Tag Archives: optimism

Learned Helplessness

Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset’ is on my mind again.

How do we develop a sense of self worth in our children?

If we praise children predominantly for who they are, rather than what they do, what do they learn?

If we tell a child, “You are so clever,” when she comes home with an A on a test, or shows us a beautifully executed drawing of the street where she lives, what does she learn? She is coming to believe that she is worthy simply because she is told so.

If instead we say, “I know you studied very hard for that test, well done”, or “I see you used what you learned about perspective in that drawing. It’s great”, what is she learning that is different? She is learning that effort is of great worth.

If we praise children simply for being, they come to believe that their self worth lies in the opinions of others. 

This can be disturbingly disempowering.

Let’s follow the possible repercussions of believing that I am a valuable, worthwhile person because other people (my parents) tell me that I am, regardless of what I do.

My goal as I grow up and go into the world will be to ensure that I mix with people who think well of me, regardless of what I do because my sense of self worth rests in the opinions of others.

This may mean that I will prefer to associate with people who think even less of themselves than they do of me, so that I can always seem more worthy by comparison.

It is much easier to look like a high flyer when you travel with a low flying flock.

This is a recipe for disaster.

If we want our children to challenge themselves, to seek out the best the world has to offer then we need to ensure that we praise them for what they do.

Then they will come to believe that their worth lies in their own hands, in what they choose to do with their lives.

Unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional praise.

We love our children unconditionally, but we praise them for what they do.

Love me for who I am.

Praise me for what I do.

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Filed under Thinking

Inspiration

I spent some time in an inspirational state primary school on the outskirts of Melbourne last Friday. It got me thinking about the inspirational moments in my own schooling and who the teachers were who inspired me … and why.

Grade 3 Mr Ross: I remember him writing us a letter from New Zealand where he was spending his holiday. When he came back to school he taught us a Maori song.

Grade 6 Mr Quinn: he was kind.

Year 7 Mr Ok***e: I spent a year with a caliper on one leg and he would ‘keep an eye on me’. I remember him letting me have his chair rather than sit on the floor during a whole school assembly and telling me I didn’t need to pick up papers during a litter drive.

Year 9 Mrs Burs***i: She taught us French, brought French cakes into school one day and lent me a paperback novel ‘Dickon Among the Indians’ because she thought I would enjoy it. She was also reputed to wander about her garden topless so there was a frisson of scandal about her.

Year 11 Mr Gr**t: because he was handsome and I was young and impressionable.

Year 12 Mr Ma****e: who would become so engrossed in his English literature class that he would mutter “Damn their eyes” when the bell rang mid conversation.

Year 12 Mrs Eng**h: She gave up her Saturday mornings to take me painting and came in an hour early one day a week to teach me. I was the only student in her year 12 Art class and she didn’t want to have me miss out on the opportunity to study Art.I have always felt I let her down because she said I was destined to become the first female director of the National Gallery.

Year 1 University: my English professor, a frail elderly man, entered the lecture theatre, stood behind the lectern and sang one of the Border ballads. It brought tears to my eyes because it was so moving.

What stands out in this recollection?

The teachers who inspired me did so because of their passion, their ability to extend my view of the world, but most of all because they connected with me as a person, they cared and they demonstrated their caring. That’s why I remember them. They knew me.

It’s a very long time since I was at school but some teachers have never deserted me, they continue to reside in a corner of my mind and form part of the network of experiences that have formed me and my view of what education should be about.

I keep hearing that relationships are at the heart of successful teaching.

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Filed under Behavior management, Classroom practice

Library, factory or smart phone?

I have just had the privilege of participating in five days of learning about ‘Classroom Instruction That Works’ by McREL. One of the nine research based and proven strategies to enhance student learning is looking for similarities and differences and the vcreation of metaphors is a powerful way to do this.

So, let’s have a shot at it!

Is your brain: A library?

Library

Do you somehow seem to inhabit a huge store of information and do you hunt for the place where what you need is stored every time you think? Is thinking about pulling the right ‘books’ off the right ‘shelves’ and then putting the contents of the books together in an operable amalgamation of what you know?

Or is it more like a factory?

Factory

Is your brain an incredibly complex manufacturing process? Do you feed in the raw materials of experience and perception, process them with the innate capacities of your mind and then produce thoughts, feeling and actions?

I suspect the closest metaphor for the brain is actually the smart phone.

smartphoneInside my Iphone I have a huge library of information that grows and changes every time I do anything with it. It is an electronic factory that processes every interaction it has with the world outside, be it via my keystrokes or because of its connection to the world through the internet.

The Iphone I pick up this morning will be subtly different from the Iphone I put down last night. New connections will have been made between programs, new updates will have appeared for my apps, bits and pieces will have been coming and going through the night as the internet itself has changed and grown.

My Iphone is a plastic, dynamic accumulation of interconnections housed in some protective hardware – a case that protects it from the knocks and accidents the world can inflict.

It’s amazing, but its nowhere near as powerful as the human brain.

Imagine the possibilities when we combine the power of our brains with the power of the smart phone, the tablet and the internet.

As part of my work with McREL I had the thrilling experience of visiting a primary school on Friday where those possibilities are opening up.

Every classroom had an Apple TV. The kids had Ipads and Iphones on their tables. They used them to research, to check word meanings and spellings, to share their work with others and with the class. These devices were becoming as common place as paper, pencils, and books in these classrooms. But I was aware, as were the teachers, that they are only skimming the surface.

Imagine the opportunities these media will provide as they extend children’s brain power into the internet, as they provide tools for collaboration and demonstration, as they extend the possibilities for creative, innovative thought beyond the here and now.

It makes we wish I was forty years younger so I could be around in another forty years and look at the world these kids will have created.

I am an optimist!

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Filed under Classroom practice, Thinking

Pass, Fail, Practice

Oh the power of words.

“I’m sorry. You tried and you failed.”

How many times do our kids hear or read these damning, undermining words?

Every time they hand in a paper to be graded, every time they sit a test, every time they raise their hands to answer a question, they are leaving themselves open to either a direct or an implied pass or fail judgment.

Let’s change the culture in the class room.

Let’s make it absolutely clear that we are here to learn, that learning requires risk taking and risk takers are a lot more interested in practicing things, in getting better and better at them, and not so interested in passing or failing.

What would this look like in a classroom?

Teachers ask a lot of questions.

Scenario 1

Teacher asks a question, lots of hands go up.

Student A answers and the teacher says “Thanks John, that’s right.”

What happens here is that student A knows he has ‘passed’, as does everyone else. Everyone else can now stop thinking.

Scenario 2

Teacher asks a question, lots of hands go up.

Student B answers and the teacher says “No, Lizzy, that’s wrong. Does anyone have a different idea?”

What happens here is that Lizzy knows she has failed and has to deal with this and everyone else knows that failure is an option so the risks involved in answering just got higher unless you are sure you are right.

Scenario 3

Teacher asks a question, lots of hands go up.

Student C answers and the teacher says “Thanks Alan. Who else has an idea?”

No judgment. No closing down of thinking because no doors have been closed. No fear of being wrong. Thinking continues.

If the teacher asks a question and withholds judgment, either positive or negative, the thinking will continue and risk taking will continue. Learning has a much better chance of continuing too.

Students do a lot of writing and teachers read what they write.

Grade two have been working hard on spelling patterns. They have been exploring the ‘ph’ digraph and looking for words that contain it. In a writing passage one child spells elephant like this ‘ellephant’.

Scenario 1

The teacher draws a red line through the word, indicating it is incorrectly spelled. The child has failed.

Scenario 2

The teacher places a series of small check marks above the e, the second e, the ph, the a, the n and the t. The teacher circles the ll. The child knows she got six things right but needs to work on one thing. She needs more practice. it’s not a matter of right or wrong, of pass or fail.

Share some of the practices in your classroom that change the culture from a pass/fail culture to a culture of practice.

As my daughter said to me this morning “I never fail, I just practice a lot. Sometimes I didn’t know I was practicing until later!”

 

 

 

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Filed under Classroom practice, Language and literacy, Testing

Oh the drama, the drama!

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Filed under Behavior management, Teacher education

Maybe we care too much about the wrong things.

I have just returned from Wellington, New Zealand, where I spoke with my husband on the interplay between language, thinking and learning at the 16th International Conference on Thinking. The last time we spoke at one of these conferences was in 2007 in Sweden. The conference had changed this year and had a significant focus on the teaching of thinking.

Even more exciting than the opportunity to share my own thinking was the opportunity to listen to others.

What was my impression? I came away feeling hopeful. The notion of high stakes standardized testing as an important feature of education was virtually ignored. Curriculum was not ignored and nor was the need for assessment and evaluation, but the bitter debates and the destructive practices that have been circling lately were put into context for me. It’s an unsettling context.

Edward De Bono and John Edwards held an on stage conversation towards the end of the conference. De Bono coined a new word – ‘ebne’ meaning ‘excellent, but not enough‘. Others spoke of the need to avoid ‘either or’ thinking when we consider what is important in education.

Excellent but not enough – ebne.

Avoiding ‘either/or’ arguments.

Could this be a way forward?

Could a new, more positive mind-set dispel some of the fear and the gloom?

I am drawn to those who advocate encouraging administrators, teachers, students and parents to simply turn their backs on the testing program, to refuse to participate, politely and firmly. But I am also aware that this is a confrontational path. We could win the battle, but it will require a wide spread, concerted effort and may involve a lot of pain and disruption for our kids.

Could an alternative be to focus on ‘ebne’, to simply absorb the testing, put it into the place where it really ought to be – simply one of many measures, excellent, but clearly not enough. Instead of a head on fight with the ‘testucators’ might we take the sting out of their program by refusing to take it more seriously than it deserves, by refusing to get into either/or debates about testing or learning?

This too will take a lot of energy because we will need to educate the community. We will need to make sure our kids understand that the test really isn’t the only thing that measures the worth of their learning. Our parents will need to understand, because we educators tell and show them repeatedly, that the standardized testing program is only a small part of the whole assessment and evaluation process. We will need to make sure they understand the weaknesses of the league tables, to see them for what they are – an irrelevancy to the real business of learning.

Our teachers will need to be reassured that they are supported by their administrators and their communities. Principals need to have the courage to resist giving up valuable learning time to the teaching of test taking skills. Reports to parents need to be informative enough to ensure they understand how and how successfully their children are learning regardless of what a single snapshot multiple choice test might say.

It needs to be made obvious when anyone walks through the front door into the school that this is a place where learning is valued, where teachers know what they are doing and where progress is made and charted every day. And we need to encourage the world into our schools to see just how good they are.

We need to feel confident enough to say “I don’t really care too much about your tests. My school is too busy learning, to focus on those. We’ll get them out of the way and then return to the task we do best, the real reason we are here  – teaching.”

It’s Finland all over again! Could their secret to success be that they actually don’t really care too much about the PISA tests they blitz every few years?

 

 

 

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Filed under Teacher education, Testing, Thinking

Don’t Forget the Kids

I am reading a great deal of commentary about the negative impacts of high stakes testing on teachers, on principals and on the education system in general. What I don’t read as much about is the effect on children.

When I was a school principal in the USA I worked very hard to develop a school environment that was welcoming, positive and made children feel safe. Many of the kids in this Title 1 School lived precarious lives outside the school building. I wanted school to be a place where they wanted to be.

This was testing week and we were about half way in. I had put in all the procedures my district required in order to maintain a common, secure standard of testing throughout all the schools. One group of fifth graders was in a portable classroom outside. During the Social Studies test a child needed to go to the bathroom. The assistant accompanied the child, and when they arrived back the child banged loudly on the locked classroom door, startling some of the children still working inside.

At the end of the test the teacher was required to complete an ‘exceptions’ report, indicating anything untoward that might have happened during the test. She mentioned this incident and reminded the children of the procedure should another child need to leave the room during testing. She then told the class (rather foolishly) that there was always a possibility they may have to repeat the test.

The Guidance Counselor and I were called urgently to the classroom a short time later. When I entered the room I was horrified by what I found. The teacher was seated on the floor physically restraining an hysterical child, another was repeatedly banging her head against the wall, a third was pulling hair from her head and many were crying . All this because they may have to take a test again.

The hidden levels of stress and fear that this testing regime had engendered in our children was made painfully obvious to me. I knew this had nothing to do with how my school was administering the tests. In comparison with other schools in the district we remained relatively relaxed about the testing period. I didn’t post monitors at desks in every hallway, I didn’t put signs outside the school asking motorists not to use their horns because “Testing is in progress”.

All educators understand that the entire enterprise is here for the benefit of our children. As we find ourselves caught up in these arguments about accountability and evaluation let us not neglect consideration of impacts this is having on them.

 

 

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Filed under Thinking