids, we need to really think about the trade-off between what they get and what they lose.

I’ve already heard from people who are using that post and the checklist as talking points with other parents as they start new groups. Remember: This isn’t about being anti-DIY, anti-making, anti-tinkering, or anti-hacking. It’s about setting better, higher goals for these groups and activities so ALL kids can have the learning experiences they deserve.

So here are a bunch of links about play and learning and working; let’s see if we can tie them back neatly to the theme of giving kids more control over their own learning.

“In addition to providing experience, play also helps children learn what they like and don’t like.

Nobel chemistry laureate Roger Tsien tells of reading about chemical reactions before he was eight years old and then trying out the reactions for himself. He was able to bring about beautiful color changes in his house and backyard. 

Because he didn’t have enough laboratory glassware, he had to make equipment from used milk jugs and empty Hawaiian Punch cans (see photo). Tsien later won the Nobel Prize for developing colored dyes and proteins that become brighter or change hue when they encounter chemical signals in living cells, including neurons. …

Tsien’s great contribution to science — the invention of tools that help us visualize what is happening in active biological systems — had its roots in his childhood interest in home chemistry experiments.

Not all childhood endeavors lead to such heights, of course, but regardless of your children’s eventual interests, discovering them may be one of the most important outcomes of play.” — Play, Stress, and the Learning Brain

It’s not enough to be introduced to new ideas or taught new skills; you have to have time to play with them. Play is the learning language of childhood, but it’s also how adults learn and make creative connections. If you’re moving in a linear fashion from A to Z with little time for exploration, making side connections, repeating, extending ideas, and so on, then you haven’t left enough time for play. If you’re operating on a schedule, you probably haven’t left enough time for play.

“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

Scrambling after *other people’s* ideals, she means. In order to figure out how to use and make the most of your own potential, you have to have a sense of self and be able to set your own goals and not be distracted by the approval and rewards of your larger society. And preferably you start when you’re a child. So let’s help kids set their own goals.

Are we still hung up on extrinsic rewards as adults?

“Some things are hard to measure. So, ‘Am I a better dad than I was last year?’ Well, there’s no objective scale where I can look back and someone says, ‘Last year you were a 71 dad. This year, you’re a 74 dad.’ Or spouse or whatever it might be, it’s very, very hard to know.

The things that we can know are things we can count, and one thing that is really, really easy to count is money.

So, if I want to know if I’m better off this year than last year, one of the first things I can do is say, ‘Do I have more money?’ I think that alone makes it very, very motivating.

It works with things like the size of your TV, the square footage in your house, all of these things that we can… The number of cars you have. ‘Am I better than I was five years ago? Well, I have five cars. I had no cars. I guess I’m better.’

We’re just unable to correct for it because the other things that are important are hard to count and counting is great. It feels like math and math feels like science and we feel like we’re better off because there’s a confidence that I’m doing better, and it also works better with other people: ‘Am I better off than you? I don’t know, but if I have a bigger house than you, I beat you.’” — Harvard professor Michael Norton explains how to be happier

Maybe it’s just me, but this reminds me of Julie’s daughter and the soccer ball.

Michael Norton goes on in that interview to say:

[W]hat we’re trying to say in the book … is, “Knock it off. Knock off counting how much money you have and start thinking about what you’re doing with it. What you’re doing with your money and time is a lot more important than how much money and time you have,” and that has really changed my life.

“Knock it off, because it’s not good for your happiness and you’re probably focusing on the wrong dimensions for what will really make you happy.” It’s very hard to apply, but that’s something that I actually try to apply in my life, really, every day. — ibid.

Not to beat a dead horse, but if you can’t move beyond focusing on empty rewards and tap into your own beliefs about what’s worthy of your time and effort, you’re going to be stuck expending a lifetime of effort on meeting someone else’s benchmarks for success. Let’s help our kids define success for themselves. If life is one big marshmallow test, then that first marshmallow is the applause of society when you meet their goals for success — the second marshmallow is when you meet your own goal.

Why is it less desirable for adults to set the agenda rather than letting kids pursue their own ideas?

“[Y]oung children, motivated by curiosity and playfulness, teach themselves a tremendous amount about the world. And yet when they reach school age, we supplant that innate drive to learn with an imposed curriculum.

We’re teaching the child that his questions don’t matter, that what matters are the questions of the curriculum. That’s just not the way natural selection designed us to learn. It designed us to solve problems and figure things out that are part of our real lives.’” — How a Radical New Teaching Method could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses

Another quote from the same article:

“[A] new breed of educators … are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion…” — ibid.

Adults should be stepping out of the way as soon as kids get going.

“[M]entoring self-directed learners is like rolling a hoop down a hill. You want to let the hoop roll on its own, only touching it when necessary to keep it upright and rolling, and even then as lightly as possible.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Why? Because…

One student shares his view:

“I want to read Tribes by Seth Godin this week and next week focus on learning JavaScript. After that, I want to learn about marketing. I am working for a start-up right now that I wish I could be giving more time. However, I have to learn something that is irrelevant to the real world in class.

When did I lose my love for the classroom? When did I lose my interest in exploring beyond the requirements? When did I lose faith in my school?”

With self-directed learning, you step away from attaining a ‘grade’ for the sake of a GPA. Instead, you take a step toward acquiring practical skills.”

“Through projects, you can display what you are learning in a tangible form. There are no rules, no rubrics, and no limitations … Is there something wrong for wanting to dive deeper and to control my learning?” — I put more effort into this than any school essay

It’s not enough to learn skills in a vacuum. They have to be connected to something the learner wants to do. Note the writer has goals he wants to work on. Self-directed learning is more than just acquiring practical skills — it’s acquiring them for a purpose.

The learner’s ideas and goals should form the meaningful context for acquiring knowledge and skills.

I’m going to end with a fantastic post on tumblr by cartoonist Lynda Barry about how freaked out adults were when they were asked to free-draw. This is what happens to us with the current educational system — and I don’t just mean in schools, I mean in homeschooling and in kids’ groups and activities (even soccer) and everywhere else: we lose our ability to relax and explore/play/create without fear. We lose the joy of not knowing — of working without guidelines. We cling to extrinsic rewards, using them to measure our worth and set our compass. We let other people’s opinions about what we’re good at/not good at determine what we do with our lives — even when no one is looking.

“There is something beautiful about the lines made by people who stopped drawing a long time ago.

And there is something curious about how scared they are when I ask them to draw…

And what usually happens is a kind of involuntary laughing that sounds like the laughing of people who are about to enter a spookhouse ride…

And a terror too that becomes especially evident when I ask people to stand up and look at each other’s drawings…

All we did was draw a car but the room feels like it’s on fire. Why?

[W]hat if the way kids draw — that kind of line that we call ‘childish’ — what if that is what a line looks like when someone is having an experience by hand?

“When someone learns to draw — to render — it’s the first thing that goes — the aliveness — and it’s what some artists spend their whole lives trying to get back… — Let’s draw a car and then let’s draw Batman

Is there something right now that you wish you could do, but you don’t think you’re good enough?

Somewhere along the way, did you forget that you can learn whatever you want to learn and you don’t need anyone’s permission to start?

Let’s help our kids keep their aliveness — so they won’t have to work so hard to get it back.

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.

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