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Getting Back the Joys of Learning

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them…”

—Charles Dickens, Hard Times

In “Joy: A Subject Schools Lack” (The Atlantic; Jan 2015), Susan Engel – a mother, teacher, and developmental psychologist – points out the troubling truth that, for many schools, the last thing they’re concerned with nowadays is “what it feels like to be a child, or what makes childhood an important and valuable stage of life in its own right.” Thus, we now see many elementary and high schools (and even some colleges) focusing on the needs and wants of parents rather than students, pitching buzzwords and slogans about getting kids prepped for college and high-stakes careers rather than for adulthood, lifelong learning, and – I don’t know – their upcoming grade level. Or, as Engel puts it, “This may explain why so many schools that I visit seem more like something out of a Dickens novel than anything else.”

As a kid, my husband attended a private elementary school in Ft. Worth for his K-8 – a school that’s principal was often fond of telling parents, Third grade is the best preparation for fourth grade, fourth grade is the best preparation for fifth grade, and so on. In other words, a child’s education should really be just that: an education for children that takes one step at a time, not an education for future college students or CEOs that constantly leaps forward without regard to the here-and-now. What’s more, it seems to me that instilling and focusing on the joys of learning for students would be a tremendous means of also increasing and enhancing the joys of teaching.

As feminist philosopher and writer Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote in Women Who Run With the Wolves, people’s

“psyches and souls…have their own cycles and seasons of doing and solitude, running and staying, being involved and being removed, questing and resting, creating and incubating, being of the world and returning to the soul-place. When we are children … the instinctive nature notices all these phases and cycles. … Children are the wildish nature, and without being told to, they prepare for the coming of these times, greeting them, living with them, and keeping from those times recuerdos, mementos, for remembering ….” (pg 276-277)

What joys might we all better experience and live with now – not simply remember – if we’d allowed ourselves to learn and grow with these instinctive, wildish, soul-fulfilling cycles, rather than elbowing our way out of them in some abstract desire to one day be “successful”? How much more successful and joyful might we all be if we’d let ourselves continue to love and enjoy learning, if we’d been encouraged to experience and embrace feelings of awe and wonderment rather than to push constantly ahead, constantly faster, and to act “cool” and unimpressed with the world, ourselves, and each other?

Engel inspired and started us off in this post, so I’ll let her end it as well:

Before you brush this argument aside as sentimental fluff, or think of joy as an unaffordable luxury in a nation where there is dire poverty, low academic achievement, and high dropout rates, think again. The more dire the school circumstances, the more important pleasure is to achieving any educational success. … The more difficult a child’s life circumstances, the more important it is for that child to find joy in his or her classroom.”

Further Readings & Videos:

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Say, What?

Sloan Creek: Learning Community

Considering the arguments of Kids Growth’s “Why Won’t My Child Talk To Me?”, the answer becomes deceptively simple: They’ll be thrilled talk and share with you, so long as you’re prepared to listen and share in return.

The difficult key here is being able to remain patient and respectful even when your child seems to be acting unreasonably, disrespectfully, or irrationally. As Kids Growth explains, “You can accept and respect your children’s feelings even when you don’t see things the same way. You also can accept their feelings without necessarily accepting how they handle them (for example, it’s okay to be angry, but not to hit).”

Kids Growth lists a number of useful suggestions on how to steer you and your family onto a path of clear and effective communication, but we’ve got a few more to add to their collection:

  • Set aside time to talk — sometimes creating time for…

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Getting Gritty

The latest and hottest education buzzword is Grit.

Consider Tovia Smith’s “Does Teaching Kids To Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?”: “Around the nation, schools are beginning to see grit as key to students’ success – and just as important to teach as reading and math. Experts define grit as persistence, determination, and resilience” – it’s one of the hardest qualities to instill in people, and perhaps especially so in today’s American culture of extremes (where parents are often labelled as either helicopters or completely checked out, and where nearly all students are made to feel entirely risk-averse when it comes to their education (such that they are either labelled as uncreative test-taking machines or as lazy, dumb, and/or entitled brats)).

But still, it’s grit that has everyone up in arms in the education world right now, and it’s grit that has everyone scratching their heads as they try to find new means of supporting and encouraging grit-development in themselves and their kids.

Dr. Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant for being the first to coin “grit” as the next step, as that special mystery ingredient needed to better prepare new generations for the future. Much of Duckworth’s story and work is laid bare in Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. In How Children Succeed, Tough discusses not only Duckworth’s research, but also the work of other prominent grit-studiers like Dr. Walter Mischel of Columbia University. In particular, Tough is careful to explain Mischel’s (now famous) Marshmallow Test (it’s a fascinating chapter!). The marshmallow test is deceptively simple: In his test group, Mischel gives each child a single marshmallow and then tells them that they can either eat the one marshmallow immediately, or wait a few minutes and get to eat two marshmallows. It’s a test of delayed gratification, of self-control, and of being able to imagine a new, perhaps sweeter future. But there’s more to grit than having the willpower to delay gratification—grit also encompasses the ability to face down and persevere against mistakes, setbacks, and rejection.

Grit is also, in other words, the ability to accept failure as a part of life and learning, rather than as a source of shame or stupidity.

Take, for example, the ability to expertly play an instrument. Many people have this dream or desire, but very few have the ability. Why? Most people likely could become at least decent musicians if they chose to practice often enough—but that’s just it. The choosing to act. The deciding to act. The act of taking purposeful action.

While many people may go into music lessons with the understanding that mastering an instrument takes time and practice, few people have the ability to handle the kind of delay in gratification necessary to really put in all that time, and perhaps even fewer have the ability to then also persevere despite any and all roadblocks that might crop up: lack of natural talent, consistent mistakes that may feel embarrassing, not wanting to practice for feelings of embarrassment, not placing in a music competition, receiving bad reviews, etc.

Grit, as the popular argument now goes, may be the answer to these challenges.

After all, what is natural talent worth if someone’s not willing or doesn’t feel able to put in the work necessary to let said talent flourish?

As Jonathan Rowson, Scottish chess grand master, once wrote: “When it comes to ambition, it is crucial to distinguish between ‘wanting’ something and ‘choosing’ it.” (qtd. in Tough 130) –An idea that hits directly on Duckworth’s theories regarding grit and success: “The problem with self-control techniques like the ones that the most disciplined marshmallow resisters employed is that they work only when a child knows what he or she wants.” (Tough 64)

But how can we as teachers, friends, parents, and students begin to better foster this element of grit in ourselves and each other?

While there’s no hard and fast way to “teach” grit, people are coming up with some pretty interesting and inventive techniques for trying to foster this elusive trait. Here are just a few ideas to consider:

  • According to Vicki Zakrzewski’s “Two Ways to Foster Grit” (with Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, University of California, Berkeley): 1) “Teach students about the impact of thoughts and beliefs on their ability to succeed. Students who have created a habit of telling themselves that they are bad at everything and that failure is inevitable will have a hard time with grit.” And 2) “Teach students how to work with their emotions. … For example, when a student who holds the belief, ‘I am bad at math, therefore I am a bad person’ (a common belief amongst some students who fear failure) faces an obstacle, emotions such as fear, despair, or anger may arise so quickly that the student doesn’t have time to change his or her thinking to fend off the emotion. … To help these students, educators should first teach them to recognize and label emotional responses so that they become aware when their emotions are spinning out of control. They should then follow this with methods for calming difficult emotions.” (This really is a fascinating article. You can (and probably should) read the entire thing: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/two_ways_to_foster_grit)
  • Create safe spaces for you and your kids to learn, take risks, and make mistakes. Risks and mistakes should be thought of as simply a natural part of the learning process – not as a sign of failure, weakness, lack of talent, or stupidity. As Smith further explains in her “Does Teaching Kids To Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?”: “One way to make kids more tenacious, the thinking goes, is to show them how grit has been important to the success of others, and how mistakes and failures are normal parts of learning — not reasons to quit.” –and Jason Baehr, professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, agrees, stating that: “‘You can create a classroom culture in which struggle and risk-taking is valued more than just getting the right answer.’” You can also try talking with your kids about who their heroes are and how grit has helped those heroes succeed—perhaps an avid reader of Stephen King might look to the years when King struggled with rejection letter after rejection letter from publishers; perhaps a sports fan might look to some of the losing games his or her favorite players have endured during their athletic careers; and so on and so on.

Works Consulted:

An Added Bonus

First, thank you, Math Universe, for posting on this important topic of peer tutoring. Peer tutoring is an intensely interactive and often immensely effective means of learning and mastering new materials. I love especially that this post is coming from Math Universe, since many articles and posts often focus on writing-related opportunities for peer tutoring (not that these opportunities aren’t very important as well; my own tutoring experience is grounded primarily in the world of writing). Peer tutoring and classroom-organized study groups are terrific tools for helping students discover ways of both understanding the materials for themselves and from the perspectives of others.

It’s this diversity that I find especially appealing about in-class study group systems. Friends often study together or forge their own study groups outside of class. However, while this is great, it can also be beneficial to work with people you wouldn’t normally otherwise consult. In colleges, such systems are alive and well. Take Southwestern University (Georgetown, TX) for example. They’ve long been experimenting with the Paideia Program, where accepted applicants are grouped into diverse cohorts that will stick together, serve together, and learn together from their sophomore year to their senior year. This enables students from all departments and backgrounds to come together and benefit from each other’s unique perspectives. Of course, the program has changed dramatically since I was a student there (it’s now a requirement of all Southwestern students rather than a program for students to apply into), but the core purposes and goals remain the same: interdisciplinary collaboration, civic engagement, intercultural experience, and learning to apply one’s education beyond the classroom. (For more information on the Paideia Program specifically, visit: http://www.southwestern.edu/paideia/)

All of this is to say that peer tutoring and formalized study groups can be as diverse, challenging, and beneficial as you want to make them. Studying and mastering new skills is always difficult, but taking the time to work through these challenges with others not only fosters greater opportunities to learn, but greater opportunities to form lifelong friendships, leadership qualities, and collaboration skills.

The Math Universe

Something that I really like about science classes is that during lab you get the opportunity to interact with classmates.  In lecture only classes, it seems as though people just show up to class and then leave, but when you have lecture and then lab after a short break – or viseversa – there is that additional time to get to know each other.

The reason I bring this up is because sometimes it’s helpful to study with another person.  Some more introverted students (such as myself) may have difficulty meeting friends in class.  But when you are sitting in tables that seat four people and told to work with a partner, it’s like a built-in study buddy.  Or it could be a horrible nightmare if your partner is completely incompetent, but even then that can have its positive side, as I will discuss later.

My Trigonometry teacher would always…

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Albert Einstein’s Reply to a Female Fan’s Confession Should Be in Every Science Textbook

“If you have ever been called defiant, incorrigible, forward, cunning, insurgent, unruly, rebellious, you’re on the right track. Wild Woman is close by. If you have never been called these things, there is yet time.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

 

Thank you for this post, Central Oregon Coast NOW — this is a tremendous and succinct comment on the continued and pervasive problem of women and girls being culturally and socially discouraged from pursuing their interests in math and science.

As German artist, Käthe Kollwitz, once said, “I am in the world to change the world.” Women and girls need to know this in their bones. And women and girls need to remember that anyone who would suggest otherwise or suggest that women are somehow less valuable because of their gender is someone afraid of losing power, is someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and is someone attempting to break down and smother out the multitudinous nature of others.

Don’t ever let yourself be broken down, and don’t forget these wise words from Albert Einstein to a young female scientist:

“I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind.”

Central Oregon Coast NOW

By Smriti Sinha  July 1, 2014

“I hope you will not think any the less of me for being a girl!”

This plea was sent to Albert Einstein by a young South African in the 1940s, and was recently unearthed as part of Alice Caprice’s Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children. Although brief, Tyfanny’s words capture the self-consciousness and self-doubt that have for so long plagued women who aspire to careers in science and technology.

In the letter, dated Sept. 19, 1946, a seemingly agonized Tyfanny admits to Einstein that she has left out a potentially damaging detail about herself. “I forgot to tell you, in my last letter, that I was a girl. I mean I am a girl,” the young scientist writes. “I have always regretted this a great deal, but by now I have become more or less resigned to the…

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Summer Tutoring is Just Around the Corner!!!

 

 

 

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The time is approaching! Summer tutoring begins NEXT WEEK!

Tutoring 101 Summer College Prep 2014 in Allen, Texas

Summer is the perfect time to raise your scores and up your game. Our Summer Academy can help students…

  • Maximize their knowledge and enhance their skills
  • Increase their STAAR/PSAT/SAT/ACT scores
  • Equip your student for excellent study and organizational skills
  • Prepare for Grade school readiness for all local ISD programs

Tutoring 101’s Summer Academy entails:

  • Once and twice weekly classes
  • Teacher led workshops with challenging new lessons each class
  • Study Hall and one-on-one prep available as well as group classes

Your child deserves Better Scores, Better Colleges and Better Scholarships. Help them achieve it with effective curriculum and real classroom teachers/professors. 

Register Today!

 

Summer Planning for Elementary Students

  • Make an appointment to meet with our tutors today to set up your individualized summer tutoring program! You can schedule a block of lessons for June, July, or all summer long.
  • Choose a variety of fiction and non-fiction pieces (such as from The National Geographic or other education-oriented magazines) for everyone to read and discuss together as a family or even as a group of friends—reading and book clubs are great for summertime!
  • Get a good math workbook that addresses a wide array of math skills (such as geometry) in order to reinforce what kids learned last year as well as to give them some exposure to next year’s subjects (contact Tutoring 101 for recommended workbooks!)
  • Plan museum outings of every kind: art, history, science, etc. – something that’s fun and interactive for students, friends, and family
 

Summer Planning for Middle & High School Students

  • Continue practicing for band or orchestra (we would recommend practicing for at least 2 days a week) – and be sure to work with fun music; get creative with it! You can get great practice out of anything from your favorite Disney songs to movie and video game soundtracks!
  • Read, read, read! All the time! Try drawing up a “fun summer reading” booklist
  • For high school students, begin preparing for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT exams
  • Engage in as many educational activities as possible, whether it be attending concerts or visiting historic sites

And don’t forget to have a great summer!!!

410 N. Greenville Ave. #110 
Allen, Texas 75002 
Tel:972-359-0222

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Reading and Writing Across the Disciplines

“…writing is tangible evidence of critical thinking — or the lack of it – and is a helpful indicator of how students construct knowledge out of information.”

—Ellen Goldberger, “Everyone Should Teach Writing,” Inside Higher Ed, 2014

More and more, colleges are beginning to move the Teaching of Writing from strictly the English Department’s territory to school-wide efforts—efforts that necessitate contributions and collaboration with professors from every department and every level. Writing skills have always been of the utmost importance, and yet only now and only begrudgingly are some of our brightest teachers dedicating any significant time to ensuring that their students are able to well communicate thoughts and ideas through writing.

According to Goldberger’s “Everyone Should Teach Writing,”  “Conventional wisdom and practical experience tell us that students’ ability to secure jobs and advance in their careers depends, to a great extent, on their communication skills, including polished, professional writing,” and what’s more, “writing is not separate from content in our courses, but can be used as a practical tool to apply and reinforce learning.” These are things we can all agree on whether we’re parents, students, employers, grade school teachers, high school teachers, or college professors. The stickiness comes in, however, with the notion that the teachers and professors themselves should have to make the time and extra effort necessary to better embed this most foundational and complex of skill sets within their own syllabi as opposed to someone else’s.

And while I stand behind this concept of better spreading and reinforcing the teaching and learning of writing across all disciplines, I must say that the most compelling component of Goldberger’s argument for me was her concerns regarding student responsibility and reading habits. As she argues, “students do read, but what they spend their time reading is not helpful”—if not outright detrimental—“in learning how to write” and learning how to communicate in a variety of subtle, professional, personal, and academic styles.

As Goldberger explains,

How many hours are spent sending and reading tweets, texts and other messages in fractured language? It made me wonder: is it even possible to swim against this unstoppable tide of bad writing?

The key, as always, is to not simply stand around hoping that you land the best teacher or boss every time you enter a new class with new demands or a new job with new coworkers. The key is to take things into your own hands and expose yourself to as many different types of writing and writers as you possibly can. But more than simple exposure, more than simply enjoying your beach reads, you must be willing to take things a step further; you must be willing to spend time analyzing even the breeziest of novels all the way up to the most obscure and difficult. You must be willing to think critically about works you’d never given much thought to before, voice opinions and ideas to others regarding new works and interpretations, start book clubs, engage in book-related forums, and experiment with new styles of writing and new kinds of reading materials.

We must be willing to invest time in ourselves to reap the benefits of reading and writing. We must be willing to sit still a while apart from distractions and allow ourselves to become absorbed into another’s world before we can reap the benefits of improved communication skills, artistic expression, professionalism, progress, empathy, and socialization.

Whether you’re preparing for the SATs, a job interview, fiction writing, improved vocabulary, or any other number of possibilities, there’s one clear-cut road to take: Reading.

Read diversely. Read often. Read.

 

Further Reading: