Gifted or Precocious?

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s book Nurtureshock is a great parenting book – it’s like a Freakonomics for parenting. What I liked about this book is that the authors keep reminding us that things are not always as they seem. Humans by nature make far too many assumptions that they believe are true, but in fact, are wrong. Unfortunately, in trying to simplify their explanations, some of their claims are presented as generalizations which may lead the reader to assume that there are no exceptions to their theories. They claim. for example, that it’s usually just precocious kids that do well on IQ tests before the age of 8 and schools that admit based on this principle don’t give late bloomers a chance. In general, that is what the research says, and from my own experience, I would mostly agree. The problem with generalizations is that I have worked with many young students who are truly academically advanced kids. Their needs are different and they need to be met.

Having said that, this article that appeared in the nytimes today with the headline, More Pre-K Pupils Qualify for Gifted Programs got my attention. How many of these kids have the potential to be part of solving some of the globes big problems? How many are just precocious? I hope you answered ALL to the first question.

Nurtureshock is definitely a good read. Any author that uses Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets as a catalyst for a book, is worth reading.

How to Ride an Elephant

The book Switch: How to Change Things When Things Are Hard by the Heath Brothers, Chip and Dan is a great and easy read. They state:

For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s your team. Picture that person (or people).

Each has an emotional Elephant side and a rational Rider side. You’ve got to reach both. And you’ve also got to clear the way for them to succeed. In short, you must do three things:

  1. Direct the RiderFollow the Bright Spots
    • Script the Critical Moves
    • Point to the Destination
  2. Motivate the Elephant (Daniel Pink’s book Drive is really good for this – I will reflect on it soon)
    • Find the Feeling
    • Shrink the Change
    • Grow Your People (Carol Dweck’s Mindset stuff)
  3. Shape the Path
    • Tweak the Environment
    • Build Habits
    • Rally the Herd – behavior is contagious

I really like books like these that try and find commonalities among some of the research and stories that are out there. They’re usually written with businesses in mind, but are also applicable to teachers.There’s no formula to change, but by keeping those three things in mind and figuring how much one needs to address those three areas, the book highlights many successful examples of change.

In terms of schools, this book can apply to all levels: administration, teachers, and students. Whether you want to change the way you diet or you want to change the world, Switch is a nice quick read.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

Earlier in the week, the science teacher at my school sent me a link to this article appearing in the nytimes magazine this weekend. And today the Head of School sent it to all the teachers. It’s a longish article, and if you’re reading it on the screen, I would get the readability app that I described a few posts ago, click on the ‘single page’ button near the beginning of the article, then use the readability app.

I though the article was good and highlighted some interesting points and I look forward to seeing the full taxonomy. What struck me was all the negativity from the many readers who posted comments. I chimed in as well in the reader’s comment section by quickly mentioning Carol Dweck’s idea of a growth mindset. Can a teacher be taught to teach? Of course. The teacher has to believe that he can too. But what is good teaching? The measures I feel they are using (student test scores and classroom management) are only part of the picture. Good teachers have to be willing to adapt, know that there is always something new to learn, and recognize that they are not always going to get it right. They also have to keep trying to keep learning. That’s what learning is. If we can’t do it, then how can we expect our students to?

This piece also reminded me of an article that appeared in the Atlantic about a month ago that another teacher shared with me.

After reading those articles maybe something lighter might be in order. I know that good teaching isn’t this …

Tradition vs. Innovation

How far does one push the boundaries of a traditional institution, like newspaper journalism, in order to survive financially and remain relevant? Friday’s paper version of the Los Angeles Times wrapped itself in a Disney ad. It’s a clever trick, and in the land of movies, why not? It’s clear that it is an ad and not a front page news story. Newspapers are disappearing quickly, but how do they adapt in this rapidly changing world so that they not only survive, but also retain their value (however that may be defined)? I have no idea.

A this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it attitude isn’t going to cut it these days, and while an attempt to make changes may fail, learning and growth require trying new things and being able to make mistakes. One cannot become better by doing the same thing. It assumes that you are the best and that there is no room for improvement. There is, however, a lot of risk involved in big changes. These risks can yield great rewards or have significant consequences.

What does that mean for schools today?

As Alice once said,

‘Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!’

Click on the picture to read a nytimes article about the LA Times cover.