A useful graphic for children and teachers/parents – illustrating some (but not all) of the various ways individuals can be smart – according to Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
It was not THAT long ago that smart phones were a rare luxury found in the hands of high-powered entrepreneurs and financiers. Today they fall out of the half-zipped backpacks of young children and are left forgetfully behind by over-scheduled adults. We touch them within minutes of waking up, and turn screens off just moments before falling asleep. We fear missing out. We fear a great catastrophe if we aren’t instantly accessible….but didn’t nearly everyone who can read this post grow up in an era where if you left your house, you weren’t reachable until you returned?
It begs the question: what are we teaching our children and students about meaningful living and learning?
Two articles related to this question (links and excerpts shared below) recently caught my attention. As per usual, the most balanced perspectives on digital tools and media at all levels of education and in daily living are those that advocate for wisdom, moderation, and well-informed intentionality in the lives of both children and adults. If research shows that meaningful living and learning happen in the context of relationships, resilience, and reflection…how are we cultivating THOSE 3 Rs? It behooves us all to think carefully about what we are modeling for children about balance, presence, and self-care.
“Transparency improves learning. If you tell students that what they’re doing is critical thinking, they retain it more than if you don’t name it. We know a lot about what works. For example, using a highlighter when you read doesn’t increase student learning; what does is reading the chapter, then taking out an index card and putting it in your own words. We talk about the three Rs: relationships, resilience and reflection. If you increase those things, students will learn more, and teaching content becomes less important. We don’t have to teach you the periodic table because there’s a guy online who teaches it. But those guys online don’t know the names of their students. And there’s hard evidence that students learn more when they feel you know and care about them.” – Dr. José Antonio Bowen
“It is hard to be okay with letting things drop: being late, or messy or uncomfortable or letting little ones feel impatient. It is hard to feel that you cannot help them all or do it all. It is a hard truth borne from a slowly evolving realization that doing less can, in fact, mean more…As we increasingly read on screens, our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning…Do you know this feeling? It is the difference between sitting at the table versus being at it, or putting them to bed versus tucking them in. It is the difference between eating your food versus tasting it or raising your kids versus enjoying them.” – Jennifer Meer
Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman is doing some fascinating brain-based research on the processes of imagination and creativity….and finding that there are striking similarities between the brain function of those in “imagination mode” and individuals diagnosed with ADHD. From the article The Innovative and Creative Power of ADHD:
“Where does innovation, invention, or creativity come from? The brain’s default mode network, which controls cognitive processes like perspective taking, daydreaming, and mind wandering, is most active when mind is resting…and this part of the brain is more active in people diagnosed with ADHD…In a way, you can actually conceptualize that people with ADHD have an overactive imagination as opposed to a learning disability…Based on the research available, Kaufman says that the way our educational psychiatric systems view ADHD may be seriously flawed…recent studies show that behavior educators identify as “disruptive” and “creative” often overlap.”
How can we create learning environments, both in and out of school, that proactively value and foster imagination and creativity? How do we need to change our perspective as adults so that we see the behavior of children (with ADHD or not) as complex and multi-faceted, always telling a richer story than labeling can often tell? Can we change our perspective to see ADHD as an asset, rather than a hindrance, to a learner’s development? In Kaufman’s words:
“You could conceptualize people with the ADHD label as explorers—imagine being an explorer trapped in an educational classroom where the teacher is saying, ‘Pay attention to me and don’t explore,’” he says. “It drives them nuts.”
In an era in which children are increasingly scheduled and information absorption is increasingly rapid, how much and what type of homework is a perennial topic of discussion amongst educators and parents. Is Homework Helpful? The 5 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask provides some thought-provoking questions for teachers to ask themselves when assigning homework, and parents to consider if/when they find themselves wishing for more. Additional practice to support mastery is useful…and research shows that quantity does not equal quality; there are equally developmentally rich experiences that children can have post-school hours (like PLAY!). From the article:
“The National PTA recommends 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for 12th). If you follow these guidelines, students will spend 137,160 minutes doing homework from first grade to 12th grade. That equals 2,286 hours or 95 straight days of homework.”
95 straight days of homework IF we are abiding by the 10 minutes per grade rule. “Is homework helpful?” seems to be the wrong question. Is 95 straight days of homework what we most desire for their development and growth into individuals of intellect and character? Food (but not homework) for thought.
I recently recommended the book Free To Learn, by Peter Gray. The New York Times recently published an article, The Building Blocks of a Good Pre-K, that further highlights the fallacy that learning and play are mutually exclusive experiences.
“While grown-ups recognize that pretending helps children find their way into the world, many adults think of play as separate from formal learning. The reality is quite different. As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood curriculum.
What does purposeful play look like? When you step into an exemplary pre-K classroom, you see a room organized by a caring, responsive teacher who understands child development. Activity centers are stocked with materials that invite exploration, fire the imagination, require initiative and prompt collaboration. The room hums.”
– Shael Polakow-Suranksy & Nancy Nager
Better learning doesn’t just happen as a result of environments where children are free to play. Better learning happens WHILE they play.
This New York Times article, Helping Parents Deal With Learning and Attention Issues, gives an overview of a new ad campaign promoting the website Understood.org. The website is an incredibly useful resource for parents, and by extension educators, as we strive every day to understand children’s experience, make learning and growing accessible and engaging, and walk the balance between protecting our children/students and allowing them the valuable experiences of struggle, failure, and perseverance with an eye towards students who develop both quality intellect and excellent character. Our children and students move through a world that is largely organized, scheduled, structured, and geared towards adults. The website provides a multitude of resources in the areas of: brain research, learning & attention (executive functioning skills), friends & feelings (social emotional skills), and support systems for families. Understood.org seeks to make the experience of different kinds of learners more transparent and accessible for parents and teachers so that we might better support and inspire the next generation.
In his book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, author Peter Gray, an evolutionary developmental psychologist, examines the nature of play and the scientific research associated with it’s powerful educational benefits. It is simultaneously a very engaging and highly informative read. It’s worth buying a hard copy, it’s worth reading, and it’s worth taking seriously as we work as parents and educators to create environments, learning experiences, and opportunities for our children to become smart of mind and good of heart. Some quotes to highlight:
“Imagine that you had omnipotent powers and were faced with the problem of how to get young humans and other young mammals to practice the skills they must develop to survive and thrive in their local conditions of life. How might you solve that problem? It is hard to imagine a more effective solution than that of building into their brains a mechanism that makes them want to practice those very skills and that rewards such practice with the experience of joy. Perhaps play would be more respected if we called it something like ‘self-motivated practice of life skills’…”
“Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and impulses, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and make friends. In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives.”
“In play…children bring the realities of their world into a fictional context, where it is safe to confront them, to experience them, and to practice ways of dealing with them.”
Executive function is a set of processes your brain undergoes to help connect past experience with present action. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University calls the executive function portion of the brain its “air traffic control system”. Children and adults of all ages use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, choosing focus, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing self and environment.
Executive function includes the external management skills of time, materials, & space. Internally it includes the cognitive management skills of filing away information, retrieving it at the appropriate time, inhibiting impulses, selecting appropriate focus for attention, maintaining focus, and flexing that focus when needed.
Whether you are a student, educator, administrator, parent or a combination of the above, below are some articles that give some additional insight and perspective into cognition & executive function skills….unraveling some of the mystery behind how it is you do all that you do:
“Being able to focus, hold, and work with information in mind, filter distractions, and switch gears is like having an air traffic control system at a busy airport to manage the arrivals and departures of dozens of planes on multiple runways. In the brain, this air traffic control mechanism is called executive function, a group of skills that helps us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, and revise plans as necessary. Acquiring the early building blocks of these skills is one of the most important and challenging tasks of the early childhood years, and the opportunity to build further on these rudimentary capacities is critical to healthy development through middle childhood, adolescence, and into early adult life.”
“Think school success is mostly a matter of IQ? Think again. Worried that your child’s learning disability is a doomsday diagnosis? It doesn’t have to be. Think being an “average” kid will prevent your child from excelling in school? Not necessarily. Natural ability to learn is only part of the equation for academic success; motivation is another key. And neuroscience is shedding light on another group of mental capacities called executive functions — the self-governing, goal-directed skills that enable children to meet academic challenges and become independent learners.…Through patience, monitoring, guidance, and collaboration with teachers, parents can aid their children in developing their own executive strategies, move toward self-supervision, and soar.” – Aden A. Burka
“Our students are the center of what we do and what we want to accomplish. We do not simply teach a subject, we teach children. We teach them how to learn and also to value the process of learning whether it be the process of writing a book report, completing a project, or preparing for a test. Our students are incredibly unique and yearn for us to know and value their strengths as learners and their qualities as people. When we appreciate our students’ diversity as learners and promise to stretch their capabilities and minds, we ultimately prepare them for independence from us, which allows them to mature as individuals.” – Greensboro Day School Learning Resource Department
“Educators, collectively, have a strong sense of what works for students, and what schools can and should do for their charges. The challenge, in order to attract and justify the allocation of precious and limited resources, is to ground our vision in research that is both substantiated and inspirational. The visionary aspirations of a school should be anchored in the science of learning, and done in a way that unleashes creative organizational and curricular possibilities that reflect what it is emerging in this exciting field of neuro-education.” – Mike Walker
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.