How To Learn Absolutely Anything

In this article and video from Khan Academy‘s founder, Salman Khan, he explains why he will never tell his 5-year-old son he is smart. Khan’s article expounds on the research of Carol Dweck and others on the “growth mindset” – or the habits of mind that believe that intelligence is not predetermined. Rather, with effort, perseverance, and resilience you CAN learn new things. Khan writes,

I am more convinced than ever that mindsets towards learning could matter more than anything else we teach…The research shows that just being exposed to the research itself (­­for example, knowing that the brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right­­) can begin to change a person’s mindset…when my son, or for that matter, anyone else asks me about learning, I only want them to know one thing. As long as they embrace struggle and mistakes, they can learn anything.

The trick to learning absolutely anything…is to think you can.

Looking for Inspiration?

The “inter-web” is rife with resources, insight, and inspiration and it can be hard to sift through the selections for what is worth delving into. Here are five blogs, along with a noteworthy post for each, that are geared towards both educators & parents that may inspire as the summer draws to a close.

Wonder of Children – by Lisa Dewey Wells, elementary educator & member of the professional design team for Responsive Classroom

Noteworthy post: 6 Hard Truths – highlights some hard realities of life and living that, while no amount of schooling or training can fix, quality character education & social-emotional learning can endow children with a wealth of tools to cope, persevere, and overcome.

The Science of Learning Blog – by The Scientific Learning Corporation, has a wealth of articles on learning, the brain, and teaching strategies for engaging all types of learners.

Noteworthy post: Smarten up! Three Facts About the Learning Brain – three interesting facts about how dreams, diet, and even summer routines heavily impact your brain’s elasticity and acuity.

It’s About Learning – by Bo Adams, Chief Learning and Innovation Officer at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, his blog examines critical questions related to 21st Century Learning skills and tools and what our children need to be prepared for their future and not our past.

Noteworthy post: “Fallor ergo sum” – St. Augustine 1200 years prior to Descartes, this post examines the critical notion of “failing forward” – or the importance of the experience of being wrong, of failing and moving forward as an intrinsically necessary part of meaningful, lasting learning.

The Positive Classroom – by Muriel Rand, Professor of Early Childhood Education at New Jersey City University

Noteworthy post: 10 Wonderful Multicultural Children’s Books – briefly discusses the importance of actively developing anti-bias children and some literature selections that can be used as conversation starters.



Dane’s Education Blog – by Dane Peters, Head of Brooklyn Heights Montessori School

Noteworthy post: Play – how research shows that play of all kinds, even the rough-and-tumble sort – can be healthy and even prevent violent behavior.



Constructing Communities of Paper & Building Communities of Learners

First graders at TPS are collaborating together to build a three-dimensional community in their classroom…and deepening their own classroom community in the process. Check out their brief story here on NAIS Inspiration Lab:


Big Ideas, Big Discussion

“Big ideas deserve and require big discussion…Let’s have the grit to NOT swallow a great-sounding idea without beating it up a bit, and let’s be thankful that we have the slack in our lives to be thoughtful educators.” – Grant Lichtman

The call for fostering children who are resilient and approach real-world challenges in their learning and in their lives with “grit” has been charging through the worlds of educational leadership, parenting, and child development. Read Does ‘Grit’ Need Deeper Discussion? by author Grant Lichtman, as well as the valuable resources linked within his post, for some additional thought-provoking fodder on the topic. His reflections remind us to pursue reflection, innovation, and reform – but not without doing the hard and important work of examining closely and inquisitively multiple perspectives.

Making School Look Like Real Life

Read this thoughtful blog post by educator & innovator Bo Adams who asks and begins to answer, “If school is supposed to prepare students for real life, then why doesn’t school look more like real life?”

Click here for a classroom teacher’s review of Tony Wagner’s book, Creating Innovators

If you are wondering…

How can I teach leadership skills to all my students? Read Teaching Leadership to All

How can I create a culture of inclusion in my classroom? Read In Pursuit of the Multicultural Curriculum

How can I develop my own creativity so I can model it for students? Read Embracing our Creativity

What is innovation and why does/should it matter to me and my classroom? Read The Innovation Imperative

Connected, but Alone

This TED talk by Sherry Turkle is worth the listen and the thought-time. As we model for our students and children how to engage meaningfully in community, navigate emotions and relationships with friends and loved ones, and balance increasing demands on our time and attention as a result of this digital age: reflecting on Sherry Turkle’s words will not be a waste.

“We seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things…and the end result is we expect more from technology and less from each other…When Thoreau considered “where I live and what I live for,” he tied together location and values. Where we live doesn’t just change how we live; it informs who we become. Most recently, technology promises us lives on the screen. What values, Thoreau would ask, follow from this new location? Immersed in simulation, where do we live, and what do we live for?” – Sherry Turkle

Growth-Minded in the New Year

growth mindsetAs articles, tweets, and status updates fly around the internet with all of the secrets, tips, and tricks to making and keeping resolutions and finding success and happiness…I ran across this article:

Growth Mindset and the Common Core Math Standards

It references a study in which two groups of students with comparable levels of math achievement were instructed in the same new math skills. One group was additionally coached to understand their mind as a muscle that becomes stronger with usage, practice, and even struggle. This is called the growth mindset or the expandable theory of intelligence. The control group was only instructed in the new skills (fixed mindset).  The results of the study revealed that the students who internalized the belief that intellectual skill can be developed through acquisition and practiced application of knew information and skills had notable improvement in grades and study habits compared to the fixed mindset group. Not only that, but their improvement continued on an upward trajectory over the next two years, diverging from the control group’s even further.

While the research in this article is focused on math instruction and performance, some of the take-aways regarding encouraging a growth mindset are applicable to adults and children alike. As we enter 2014 as educators, parents, and individuals hoping to develop new habits and skills in ourselves and others let’s remember:

  • What you believe about your own intelligence and skills (expandable or fixed) will inform what you believe about that of others, and thus how you interact with them. When confronted with struggle/failure, do you approach instruction/parenting with the belief that your students/children are just not sufficiently bright, talented or smart? How might children be better equipped for their future if they are consistently treated as though they are just faced with a challenge they don’t yet have the skills to solve, as teachable learners who need guidance and feedback on how to improve?
  • How you talk to (encourage, praise, redirect, etc.) your students/children about successes and failures can impact achievement and growth. Do you emphasize intelligence/skill/talent as a fixed trait? Or effort, perseverance, and resilience? Research shows that praising/encouraging the process (not the person) fosters growth mindset and greater long term resilience and success.
  • Fixed mindset individuals see struggle and failure as indicators of intelligence and aptitude. Growth mindset individuals see the same challenges as opportunities for learning, in which effort and mistakes are highly valued.

Whether it is in relation to your profession or your personal resolutions for 2014, consider how your inward thinking and outward language (both towards yourself and to others) can reflect the belief that skills, talents, and intelligence can be cultivated, honed, and learned with perseverance, grit, and determination.