Phrasing praise

image courtesy of www.openclipart.org

image courtesy of http://www.openclipart.org

In response to a previous post the suggestion was made that I compile a list of “yet” phrases that teachers and parents could use to encourage children to develop a growth, as opposed to fixed, mindset.

Only since I have been blogging have I come across the work of Carol Dweck, a psychologist, who promotes a “yet” mindset. I am very much in favour of the “yet” way of thinking and have shared some thoughts here and here. However I am not yet ready to embrace the whole package.

I have just listened to Dweck’s book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” and it would be fair to say that I am struggling to accept all that she proposes with equal enthusiasm. In fact I find some of her suggestions rather challenging.

Previous posts, including the one mentioned above and others linked within it, have led to some very interesting and thought-provoking discussions about praise.  Some involved in the discussion were ready to embrace the idea of praising a child for effort rather than talent. Others could see no harm in bestowing any form of praise on their children and had not felt themselves limited by being praised for their cleverness.

Dweck suggests ways of encouraging a growth mindset by thinking about what was learned or what could be learned. She says that children should not think they are special just by being, and suggests that if a child scores 100% on a paper the response should be something like, “That was too easy. Sorry for wasting your time. Let’s find something more challenging so you can learn.”

In the book Dweck shares the experience of replacing her own fixed mindset with a growth mindset. She concedes it is difficult and that regressions can occur. She shares her personal disappointment when, after they had both struggled with a problem for some time, her husband arrived at a solution and she praised him with “Excellent!” or “Brilliant!”. She was crestfallen at her lapse; until her husband explained that he knew she meant that he had worked hard, put in the effort, tried alternatives and finally solved the problem.

(Note: I am explaining these scenarios in my words not hers. Usually when I have listened to an audiobook and wish to discuss it, I buy the paper or ebook version so that I can quote accurately. I haven’t done that this time as I’m not sure which version is the same, if any, as the audiobook. Throughout this post you are receiving my interpretation or impression. You will need to go to the source for greater detail and accuracy.)

While I agree that it is important for continual learning to be the goal, I’m not sure that I am opposed to some form of congratulations being given for achievement, as well as effort. Also I think children need to be accepted for who they are, loved and nurtured, without the need to be anything else. I’ve written about that here and here and discussed the use of affirmation songs such as Special as I can Be by Anne Infante. I know it is important to not overdo the “special” bit, but it is also important for them to feel comfortable with who they are.

Image courtesy of Anne

Image courtesy of Anne

Yes, they (we) do need to be encouraged to improve. But surely there is danger in feeling that results are always wanting, that they are never good enough. In fact, in the book, Dweck describes a girl who developed ulcers while striving to fulfill the high expectations she perceived her parents to hold. I think getting the balance right is the tricky bit. Encourage. Inspire. Motivate. But don’t demand, require, stress or, perhaps, judge.

Somewhere in my recent reading I came across the following “motivational” video, a clip from a movie of which I wasn’t aware. While I don’t wish to misrepresent Carol Dweck and suggest that she would “praise” this method, I think it could be taken as an interpretation (I hope extreme and incorrect) of her philosophy. Have a look and let me know what you think.

I felt extremely uncomfortable watching this video. I am not a sportsperson so I may not understand the culture of sports training but:

I felt sorry for the player, Brock, who was pushed to and beyond his “limits”. Sometimes that may be necessary but surely not just to “please” a coach; and this seems to be more about the needs of the coach than the player, “revenge” perhaps for thinking the other team was better prepared (I know it’s just a movie). I was worried that the player was going to have a heart attack and die on the field. I was disappointed that none of his team members intervened to protect him from the bullying coach or to help him with his load. I would definitely find it difficult to work with a manager or coach like that.

While I do not wish to take away from Dweck’s philosophy, many of the examples in her book discuss the mindsets of winners, of champions. Surely not everyone can be a champion. And if you have to push yourself, as Brock did in the video, to do your best, then I’m not sure I want to do my best.

Some people have described me as a perfectionist. I have never accepted that label. I work hard to do the best job I can, but I also recognise when good enough is good enough. Working within the constraints of resources, including time, imposes limits. Is that a limiting fixed attitude? Maybe I need to work a little more on my growth mindset.

As for the suggestion of compiling a list of “yet” phrases, I don’t think I am quite ready to tackle that one yet. Besides, I think Dweck has done it herself!

Mindset explores Dweck’s philosophy more fully. There you can test your own mindset, read some suggestions for Parents, Teachers and Coaches (and other applications) and find out about Brainology, a program written by Dweck and Blackwell to “Motivate students to grow their minds”.

There is much to explore. I have given but a few snippets here. There is much more learning for me to do.

Thank you

Thank you for reading I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Wondering in the everyday

Over at the Carrot Ranch this week Charli Mills is talking about onions; onions and gophers, and how she planted onions to keep the gophers out of her veggie patch, only to find that gophers love onions! Who would have thought?

Just as children’s experiences differ, Charli’s experience with onions is very different from mine. Other than a few old onions sprouting in my veggie basket, I’d never grown onions until my lovely daughter Bec and son-outlaw Glenn planted some shallots in a pot for me. While the shallots have done well I rarely think to include them in my cooking as I am not used to having anything edible in my garden.

My dad was a one-time small crop farmer and, even after that, grew veggies for our home (and neighbourhood) use throughout most of my childhood. Bec loves to garden and harvests bountiful produce from her garden. Somehow the green thumb skipped me. Or maybe it didn’t, Maybe I just haven’t given it a chance to thrive.

From the garden © Bec Colvin

From the garden © Bec Colvin

While I have some knowledge about the source of my fruit and vegetables and how they grow, I had never given much consideration to the humble onion. I knew they grew as bulbs in the ground, with roots to hold them into the soil. I also knew they sprouted green bits at the top if left too long in the cupboard. But I had never thought about onion flowers.

Last week I discovered a flower in my patch of shallots. I was intrigued. I suppose if I had thought about it I would have realised that onions grow from seeds. Don’t most plants grow from seeds? But I hadn’t thought about it. I just bought them in the supermarket or from the greengrocer as I needed them. I definitely hadn’t thought about onion, or shallot, flowers. But this flower is beautiful.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

The discovery was a timely reminder that it is all too easy to take too much for granted, to cease to wonder about the amazing things occurring close by every day; to forget to notice and appreciate. Keeping a sense of curiosity alive, in ourselves as well as in children, is a very important thing. So how do we do that?

First of all we need to stop, notice and wonder. Would Newton have noticed the apple fall if he hadn’t stopped to notice and wonder? Would George de Mestral have invented Velcro if he hadn’t given more thought to the burrs stuck to his trousers? Our thoughts do not have to make such an impact on a global scale. They just need to keep the wonderment alive in our own lives. I have talked about the importance of a sense of wonder before here and here.

In addition to the shallot flower, I made another recent and amazing discovery in my own back yard. Over the past six weeks or so a wattle tree, planted just over a year ago, has been in bloom. We spotted the buds and eagerly awaited the sweet-smelling blossoms, making frequent inspections and eagerly predicting how long we would have to wait.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

During one of these inspections I noticed a ladybird on a leaf. Soon Bec noticed a larva. Then we spotted more, many more, both ladybirds and larvae on the tree. Suddenly it occurred to us that, if there were adults and larvae, there would probably be pupae too. We looked closely and with intent and soon discovered every life stage on the tree, including pupae, eggs and mating pairs of adults.  We watched larvae pupate and ladybirds emerge.

I had always enjoyed watching the butterfly’s life stages in the classroom, but to watch the ladybird’s life cycle right in my own back yard is very special. Opportunities such as this are there waiting for us to take notice, waiting for us to share it with others, to inspire curiosity and wonder.

© Bec Colvin

© Bec Colvin

Then there is the wonder inside our plants, such as a star inside each apple, the segments of an orange, and the concentric circles in an onion.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Which brings me back again to onions and the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes onions. I thought she had me stumped this time. Until I thought about the wonder and beauty of the onion flower; the way that delving into the complexity of a character is often referred to as peeling back the onion layers, and the shared ability of both onions and characters, including Marnie, to grow.

As Marnie reaches a sense of closure to and release from the torment of her childhood, she discovers that she no longer needs an onion to hide the real reason for her tears, and can accept that beauty, including her own inner beauty, can spring from desolation and neglect.

Onions

Before she left she was drawn back for one last look at her hiding place. There, between the garden and the wall, her tears would fall as she dreamt of better things and planned her escape.

The veggie garden was hardly recognisable, camouflaged with weeds. But wait! A flower? She stooped to look. An onion flower?

“Ha!” she thought, recalling the times she had pulled up and bitten into an onion to explain her tears should anybody ask, though they never did. Even untended a flower could bloom, as she too had blossomed despite the harshness of those days.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post and flash fiction.

The Power of Reading

Norah:

The love of reading is gift

A constant thread running through posts on my blog is the importance of reading to and with young children every day. I have often said that passing on a love of reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. The ability to read for information and for enjoyment is empowering. It allows one to take charge of one’s learning and one’s recreational pursuits.

While my focus is specifically on early childhood, I am interested in education at all levels. I was pleased therefore to recently see a post about the importance of reading for older students. In his post The Power of Reading, Trevor Pilgrim discusses the “correlation between extensive critical reading and higher academic achievement” through the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of abstract concepts. He makes a link between reading of fiction and the development of emotional intelligence. He goes on to list the important role of reading in the academic lives of students.
If you ever questioned why it is important for children to read, here are some of the answers:

Originally posted on eduflow:

He that loves reading has everything within his reach.”  – William Godwin.

If anyone were to ask me what is the most effective learning tool available to students, my answer would be frequent reading.  I can speak of this from personal and professional experience.  Students can read traditional books or they can read online.  In fact, online reading is growing by leaps and bounds these days.

Educational experts agree that there is a strong correlation between extensive critical reading and higher academic achievement.  Eclectic and targeted reading both lead to significant acquisition of knowledge.  Habitual readers develop their reading comprehension skills and derive greater meaning from the text.  They get better at doing this with practice and at the same time they develop their higher order thinking and learning skills along with their understanding of abstract concepts.  All of this helps to create a much better student in…

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The expectation of labels

 

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In some circles labels can be used as an attempt to define who you are, either to yourself or to others; for example the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the foods you eat, the technology you use, even the books you read. The use of labels can lead to stereotyping and expectations based upon particular characteristics while other, and equally salient, qualities specific to the individual are ignored.

Applying labels to children can serve similar purposes: to define and explain particular behaviours or characteristics. Labels can range from an informal “naughty” through to medical diagnoses such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).

Whether the result of an informal observation or a professional assessment, labels can have a profound effect upon a child and family members. The label sets up expectations that may limit the way the child is viewed; so that only those characteristics specific to the label are noticed and responded to. The child is viewed as being “the label” rather than an individual who displays those particular behaviours or characteristics, at this moment.

People tend to see what they want to see and ignore evidence that doesn’t support their thinking. So if a child is labelled disruptive, it is the disruptive behaviour which is noticed and acted upon. Similar behaviour in a child not bearing the label may be overlooked or excused. While the focus is on one, usually negative or limiting, behaviour other positive characteristics and strengths may be ignored.

pygmalion effect

Unfortunately, once a label is applied it is often difficult to remove and it may be used as an excuse for a child’s failure to learn or progress; after all the “fault” is considered to be with the child, not with any methods used or not used. Sadly too, labels can be misapplied or not fully understood. This may accentuate differences that are non-existent or less serious than the label implies.

However not all effects are negative. There are many positive effects of labelling a child’s condition or behaviour; including:

  • increased opportunities for the child, family and teachers to receive support through funding of programs, assistance of trained personnel and professional development
  • enhanced understanding through discussions using a common language with specific meanings and applications
  • increased awareness in the community with further opportunities for advocacy as well as greater acceptance and tolerance
  • the development of programs aimed specifically to support individuals with the condition.

But are all labels negative? What about giftedness?

Previously on this blog there has been some discussion about praise and the effects of different types of praise. The discussions were initiated in response to The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz and can be found here and here. Grosz suggested that praising a child could cause a loss of competence. Why would you continue to try if you were already “the best”?

Claudia M. Mueller and Carol S. Dweck support the notion that Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s Motivation and Performance. They suggest that labels such as “smart”, “clever” and “intelligent” can be just as damaging as those with deficit connotations.

Dweck explains her ideas more fully in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, my current audiobook “read”. I have previously mentioned Dweck’s theory of ‘yethere and here.

In the book Dweck talks about how praise creates mindset. If one is praised for being smart or clever, then one develops a fixed mindset: “I am smart. I can achieve because I am smart.” If effort is required then one is not smart. Those with a fixed mindset avoid challenges that might jeopardise the view of themselves as smart.

On the other hand, praise for effort encourages a ‘yet’ or growth mindset: if I try it again, try harder, try it a different way, then I will do better. “I can learn”. There is no risk of becoming ‘not clever’. A growth mindset recognises the importance of effort, persistence and motivation.

fixed - growth mindset

Dweck says “don’t praise the genius – praise the process”.

Giftedness” is a label that was once applied after achieving a high result on an intelligence test, and was just as sticky as any other: there for life.  Giftedness was considered stable and unchangeable. It is obvious that many “gifted” students could fall into the fixed mindset trap. Thanks to Dweck’s work on mindset, attitudes to IQ scores and the concept of “giftedness” are now changing.

Teachers with a growth mindset appreciate the incremental

Students can be encouraged to develop a growth mindset by learning about how the brain works. When they understand that labels aren’t fixed and that learning can be improved, they will become more confident and may find more enjoyment in some of the challenges that school offers. Encouraging students to recognise how they view themselves as learners and to substitute “growth” for “fixed” thinking will have a remarkable effect upon their confidence and success.

Encouraging this growth mindset may be one way we can look out for each other, one way of “getting your back”.

To write a story (in 99 words, no more no less) about a character who is called to have the back of another was the challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week. In her post Charli is talking about labels of another kind, labels that can be just as damaging or just as useful. She talks about having another’s back, being there to offer support when needed.  A parent, a teacher, a friend can be there at any time to offer support for a learner on their path to discovery. My response captures one such moment.

Growth: a mindset

Marnie propped her head on one hand while the pencil in the other faintly scratched the paper. She hoped it wasn’t too obvious that she didn’t get it. But she didn’t get it. She didn’t get last year, or the year before. Why should she get it now? What was the point? Her brain just didn’t work that way. She was dumb. They had always said she was dumb. No point in trying.

Then the teacher was there, encouraging, supporting, accepting. “Let me help you,” she said. “You can do this. Let’s break it down into steps. First …”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

How to add a badge to your WordPress blog

SMAG ccbyncnd

A couple of months ago I invited readers of my blog to join S.M.A.G. Society of Mutual Appreciation and Gratitude and to paste the badge onto their blogs should they wish to do so. Well, invitation isn’t quite the correct word because membership of the group was not conferred in response to an invitation, but automatic through offering other bloggers support and encouragement through positive comments. I’m pleased to say there are a good number of S.M.A.G. members in the blogosphere regardless of whether or not the badge adorns their blog.

A week or two ago Jules Paige, who blogs at Jules in Flashy Fiction (and elsewhere), commented that she wasn’t sure how to go about adding the badge to her blog. I offered to send her instructions, and thought that maybe the information would be useful for others as well.

The following instructions are specific to the S.M.A.G. badge and WordPress blogs. A similar process would be used to add any image to a WordPress blog. However I am unsure how similar the process is for others. Please let me know if you find these instructions useful, or lacking in any way.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

Don’t gloss over glossophobia

 

Many crepuscular animals freeze when caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. With vision more suited to dark than light, they are temporarily blinded by the brightness. They become confused and, not knowing which way to turn, freeze. Others, like the Australian kangaroo, may panic and move erratically with unpredictable changes in direction. Any large animal on the road puts itself and any unwary motorist in danger.

Freezing in fear is a reaction not exclusive to animals. Humans are just as likely to freeze in fear, or perhaps panic and behave erratically unsure of how to respond. Some people find being “put in the spotlight” quite unnerving and exhibit similar responses to animals caught in the headlights.

While Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch was talking about a real deer caught in the headlights this week and challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write the common premise: “I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health, I decided to apply the challenge to a human situation.

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is quite common. Many people suffer mild symptoms of reluctance, “butterflies” or sweaty palms. Others suffer more severe symptoms including total avoidance, panic attacks and other forms of physical distress.

Being called upon in class can be distressing for some students, particularly if they have been singled out or ridiculed for not knowing the correct answer in the past. Helping a student to overcome this fear requires patience and understanding. It may require an approach from many different angles and the support of a variety of personnel, as well as a desire by the student.

The student will require support to develop self- esteem and self-confidence as well as knowledge of the subject. A sensitive “not yet” approach by a teacher who offers support, and encourages other students to be supportive, will contribute greatly. It may take time for improvements to be noticeable as changing an established mindset, from “I’m a failure” to “I’m learning”, takes effort.

In her post Charli included a quote from the Tahoma Literary Review which included the suggestion that rescuing a deer and nursing it back to health may be used as a “metaphor for the protagonist’s desire to rescue his/her life by rescuing another’s.” It is not too big a stretch to think that, for some teachers, “rescuing” their students could enable them to “rescue” themselves; improving the lives of others improves their own through the ripple effect.

I have chosen this “rescue” as the theme of my response to Charli’s challenge: a breakthrough for Marnie in the development of her confidence and willingness to have a go in a class where students are developing a growth mindset under the guidance of a sensitive teacher.

Like a deer in the headlights

Like a deer in the headlights she was immobile. She’d dreaded this moment. Although she’d tried to fade into the background, she knew she couldn’t hide forever. The room suddenly fell silent, all eyes on her. Would she fail?

“Marnie?” prompted the teacher.

Her chair scraped as she stood. She grasped the table with trembling hands attempting to still her wobbly legs. They waited.

Marnie squeaked.  Some looked down, or away. Some sniggered. Jasmine smiled encouragingly. Marnie cleared her throat, then blurted the answer.

“That’s right!” congratulated the teacher.

The class erupted. Marnie smiled. Their efforts had paid off.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

 

 

Separating fact from myth

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

In a number of previous posts I questioned the importance of getting the facts right in fiction, especially for young children. Obviously there is a lot of fiction that is pure make-believe and fantasy and the facts don’t have to match those of the “real” world. However they do need to hold true for that imagined world.

The posts (links provided at the end if you wish to read) incited a great deal of discussion. A variety of opinions were expressed ranging from it doesn’t matter at all to it matters a lot. It seems many are willing to forgive inaccuracies in fiction if the book’s positive qualities make it more appealing. If the book as a whole is good, what is a little inaccuracy?

On the other hand, a book that “fails” for other reasons such as inadequacies or inconsistencies in plot, poor sentence structure, incorrect punctuation and spelling errors would fail regardless of the accuracy of the “facts”. Perhaps it is easier to accept one fault in an otherwise worthy product than it is to accept a faulty product with one redeeming feature?

The number of posts I have written on this topic indicates how much energy I have expended thinking about this topic. It is no surprise that my interest should be piqued by the post entitled The Irony of Believing Humans Use Only 10% of Their Brains, written by Paul Thomas and shared on his blog the becoming radical.

Thomas begins the post with a quote by Barbara Kingsolver from her book High Tide in Tucson.

“Write a nonfiction book, and be prepared for the legion of readers who are going to doubt your facts. But write a novel, and get ready for the world to assume every word is true.”

In the post Thomas refers to the movie Lucy, released in July 2014, which explored the effects of using more than 10% of our brains. Of course we do use more than 10% (100% in fact) but there is a commonly held myth that we don’t, and the movie served to perpetuate it.

In his post Thomas questions “when is fact, fact, and when is fiction merely fiction?” similar to the discussion in my posts. He says that the 10% of our brains myth is still widely accepted despite advances in neuroscience and understandings of how our brains work. He refers to the way “we” seek out information that supports our beliefs and ignore that which doesn’t. Mind you, in his article he mentions some myths related to education which I am going to ignore for now. I’ll leave those for another time.

Working towards his conclusion Thomas states:

“How much of our brains we use seems pointless if we remain a species characterized by closed minds, unable or unwilling to build on evidence to form new ideas, unable or unwilling to check our existing ideas against evidence.”

I’m inclined to agree.

What do you think? Do you accept the 10% myth or do you know it to be untrue?

Did you watch the movie Lucy? If so, how did your understanding of the 10% premise affect your enjoyment?

I’d love to know what you think.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I do appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Links to my posts exploring false “facts” in fiction:

Revisiting the Very Hungry Caterpillar

Which came first — the chicken or the duckling?

Empowerment — the importance of having a voice

Finding power in a picture book — the main event

Searching for truth in a picture book — Part C

Searching for purpose in a picture book — Part B

Searching for meaning in a picture book — Part A