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Recapturing Joy in Learning!


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Presentation to parents and public at the HIllside School, Marlborough, MA April 21, 2010

Presentation to parents and public at the HIllside School, Marlborough, MA April 21, 2010

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  • 1. Recapturing Joy in Learning!
    Kirsten Olson, Ed.D.
    Hillside School
    April 21, 2010
  • 2. These Days
    Whatever you have to say, leave
    the roots on, let them
    And the dirt
    Just to make clear
    where they come from
    -Charles Olson (1910-1970)
  • 3. My Own Learning Story…
    Although middle class and privileged, I always had the sense of hiding out in school
    Sense of “wrongness” of early grouping; awareness these practices were damaging
    Kids were labeling themselves
    I was wary, self-protective
    Children of color silent, marginalized; no children of color in my honors courses
  • 4. Joyful Learning Experience
    Kirsten doing Little House on the Prairie
  • 5. Highly accomplished learners
    Artisan and virtuoso learners
    Unconventional learners
    Literature on “flow” and creativity
    “My real learning never was in school.”
  • 6. Too many students
    Weren’t thriving
    Were “lost” in school
    Were rebellious, angry
    Were checked out
    Were silent
  • 7. Barely half of minority students complete high school in four years
    Only 15% of low-income students earn a college degree within nine years of starting high school
  • 8. Even among “highly successful” learners
    Sense of disconnection from learning
    High achieving students experiencing unprecedented pressure to be successful
  • 9. Paradoxes of education
    Education more vital than ever
    Go to school longer, more intensively
    Yet many students turned off to learning, diminished in school
    Energy directed to opposition and “not learning”
    Happens for even high attainment students who are “successful”
  • 10. Listening to students(without judgment)
    “Teachers don’t like me.”
    “The work is so, so boring.”
    “No one cares if I’m here or not.”
  • 11. My research
    109 semi-structured autobiographical interviews over 4 years
    “Portraiture” method (Lawrence Lightfoot, 1997)
    Initial interviews from
    1-3 hours
    Cross section of class, gender, race
    Subjects ages ranged from 11-67
    Themes generated from transcripts of interviews
  • 12. 7 “types” of wounds
  • 13. “I went to kindergarten as a happy child. Throughout my years in the educational system, I lost a lot of my happiness, imagination and enthusiasm. It all faded away, confined to the labels of the outside world, based on the concept of intelligence. The school system was focused on organizing and labeling students based on so called innate abilities. If you get good grades, test well, you are intelligent. This pierced my self-esteem armor over and over to the point of self-hatred.”
  • 14. “There was always something mechanical about school, a mold I never fit into, never quite understood. Although I knew inside that my writing was powerful and artistic, I was unwilling to make myself vulnerable to someone else’s critique. The years of frustration and failures had taken a toll on my confidence and I found myself unable to trust my own ability in the classroom.”
  • 15. “I’m bored in school most of the time. Photography is the one time when I’m really interested.”
  • 16. “I failed math throughout elementary school.
    I failed Spanish twice in high school. During sophomore year biology we learned about the circulatory system. When test day arrived I failed because I got my left mixed up with the top and my ventricles confused with my aortas, but I knew it!
    These events mark an angry theme throughout my life. I proceeded to cheat all the way through high school. I started buying my science projects a year in advance after the previous grade’s science fair.”
  • 17. “I’m really good at school, but I’m very secretive about making mistakes. I always want to be right, and have the right answer. Otherwise, people think you are dumb.”
  • 18. “ I told my teacher I wanted to go to college. He said I’d be pregnant and drop out in two years.”
  • 19. “The rich kids always knew how to be good kids. So I guess it’s natural that the schools wanted to work with them more than the rest of us.”
  • 20. “I can remember my first experience of tracking. It was in the third grade. I got put into a math class with all the working class kids, and kids of color, just like me. We were the dumb kids. My self esteem remains there to some extent to this day.”
  • 21. “I’m one taco short of a combination platter.”
  • 22. “Crazy. Stupid. Lazy.
    I believed I was broken.”
  • 23. What does “school wounding” mean to you?
    Does anyone you know have school wounds?
    Do you?
    What should we do about this?
  • 24. School wounds:Interactions with the institution that lead students to believe:
    They aren’t “smart”
    “Ability” is inborn and fixed
    Learning is boring
    Mistakes show lack of ability
  • 25. “Global” feedback
    “You’ll be lucky to finish high school.”
    “You’ll be flipping burgers for a living.”
    “Some people never learn math.”
    “You’re a smart one.”
    “Everyone in the Smith family does well in school.”
  • 26. Effect on manystudents
    Reduced effort
    Lower persistence in face of difficulty
    Less self-discipline
    Attributions of success based on ability, not effort
    Learned helplessness
  • 27. Less courage in learning
    “I just started to doubt myself.”
    “I don’t respond well to
    situations that aren’t well defined.”
  • 28. Disconnection from pleasure in learning
    “I stopped caring about why I had to learn something. Just tell me how to get the answer.”
  • 29. Incredible impact of early school experiences on individuals
    “That is like a moral shame at the kernel of my being. I don’t like to talk about it with anyone.”
  • 30. “Narcissistic Wounding”
    • Child is insufficiently positively mirrored by environment, harshly critiqued, not “seen”
    • 31. Develops insecurely attached, distorted sense of self (Seigle, 1996; Jacoby, 1991)
    • 32. Compelled to act out woundedness over and over until empathically healed (Golumb, 1992)
  • Lack of cultural discourse to describe school wounds
    “School is supposed to kick you around.”
    “School sucks for everyone--deal with it.”
    “If I were smarter I wouldn’t be treated like this.”
  • 33. For many, school is the “crucible” in which self-concept is formed
    “For twenty-four of my thirty-six years, I was a student, and I was good at it… My success in school defined me—I was ‘smart’ and ‘a good student,’ and I reveled in that identity.”
  • 34. Underestimation of the effects of educational experiences on self- concept
    “Kids who struggle are so sensitive to moments--especially bad ones. These moments shape their whole lives, their sense of themselves. Teachers’ little comments had huge effect on me.”
  • 35. “Naming our reality is the only way to be free.”
  • 36. Finding your “inner warrior”
  • 37. To help heal the institution and make it better
    “The reason why expression is so important is because without a voice people don’t get represented. Once someone is exposed they have the choice to live in ignorance or fight for freedom.”
  • 38. How do you think people healed?
  • 39. Path of healing
  • 40. 5 Stages of Healing
    • Self blame and private shame
    • 41. Moments of insight, a change in self-concept
    • 42. Grieving, anger
    • 43. Critical consciousness around institution of schooling
    • 44. Reconciliation and reengagement
  • One person who cares…
    “Mr. Miller told me I could do it--demanded that. He saw something in me when no one else did. He believed in me before I did.”
  • 45. The road is bumpy, not a Hollywood story…
    “I needed a string of successes to start to believe in myself.”
  • 46. “I needed to go somewhere else, somewhere new. If I was around anyone who knew me from my old school I would go back to being that screw up.”
    An external change…
  • 47. Context Matters
    “Back in Utah, people got mad at me all the time for blurting things out, being rude…Now in graduate school, I’m pretty much the same guy, doing the same things, but here I’m considered brilliant, witty and insightful.”
  • 48. “I had to learn how to believe in me.”
    Resilience can be “taught”
    Learned to identify cognitive distortions
    Locus of control: I have a choice about how to react to this
    Helping others
  • 49. Joy in Learning Again
    “I started to have the confidence to enjoy learning. I discovered I was good at it.”
  • 50. Remember a Joyful Learning Experience
  • 51. What inspires a sense of pleasure in learning?
    Down Time
  • 52. What’s lit up?
    Neuroscience will save us from testing?
  • 53. Neurobiology of learning
    Stress and anxiety reduce capacity for retention and higher-level thinking
    Pleasure in learning linked to creativity, attention, metacognitivecompetence
    Low-level, routinized work turns off the brain
    Sources: Willis, J. (2007), The neuroscience of joyful education. Educational Leadership, Summer 2007, Vol. 64; Medina, J. (2008) Brain rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
  • 54. Trapped in an old fashioned institution
    “Mass education was the ingenious machine constructed by industrialism to produce the kind of adults it needed…the solution was an educational system that, in its very structure, simulated this new world…the regimentation, lack of individualization, the rigid systems of seating, grouping and marking, the authoritarian style of the teacher--are precisely those that made mass public education so effective as an adaptation for its time and place.”
    -Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, 1970
  • 55. Designed to sort and track kids
  • 56. Skills that mattered
    Understanding of hierarchy
    Attention to authority
  • 57. New skills needed
    Ability to work in teams
    Synthesize huge amounts of information
    Self-manage and motivate
    Exercise discipline and creativity in undefined situations
  • 58. Old Fashioned School vs. New Realities
    Information scarcity
    Teacher in control
    Teacher as source of knowledge
    Learning happens in school
    Memorization, categorization
    Information abundance
    Learning happens everywhere
    Teacher as guide/coach
    Always plugged in
    Multimodal, synthetic information creation
  • 59. “If you had to design an environment that was going to most effectively turn off the human brain, it would be the contemporary classroom.”
    -John Medina, Brain Rules
  • 60. Truncated Ideas About Ability In School
    • Human ability is enormously plastic, develops over the lifespan
    • 61. Develops in response to environment
    • 62. Effort most critical
  • Define Learning As “Product”
    • Overemphasis on low-level cognitive tasks
    • 63. “Rigor” still about memorization
    • 64. Inability to adapt to individual learners
    • 65. Frontal, “monolithic teaching” (Christensen,2008)
  • Teachers Rewarded forOld-Fashioned Practice
    • Rewarded for controlling students and producing attainment
    • 66. Not rewarded for collaboration and learning together
    • 67. System still lacks knowledge about the core of its business: how people learn
    • 68. Students often get blamed
  • Old-fashioned motivational “techniques”
    Shaming, moralizing
    Attributing “innate” characteristics to students
    Overused positional authority--”do it because I said so”
    Create school wounds
  • 69. “School Connectedness”
    Belief by students that adults and peers care about them as individuals and learners
    Promotes wellness and better educational outcomes in every arena
  • 70. Fostering Love of Learning in Your Child
    “We had a sense of play at home that balanced school.”
  • 71. Our Own Learning Stories…
  • 72. Have powerful effects on how we see our child’s.
  • 73. Ghosts in the Classroom
    “The line between me and my kid at that moment didn’t exist. I was hyper-vigilant, hyper-protective. They weren’t going to hurt my boy.”
  • 74. Steppingstones In Your Learning Journey
    “It comes from within.”
  • 76. “Flow” in learning
    “A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it at even great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
    -MihalyCsikszentmihalyi (1990)
  • 77. FLOW: Focused concentration vs. “messing around”
    Challenge just right
    Task is deeply relevant
    We have “task pleasure:” The way we are learning is pleasurable
    We are bored when we are underchallenged
    High challengeon boringtasksdoes not produce engagement
    -David Shernoff, “Flow States and Student Engagement in the Classroom” (2002)
  • 78. How do you produce that for kids?
  • 79. Become Your Child’s “Chief Learning Officer”
    Learning happens everywhere
    Notice all kinds of learning
    Support passions
    Mistakes a part of learning
  • 80. “Exploratory”
    Child-initiated projects
    Require real investigation, sense of play, non-competitiveness
    Down time
  • 81. The importance of choice..
    “When teachers choose, I feel caged in.”
    “I learn best when I get to choose.”
  • 82. Control: Learning is a journey with a lot of mistakes
  • 83. “Children who undertake to do things, like my five-year-old-friend Vita who is beginning the very serious study of the violin, do not think in terms of success or failure but of effort and adventure. It is only when pleasing adults becomes important that the sharp line between success and failure appears.”
    -John Holt, 1980
  • 84. Down time: Learning is dreamy, and requires time off.
  • 85. Cognitive literatureonimportance of play
    Lack of play linked to anxiety, depression
    Lack of play reduces high-level cognitive growth (Brown, et al 2008)
  • 86. Play IS learning
    “The activity of learning involves doing what you do not know how to do, which is not the same as pretending you know what you are doing.”
    -Unscripted Learning: Using Improv Activities Across the K-8 Curriculum, Lobman and Lundquist (2007)
  • 87. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old;
    we grow old because we stop playing.”
    -George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
  • 88. Novel andInviting: Learning is volcanic!
  • 89. What Kind of Learner Does Your Child See You Being?
  • 90. “Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but were afraid you weren’t good at? Make a plan to do it.”
  • 91. Become an “effort” theorist
    From fixed to growth mindset
    Human ability grows over the lifespan
  • 92.
  • 93. Examine Your Language Practices
    Abandoning “bright” and “dumb” labels
    Don’t compare children
    Children are surprising! We never know someone’s “potential”
    Feedback is most powerful grounded in evidence
    5to 1
  • 94. The dangers of “smart.”
    Dear Kirsten,
    People decided I was “smart” when I was young.
    What that meant for me in school was that my relative strengths and weaknesses went unnoticed and unsupported. Admitting I needed help with anything put my self-concept on tenuous ground. Perhaps I wasn’t smart after all. Likewise, the importance of my discipline and hard work were consistently minimized. After all, I was born “smart.” What more was needed. Living up to smart is a pressure I carry today with an Ivy League doctorate and a position of authority. Duck and cover. Minimize mistakes. Stay “smart.”
    Nobody likes smart.
    -Superintendent at one of my workshops, September 2009
  • 95. Labeling
    Labels shape perception and create experience
    “Labels are the lazy man’s way of thinking…”
  • 96. Interacting Positively With School
  • 97. Self Knowledge
    What are my “ghosts?”
    What is the purpose of education?
    Do we agree as a couple?
    In what situations do I tend to get activated?
    What is the best way to support THIS learner?
  • 98. Check your ego atthe door
    Not the moment for you to work out your own issues
    Your child’s well-being is your purpose
    Is what I am doing helping my child?
  • 99. Frustrations are real…
    Positive, supportive interactions are always more effective than negative, adversarial
  • 100. Proactive and knowledgeable
    Know a lot
    Get help
    Be prepared to (respectfully) describe best practices to school personnel
    What else can we do to support this child’s learning?
  • 101.
    • Encourage students to be active in managing their own learning
    • 102. Encourage knowing “the contours of your own mind”
    • 103. Students as activists around wounding school practices
    • 104. Create language for discussing wounding practices
    Older Students
  • 105. Last resort
    Move on
    Believe in your child
    Change of scene can be enormously beneficial
  • 106. “Through all my bruises and battles, I found my inner warrior. Whether we know it or not, the warrior developed over years of fighting for our identities in school--surrounded by families who fought side by side with us--and in our struggles in the workplace and society. In the end, this is who we are.”
    -Jonathan Mooney, bestselling author and learning differences advocate
  • 107. “No one knows your child like you do. Never, never give up on your kid. They always need you to be their wise advocate, to believe in them, and to believe in their love of learning.”-Parent in Wounded By School
  • 108. “Education is soul crafting.”
    -Cornel West
  • 109. Joy in Learning Again
    “I started to have the confidence to enjoy learning. I discovered I was good at it.”