Thursday, March 20, 2014

alligators and soft skills

We wrestle with alligators.

Education is one of those alligators.  William Morris said, "man is a learning animal."  Google that phrase and  it auto-corrects to "man is NOT a learning animal."  Wrestling.
With alligators.

We don't agree on the purpose of education.  Does it prepare citizens for life in a democratic society? Keep us economically competetive? Or enable the individual to lead an examined life?

We don't agree on what to teach.  The wisdom of our civilization?  If so, whose list of great literature do we use?  Or is this true:  "Since we cannot know what knowledge will be needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance."

We don't agree on how to teach. Direct instruction?(sounds boring, right?  You'll want to check this out!) Computer assisted learning?  Montessori method?

And we certainly don't agree on what to assess and how. "Imagining a new college entrance exam," a blog entry written by Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American, got me thinking.

Here's my quick list of notes as I thought about education and assessment:

convergent vs divergent thinking
analytical vs creative thinking (see Ken Robinson)
intelligence vs effort mindset (see Carol Dweck)
pessimist vs optimist mindset (see Martin Seligman)
knower vs learner mindset (check the table of contents to find it!)
IQ vs EQ
intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation (see Dan Pink)
hard vs soft skills:  this one is so much fun, I included two bits trolled from Mr. Google:

Investopedia's Definition of 'Hard Skills'

Specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured. By contrast, soft skills are less tangible and harder to quantify. Examples of hard skills include job skills like typing, writing, math, reading and the ability to use software programs; soft skills are personality-driven skills like etiquette, getting along with others, listening and engaging in small talk.

BeMyCareerCoach blog on the difference between hard skills and soft skills:
  • Hard skills can be learned in school and from books.  There are usually designated level of competency and a direct path as to how to excel with each hard skill.  For example, accounting is a hard skill.  You can take basic accounting and then advanced accounting courses.  You can then work to get experience and then take an exam and be certified as a CPA, etc..  In contrast, there is no simple path to learn soft skills.  Most soft skills are not taught well in school and have to be learned on the job by trial and error

Soft skills are not taught well in school?  Here's a group that is trying.

And the soft skill du jour?  Grit. "Can grit be taught?"  

Here's my take on this whole constellation of ideas: 
if grit -- or creativity or ethics or curiosity -- are simply added as CONTENT to conventional education and taught explicitly, it will fail because the motivational system is still external, extrinsic, teacher-driven.  Students will be evaluated on 'grit' as well as on reading and math.  We'll still be stuck in an 'intelligence mindset.' Grit will simply become a new kind of intelligence. You've got it or you don't.  How do you work harder on grit?  Grit may very well be the key to success, but does that mean it should become a new school subject?  Reminds me of the period twenty years ago when we decided that schools weren't teaching students how to think so 'thinking skills' became a new subject.  And a whole new cottage industry was born.

No, learning grit and creativity and teamwork and resilience and intrinsic motivation must be embedded in the curriculum and in the language and culture of the school.  A school that consistently tells children what to do and then rewards them for doing it and punishes them for not doing it will always be actively working to suppress and destroy intrinsic motivation. 

Want to promote the growth of intrinsic motivation?  Create a school where children are invited to make choices of what they will work on and when.  Allow them to choose how to demonstrate mastery and accomplishment.

And when they choose work that interests them, and that interest blossoms and their projects grow in scope and scale, they'll develop perseverence.  

And when they make a six-foot tall drawing of a baby giraffe with a six-foot long report to match, because that is how tall a baby giraffe actually is, you're watching creativity at work.

And if you want them to develop teamwork, encourage them to work together.  And when there is friction, and the team isn't working so well together, help them to sort out what went wrong, and what they can do differently next time.  Allow them to do this as the norm.  Not during teamwork time on Tuesday afternoon.

Children learn these skills by doing them; and get better at them by practicing all day long every day under the direction of trained adults who take the time at teachable-moments to talk about  what's working and what's not and what will you do differently next time?







Thursday, December 19, 2013

Innovation fatigue?

My reading always bumps into itself.  Ideas crash into other ideas like bumper cars. Sometimes they're going in the same direction but at different speeds.  Somtimes they're going in different directions but their paths cross.  BAM!

Today's a good example.
Larry Ferlazzo says teachers are experiencing innovation fatigue.  He quotes a school principal who says, "I'm sure self-initiation, problem-solving, risk-taking and the freedom to fail and learn from such failure will be a part of the conversation.  As a principal, I would love to have some strategies to close this gap."

Education Week reports that Emily Smith, an elementary school teacher in Austin, Texas has redesigned her classroom and her teaching. She wants to spark creative thinking in her students.  This is the heroic effort of a single teacher.  She is not following the expected patterns.  She will encounter the resistance of her peer teachers; she will encounter the resistance of her administrator. Never underestimate the power of cultural entropy.  Schools are highly resistant to change.  

Where can you find schools with environments and teaching style that actively promote self-initiation, problem-solving, risk-taking and the freedom to fail and learn from such failure -- and where teachers do not experience innovation fatigue, but support each other in this work?

Tony Wagner is the Innovation Education Fellow at Harvard's Center for Technology and Entreprenuership.  His book Creating Innovators points to Montesori education.

Here's an exerpt:
"What do you suppose the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Julia Child; and rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs all have in common? Gregersen's research, cited earlier, uncovered an extraordinary commonality among some of the most innovative individuals: they all went to Montessori schools, where they learned through play. The research about the importance of play in children's development spans many decades. In the 20th century, Maria Montessori, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and others did groundbreaking research on the ways in which children learn through play. Montessori integrated her understanding of the importance of play into her curriculum for schools. Today, Montessori schools can be found around the world."






Friday, December 13, 2013

micro-aggressions

Below is a note I sent to faculty today, pointing them to the story "21 microaggressions you hear on a daily basis."

Faculty and staff:
The children and families of Post Oak, as well as our faculty and staff, are highly diverse in terms of ethnicity, race, religion, national origin, age, gender, family structure.  We aspire to live and work harmoniously together, to be a single, unified community. 

I found this photo essay about “microagressions” fascinating.  Perhaps you’ve experienced this somewhere, sometime.  In the spirit of our “World CafĂ©” faculty meetings, I pass this along to you.



John

Monday, December 9, 2013

doggedness rather than talent

Grit is much in the news these days, testing our attention span.  How long will we pay attention?  Oh, yah, THAT idea again.  I've already grokked it.

Grit Rich.

That's the title of a blog entry by Deborah Barlow.

Deborah writes about creativity and innovation. Following creativity research is a part-time job, she says, and in that pursuit she regularly reads Maria Popova's site Brainpickings.  Popova wrote about Angela Duckworth and her research on grit, so Barlow passed it along.

That's how ideas spread and bump up against other ideas.

So I'm passing it along to you.

Check out Deborah Barlow.  And Maria Popova.  And Angela Duckworth. Again.

"...the secret of genius is doggedness rather than innate talent."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Rewards

"My Biggest Regret as a Teacher."  Check out David Ginsburg's blog.  We sometimes hear from parents who think we should "push" their kids.  Or who wonder why we don't give grades.  Or who believe that Montessori education is against competition and that competition is a good thing:  it is the way the world works.  All of these are forms of manipulation--and can work in the short run with certain children--but only until the reward is withdrawn.

And by the way, Montessori children are competitive.  We just don't using grading, class ranking and rewards as a means to "motivate" (ie, manipulate) them.  We don't have to.  They are already motivated.  Self-motivated.

Or as one of our 8th grade students said several years ago, "We motivate each other to be self-motivated."

Tried and True

See the Ellie video.

It was produced by the Oregon Business Council and featured on the web site of the Montessori Northwest teacher training center.

"Maybe school should be like a GPS. We know where we want to go.  With some help in navigation and someone to believe in us, we can chart our own path. Let us learn at our own pace and show you at every step that we're ready for the next."

Friday, November 22, 2013

raising global children

"Global children are curious, open-minded and aware of the world around them, explained Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, during a recent telephone interview. Berdan, an international careers expert, said that following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, many Americans 'contracted,' becoming less accepting and, understandably, more fearful.
'I think there's this element of people who still equate patriotism with putting a fence around our country,' Berdan said. 'That's not possible anymore.'
Today, Berdan added: 'Children need to be appreciative and understand each other and not be afraid of each other.'
The above exerpt comes from an Education Week blog announcing the upcoming publication of the book Raising Global Children.