Encouraging Independent Thinking

Students often don’t know why they’re learning something. Asking why is so important to kids and they deserve a better answer than “because it will be on the test.” By the time kids reach middle school, they give up asking and focus on getting a good grade. To in- crease curiosity, it is important to address the “why” questions. Why are we reading Hamlet? Why are we solving quadratic equations? When teachers answer these questions, it prompts kids to think more deeply about the implications of what they’re learning.

Parents can elicit curiosity in their children through similar methods. We don’t need to have the right answers all the time, but we need to encourage kids to ask the right questions. If we don’t know the answer, we can say, “Let’s find out. Do some research on Google, and we can go from there.”  

When we support curiosity, what we’re really developing is a child’s imagination. Which brings me to creativity, a wonderful by-product of independence and curiosity.

Esther Wojcicki, How to Raise Successful People

The Best Thing My Psychic Mom Taught Me

I think of my mother (the fortune teller) each time I sit before my screen and begin to write. You have to speak in metaphors, in paradox, in symbolism, I hear her voice. You have to tell a story that will allow the client to experience the truth without you ever having to name it. I write first drafts as if I were turning over tarot cards, too: I scribble single, disjointed paragraphs until the right image of a character emerges.  And I think constantly of Mami’s biggest lesson: Nobody wants the truth, but everyone wants a story.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras writing in BuzzFeed News  

The Importance of Dumb Mistakes

For all of the supposed liberating power of digital devices, (users) might as well be wearing ankle monitors. Technological connectedness has made it much harder for (college students) to make mistakes and learn from them.

Today’s students live their lives so publicly — through the technology we provide them without training — that much simpler errors than mine earn them the wrath of the entire internet.

I got driven downtown in handcuffs for spray-painting “Corporate Deathburgers” across a McDonald’s.

If a Williams student spray-painted “Corporate Deathburgers” on a local building today (not that they ever would), it wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone posting the security footage online. Then the outraged calls and emails and tweets would pour in, demanding that the college disavow Deathburger values. I’d be writing news releases explaining that at Williams we take Deathburgers very seriously. There would be op-eds about the Deathburger problem on American campuses today. And the video would live on: another student weighed down by the detritus of his or her online life.

Thirty years ago, college students could have tried out radical ideas (in the student newspaper). But readership would have been largely restricted to campus, and the paper would have been in circulation for only a day or two. In this climate, there is little room for students to experiment and screw up.

My worry is that we’ve become unwilling to tolerate innocent mistakes — either that or we have drastically shrunk our vision of innocence.

In my own life I made bad choices that went far beyond spray paint. I flunked out of college and at various points narrowly dodged jail time. When I think back to those mistakes, I’m horrified and chastened. I feel fortunate to have survived, to have had the privilege to make amends.

Jim Reische writing in the New York Times

Fellow Students

The best professors.. were no longer high priests, selfishly guarding the doors to the kingdom of knowledge to make themselves look more important. They were fellow students – no, fellow human beings – struggling with the mysteries of the universe, human society, historical development, or whatever. They found affinity with their students in their own ignorance and curiosity, in their love of life and beauty, in their mixture of respect and fear, and in that mix they discovered more similarities than differences between themselves and the people who populated their classes. A sense of awe at the world and the human condition stood at the center of their relationships with those students.

Most important, that humility, that fear, that veneration of the unknown spawned a kind of quiet conviction on the part of the best teachers that they and their students could do great things together.

Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do

The advantages of flexibility

Flexibility is valuable in almost any aspect of life – in school, on the job, in intimate relations with other people, and even in dealing with oneself. Just think of how much more effective teachers could be if they accommodated themselves to the varied styles of thinking in their classrooms, or how easy it would be to work for people who allowed us to be ourselves and to get our work done in ways that are effective for us, or how enjoyable it would be to be in a relationship with someone who fully appreciated us for ourselves – for our own likes and dislikes – rather than for what they would like us to be. The advantages of flexibility are so overwhelming that one wonders why we don’t emphasize it much more than we do in our teaching of our children, our students, and our employees.

Robert Sternberg, Thinking Styles

when children ask why

Children not only need to hear our conclusions (Do this! Do that!) they need to know the thought process that got us to those conclusions (Here's why you should do this or that). They need context. If you only offer orders and rules, then we are not teaching, not serving them as parents. We are just pontificating.

It's hard work articulating why we believe what we believe. We may hesitate, out of fear, to tell our children the honest "whys." Perhaps if we share, they will discover our secret weaknesses or find flaws in our reasoning. But rather than hiding our imperfections, if we let them know we are fallible as they are, we share with them a common bond and a true honesty. Rather than just trying to pour truth into their heads, we can help them make the marvelous discovery that they have something to contribute to our lives as well. We are fellow struggles, learning how to live right in a confusing and challenging world.

Stephen Goforth

Self-Reflection

Arthur Chickering writes that helping “students deepen their understanding about reaching for authenticity and spiritual growth.. starts and ends with self-reflection and employs that throughout..”

To say the journey is all about self-reflection is restrictive and small. Perhaps the teaching and learning adventure dips into navel gazing from time-to-time and ends with light bulbs popping above eager young heads, but discovering the insights of other people who have gone before is not going to happen quickly. What if we first read the great thinkers of the past-and then wrestled with the questions and ideas we discover? An fruitful journey requires a shift away from the self to a focus on something greater and sorting through previously mined dirt to discover valuable nuggets of truth.

Standing on the shoulders of great thinkers in order to peer down the road a bit further than we could on our own two legs is a great way to start the learning process. If we insist on hacking a path through a jungle instead of taking paths already cleared is a sure way to waste our time and energy, clawing our way through undiscovered regions.

The Chickering quote comes from his book "Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality in Higher Education."  Chickering understands the value of encouraging students to read great works. But his goal is helping them “evolve” their "own" answer, he writes. Applauding young people just for coming to their own conclusions about life is not adequate. Their answers may be weak or entirely baseless.  Learning to think critically will help them sort through which ideas are worth hanging on to.. even when we're not around to guide them.

It’s not just about whether you arrive at an answer but how you got there and whether it will stand up to criticism. Patting students on the tops of their heads, just for coming up with something they can call their own isn't teaching them to be thinkers and lovers of truth. Can they effectively defend their positions?  More importantly, can they live those answers?

Stephen Goforth

a strong faith in the ability of students

The best teachers we encountered expect “more” from their students. Yet the nature of that “more” must be distinguished from expectations that may be “high” but meaningless, from the goals that are simply tied to the course rather than to the kind of thinking and acting expected of critical thinkers. That “more” is, in the hands of teachers who captivate and motivate students and help them reach unusually high levels of accomplishment, grounded in the highest intellectual artistic, or moral standards, and in the personal goals of the students.

We found that the best teachers usually have a strong faith in the ability of students to learn and in the power of a healthy challenge, but they also have an appreciation that excessive anxiety and tension can hinder thinking. Thus, while they help students to feel relaxed and to believe in their capacity to learn, they also foster a kind of disquietude, the feeling that stems from intellectual enthusiasm, curiosity, challenge, and suspense, and from the wonderful promises that they make about what students can achieve.

Ken Baine, What the Best College Teachers Do

Feedback

Some professors argue that they don’t want to hear their students talk about a subject because they don’t know enough… But I always think of piano teachers; they would never keep their students away from the keyboard simply because those pupils couldn’t yet play Mozart. Sure they have to endure a lot of bad notes, but they would never push someone off the bench and refuse to let them play until they somehow became better.

Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do

When am I Ready?

When patients ask me when they will be ready to terminate their therapy, I will reply, “When you yourself are able to be a good therapist.” This reply is often most usefully made in group therapy, where patients of course do practice psychotherapy on each other and where their failures to successfully assume the role of psychotherapists can be pointed out to them.

Many patients do not like this reply, and some will actually say, “That’s too much work. To do that means that I would have to think all the time in my relationships with people. I don’t want to think that much. I don’t want to work that hard. I just want to enjoy myself.”

Patients often respond similarly when I point out to them that all human interactions are opportunities either to learn or to teach (to give or relieve theory), and when they neither learn nor teach in an interaction they are passing up an opportunity.

Most people are quite correct when they say they do not want to achieve such a lofty goal or work so hard in life. The majority of patients, even in the hands of the most skilled and loving therapists will terminate their therapy at some point far short of complete fulfilling their potential. They may have traveled a short or even a goodly distance along the journey of spiritual growth, but the whole journey is not for them. It is or seems to be too difficult. They are content to be ordinary men and women and do not strive to be God.

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Grappling for Knowledge

According to a 1995 study, a sample of Japanese eighth graders spent 44 percent of their class time inventing, thinking, and actively struggling with underlying concepts. the study’s sample of American students, on the other hand, spend less than one percent of their time in that state.

 “The Japanese want their kids to struggle,” said Jim Stigler, the UCLA professor who oversaw the study and who co-wrote The Teaching Gap with James Hiebert. “Sometimes the (Japanese) teacher will purposely give the wrong answer so the kids can grapple with the theory. American teachers, though, worked like waiters. Whenever there was a struggle, they wanted to move past it, make sure the class kept gliding along. But you don't learn by gliding.”

Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code

 

Why praising people for their intelligence can hurt them

Dr. Carol Dweck gave every child a test that consisted of fairly easy puzzles. Afterward the  researcher informed all the children of their scores, adding a single six-word sentence of praise. Half the kids were praised for their intelligence (“You must be smart at this”) and half were praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard”).

The kids were tested a second time but this time they were offered a choice between the harder test and an easier test. Ninety percent of the kids who’d been praised for their effort choice the harder test. A majority of the kids who’d been praised for the intelligence, on the other hand, chose the easy test. Why? “When we praise children for their intelligence.” Dweck wrote, “we tell them that that's the name of the game: look smart, don't risk making mistakes.”

The third level of tests was uniformly harder; none of the kids did well. However, the two groups of kids--the praised-for-effort group and the praised-for-intelligence group--responding very differently to the situation. “(The effort group) dug in and grew very involved with the test, trying solutions, testing strategies,” Dweck said. “They later said they liked it. But the group praised for its intelligence hated the harder test. They took it as proof they weren’t smart.

Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code

 

Best Advice I Ever Got.. Eric Schmidt

The advice that sticks out I got from John Door, who in 2001 said, “My advice to you is to have a coach.”

My argument was, How could a coach advise me if I’m the best person in the world at this? But that’s not what a coach does. The coach doesn’t have to play the sport as well as you do. They have to watch you and get you to your best.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, Quoted in Fortune Magazine

None of this is likely to happen when we’re scrolling through TMZ

Recent research in cognitive science, psychology and neuroscience has demonstrated that deep reading — slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity — is a distinctive experience, different in kind from the mere decoding of words. Although deep reading does not, strictly speaking, require a conventional book, the built-in limits of the printed page are uniquely conducive to the deep reading experience. A book’s lack of hyperlinks, for example, frees the reader from making decisions — Should I click on this link or not? — allowing her to remain fully immersed in the narrative.

That immersion is supported by the way the brain handles language rich in detail, allusion and metaphor: by creating a mental representation that draws on the same brain regions that would be active if the scene were unfolding in real life. The emotional situations and moral dilemmas that are the stuff of literature are also vigorous exercise for the brain, propelling us inside the heads of fictional characters and even, studies suggest, increasing our real-life capacity for empathy.

None of this is likely to happen when we’re scrolling through TMZ.com. Although we call the activity by the same name, the deep reading of books and the information-driven reading we do on the web are very different, both in the experience they produce and in the capacities they develop.

We should be concerned about how young people read, and not just whether they’re reading at all, it helps to know something about the way the ability to read evolved. “Human beings were never born to read,” notes Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Unlike the ability to understand and produce spoken language, which under normal circumstances will unfold according to a program dictated by our genes, the ability to read must be painstakingly acquired by each individual. The “reading circuits” we construct are recruited from structures in the brain that evolved for other purposes—and these circuits can be feeble or they can be robust, depending on how often and how vigorously we use them.

This is not reading as many young people are coming to know it. Their reading is pragmatic and instrumental: the difference between what literary critic Frank Kermode calls “carnal reading” and “spiritual reading.” If we allow our offspring to believe that carnal reading is all there is—if we don’t open the door to spiritual reading, through an early insistence on discipline and practice—we will have cheated them of an enjoyable, even ecstatic experience they would not otherwise encounter. And we will have deprived them of an elevating and enlightening experience that will enlarge them as people.

Observing young people’s attachment to digital devices, some progressive educators and permissive parents talk about needing to “meet kids where they are,” molding instruction around their onscreen habits. This is mistaken. We need, rather, to show them someplace they’ve never been, a place only deep reading can take them.

Annie Murphy Paul, writing in the Brilliant Report

Opportunities...

Opportunities present themselves thousands of times while children are growing up when parents can either confront (children) with their tendency to avoid or escape responsibility for their own actions or can reassure them that certain situations are not their fault. But to seize these opportunities… requires of parents sensitivity to their children’s needs and the willingness to take the time and make the often uncomfortable effort to meet these needs. And this in turn requires love and the willingness to assume appropriate responsibility for the enhancement of their children’s growth.

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Putting yourself out of business

The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching. The hour when we can say “They need me no longer” should be our reward.

My own profession – that of a university teacher – is in this way dangerous. If we are any good we must always be working towards the moment at which our pupils are fit to become our critics and rivals. We should be delighted when it arrives, as the fencing master is delighted when his pupil can pink and disarm him. Any many are. But not all.

CS Lewis
The Four Loves