Camp Creek Blog

Small Wins Wednesday: Great kid mentors

Published by Lori Pickert on April 23, 2014 at 07:58 AM

Turning the play kitchen into a workbench with Grandpa Dave

• • •

Every Wednesday we share a small win from the forumTwitter, the Facebook page, or (with the writer’s permission) from the mail bag.

Carrie shared a great win on her blog about her young son’s experience being treated seriously and respectfully at the hardware store:

“I’n a go get my TOOLS!” And he was off at a run again, this time back up the street.

Ryan grinned when he saw Hawk. “You’re back.” He placed the screwdriver and hammer on the counter. “You still want these?”

“Yup.” Hawk handed over the coins. “I bring-ed my money.”

“Tell you what, Hawk.” Ryan rang up the purchase. “I’m going to give you the young builder’s discount. When I was a kid, I wanted real tools too. And I saved up for them too. I bet you’re going to go on and build great things.”  He handed the tools to Hawk. “Really great things.”

“Thanks.” Hawk tucked his new tools into his shopping bag. “I’m a worker.”

“You are,” Ryan said.  ”No doubt.”

Read the whole inspirational post, with more examples of greating mentoring, here: Young Builder’s Discount.

• • •

Why do we share small wins? Because we put on our attention on what we want to grow. We support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and we make more of the good stuff!

Have you had a small win this week? Whether it’s related to PBH or not, please share in the comments!

 

We are now enrolling the new PBH Master Class. It runs from May 5 through June 15 (six weeks) and costs $120. Please go here to read the class description, testimonials from former students, and enroll if you are interested.

We’ve already done early-bird enrollment so space is limited!

If the timing isn’t right for you, you can join the early-bird announcement list for the next class. (No dates have yet been set.)

Thank you!

Tags: 

Heads up: Next master class begins enrolling in one week!

Published by Lori Pickert on March 31, 2014 at 10:37 AM

“This class is outstanding…”

“…so much more and better than what I had even hoped for…”

“I feel so much more confident and hopeful and like I am making progress and moving forward…”

“It has been the push I needed to take our Project-Based Homeschooling to a whole new level.”

 

Hey guys, just a heads-up that we will begin enrolling the next master class a week from today and it will run May 5 through June 15.

If you are on the early announcement list, then you will get the chance to enroll a few days earlier!

Description of the class and testimonials from previous students are here — and you can e-mail me if you have any questions! Thank you!

One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.” — Madeline Levine, Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More than Grades, Trophies, or “Fat Envelopes”

 

Reading and loving Madeline Levine’s book quoted above. It certainly resonates with PBH:

“[C]hildren must have the time and energy to become truly engaged in learning, explore and develop their interests, beef up their coping skills, and craft a sense of self that feels real, enthusiastic, and capable.”

While we all hope our children will do well in school, we hope with even greater fervor that they will do well in life. Our job is to help them to know and appreciate themselves deeply; to approach the world with zest; to find work that is exciting and satisfying, friends and spouses who are loving and loyal; and to hold a deep belief that they have something meaningful to contribute to society. This is what it means to teach our children well.”

"No child is better off in front of a computer or practicing times tables. Childhood is precious. It is not preparation for high school or college, but a brief and irreplaceable period of time when children are entitled to the privilege of being children."

“[M]y professional career [is] encouraging parents to be present with the child right in front of them rather than being overly focused on the future."

“We delude ourselves when we think that our parenting is the singular engine behind our child’s development. Your children come hardwired with interests, abilities, capacities and temperament. They will grow, more or less into the person they are meant to be whether they have one tutor or two, go to math camp or computer camp, work out twice a week or daily. I'm not saying that the opportunities we provide our children our meaningless. On the contrary, I’m asking you to consider the types of opportunities you are providing, what is motivating you, and how well these opportunities fit with your child’s particular nature." — Teach Your Children Well

Keeping these thoughts in mind…

The new trendy phrase in education is “deeper learning”:

Simply defined, “deeper learning” is the “process of learning for transfer,” meaning it allows a student to take what’s learned in one situation and apply it to another, explained James Pellegrino, one of the authors of the [Deeper Learning Report]. “You can use knowledge in ways that make it useful in new situations. … You have procedural knowledge of how, why, and when to apply it to answer questions and solve problems.” — How Do We Define and Measure ‘Deeper Learning’?

So, hmm … let me see if I’ve got this right. Deeper learning is … learning that you can actually use. Ah.

Why do we even need terms like “authentic learning” and “deeper learning”? Because, as you know, all learning experiences are not equal. All learning is not equally effective or lasting or useful or relevant. We call everything that happens in school “learning,” but how much of that do you remember? Use? How much of it do you carry into the future and how much of it do you discard like a flyer pressed into your hand on the street by a guy dressed like a giant hot dog?

Howard Gardner has been writing about authentic understanding and authentic learning for some time:

[W]e’ve got to do a lot fewer things in school. The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage. As long as you are determined to cover everything, you actually ensure that most kids are not going to understand. You’ve got to take enough time to get kids deeply involved in something so they can think about it in lots of different ways and apply it — not just at school but at home and on the street and so on.

Now, this is the most revolutionary idea in American education — because most people can’t abide the notion that we might leave out one decade of American history or one formula in math or one biological system. But that's crazy, because we now know that kids don’t understand those things anyway. They forget them as soon as the test is over — because it hasn’t been built into their brain, engraved in it. So since we know unambiguously that the way we do it now isn’t working, we have to try something else. — On Teaching for Understanding

This conversation, depressingly, occurred in 1993. And I quote: “We know unambiguously that the way we do it now isn’t working” — “we have to try something else.” And yet … we don’t.

Would you say that most students don’t really understand most of what they’ve been taught?

I’m afraid they don’t. All the evidence I can find suggests that’s the case. Most schools have fallen into a pattern of giving kids exercises and drills that result in their getting answers on tests that look like understanding. It’s what I call the “correct answer compromise”: students read a text, they take a test, and everybody agrees that if they say a certain thing it’ll be counted as understanding.

But the findings of cognitive research over the past 20–30 years are really quite compelling: students do not understand, in the most basic sense of that term. That is, they lack the capacity to take knowledge learned in one setting and apply it appropriately in a different setting. Study after study has found that, by and large, even the best students in the best schools can’t do that. — On Teaching for Understanding

Ooh, “the compromise” — so reminiscent of “the bargain”:

“Mostly what I see in my visits to middle and upper grades classrooms are examples of what of Michael Sedlack, et al. (1986), long-ago characterized as ‘the bargain’ — ‘you give me order and attendance, I’ll give you passing grades and [minimal] homework.’ - What I’ve Been Reading 3.14.14

On both counts, that’s quite a compromise — kids don’t have to learn anything as long as they go through the motions. Thanks, education!

Of course, there are many, many educators who hate this and want to change it. But haven’t there always been? And are things changing?

And where are the parents? Do they care about the bargain that bargains their child out of actually learning? The big compromise that means their kids get good grades and a diploma but they didn’t really learn anything? Madeline Levine again:

“When apples were sprayed with a chemical at my local supermarket, middle-aged moms turned out, picket signs and all, to protest the possible risk to their children’s health. Yet I’ve seen no similar demonstrations about an educational system that has far more research documenting its toxicity.” — The Problems with Parenting the Future Elite

It seems that as long as the system gets our kids where we want them to go, as a society we’re willing to ignore the underlying learning part of education. It’s not really about that, is it? It’s about jobs. And income. And status.

And are our kids even getting a fair shake in that compromise?

Why, Levine asks, do we continue to tolerate an education system that not only puts our children under intense pressure, but one that doesn’t even accomplish what it purports to be doing? After all, most children don’t make it to the most selective tier of colleges, study after study shows that excessive homework is useless at best and counterproductive at worst, and, finally, even business leaders are claiming that even the best of the American education system leaves graduates bereft of the skills one actually needs to make it in the 21st century. — The Problems with Parenting the Future Elite

With 45% of college graduates living back at home with their parents, can we seriously say that the education system is meeting its first priority, which seems to be job placement?

When I was a high school student my first real job was bagging groceries at Winn-Dixie. This wasn’t an unusual experience. I remember as a kid that many adults would tell me with no apparent embarrassment that their first job had been at McDonald’s. Holding a job like this was just part of the cycle of life

Two events changed this in the 1980s. The first was the recession, which shattered the illusion of American industrial dominance forever. The whole idea of a good job for life on the assembly line was now seen to be dangerously naive. This is the era when “you absolutely must go to college to succeed in life” meme took hold.…

The second was the closing of the bootstrap frontier. By this I mean the severe curtailing of the ability of people to work their way up from the bottom in business. …

With formerly entry level jobs increasingly ones with … a limited career path and low pay and benefits, and the only way to career success seen as being through college, a new concept of work started to emerge. In 1986 it was given a name, the “McJob.”

The phrase “McJob” was designed to label a real and important effect, and presciently so as we see today. Namely the bifurcation of the economy. Nevertheless, it went beyond a critique of economic conditions to something more fundamental; it said these were jobs not worth doing and unworthy of human dignity to hold. It eroded the idea of work itself as honorable.

Today I’m amazed how many teenagers and college students don’t work at all, especially not at old school grocery bagging or burger flipping jobs. It seems that you’re better off getting in more extra-curricular activities or doing volunteer work to burnish your resume than actually working, which says something profound.The Decline of Work

I find this fascinating to think about. The jobs I had as I worked my way through college profoundly affected who I became and what I chose to do with my life — far more than the classes I took. At the time, I was unhappy about how working drained my energy and took time away from, say, my essay on the Transcendentalists. But in the end, it was the work that taught me about myself, what I could do, what I wanted, and how to make a living. I graduated and immediately started my own business. I went back to reading for pleasure and learning for pleasure, and I continued to learn from actually doing real work.

Jobs, including low-level jobs, can be incredibly educational — about how to work with people, how to stand up for yourself, how to balance your own goals with the goals of your employer, and on and on and on.

If kids don’t have time to do real work while they are young, they are pushing all of these knowledge- and skill-building experiences off until after their education — until they are in their “real” jobs! (Pardon me, careers.) It seems we don’t have time for kids to do a lot of things during their education years:

- actually learn,

- explore their personal interests and talents,

- experience real work,

and much more, but that’s depressing enough. We have created a system where kids have to choose their future blindfolded. When they finally get the opportunity to really learn, they’re already heavily invested in a path they chose when they didn’t have all the facts they needed to make an informed decision.

You could say, oh, but you’re homeschooling so you can still do these things, and that is true! But here’s the thing: A lot of homeschooling parents not only follow the exact same high-pressure path that school kids take, but they double-down on it and use homeschooling as a way to increase their children’s academics and extracurricular activities. So homeschooling doesn’t really have anything to do with it. It comes down to parents and schools and communities: What do we want for kids? And are you willing to buck the trend to make it happen? Are you willing to break away from what everyone else is doing?

One thing we might do is simply throw out the weird, arbitrary calendar that’s imposed by the school system and our culture. Kids have to be doing X at Y age, period, and it starts in preschool and doesn’t let up until you’re married with a morgage and a child. Lets up, mind you — it never stops. How’s your retirement plan going?

That imposed calendar creates pressure within our kids and ourselves to get them moving along that conveyor belt at a brisk clip, checking off boxes along the way. When you think of the number of 20-somethings living with their parents after graduation, why not go ahead and take the extra time to really learn during those learning years?

[O]ur children are increasingly deprived of many of the protective factors that have traditionally accompanied childhood — limited performance pressure, unstructured play, encouragement to explore, and time to reflect.

“[W]e must embrace a healthier and radically different way of thinking about success. We need to harness our fears about our children’s futures and understand that the extraordinary focus on metrics — high grades, trophies, and selective school accpetances from preschools to graduate schools — is a partial and frequently deceptive definition. At its best, it encourages academic success for a small group of students but gives short shrift to the known factors that are necessary for success in life.”

“We know far too much about promoting healthy child development to continue to tolerate the myth that success is a straight and narrow path, with childhood sacrificed in the process. The truth is that most successful people have followed winding paths, have had false starts, and have enjoyed multiple careers.” — Teach Your Children Well

So here’s the question we must ponder: Are we willing to give our children the gift of the winding path?

 

“I woke up thinking a very pleasant thought. There is lots left in the world to read.” — Nicholson Baker

Alma working

• • •

Every Wednesday we share a small win from the forumTwitter, the Facebook page, or (with the writer’s permission) from the mail bag.

 

Alma has been working on a baking project for several months.

Recently we had a dilemma. She would love to bake every day. But it costs money. And if we eat it all we would grow very fat. She didn’t feel confident enough to sell to strangers, and she didn’t want to talk about prices to people. Baking once a week wasn’t enough for her. I suggested baking very small things, but that doesn't work for every recipe.

She likes to bring things to family for parties, as a gift. But she doesn't want to think about how much money people should pay, and she’s very concerned that they are satisfied with the product. She has made some cakes for my friends, and they were happy with them, but Alma almost couldn't sleep because it made her very anxious.

After brainstorming with friends in the PBH forum, we decided that she would bake for charity, and for friends and family. We set a budget apart for it, and friends/family can pay what they think is fair. The same for gatherings like homeschool outings. This way she can get used to baking for others and working with her insecurity about what people think of it.

This has led to a series of great wins…

She baked for friends and the woman was so astonished by her cookies that she asked for baking lessons. Alma will bake at her house on Saturday, a basic cake for starters. Our friend will pay for the ingredients and Alma will teach her how to bake. Her husband has a sweet tooth so he was very happy about this arrangement. They are both professional artists and in return will teach her about sculpting and printmaking. Yay!

We instituted her budget and immediately she had a plan — she wanted to make her own fondant. It was an awful mess and the kitchen smelled like you were inside a marshmallow, but she went through with it. Now she has three pounds of pink fondant. She cleaned the kitchen and she is so proud. She wants to bake pink decorated small cakes for her visit to the Toon Hermanshuis on Friday.

Toon Hermanshuis is a place where people with cancer can meet and talk. Alma baked for them as a volunteer. They loved it. She made it a commitment to bake a cake every week. She was very proud of her work. And she went on her bike, by herself, with a big box full of lemon cake through the rain. I didn’t have to drive her — she said she is not made of sugar and it is her project. And it is a five-mile ride. She came back wet and proud and she made me proud too. — Josh

 

Why do we share small wins? Because we put on our attention on what we want to grow. We support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and we make more of the good stuff!

Have you had a small win this week? Whether it’s related to PBH or not, please share in the comments!

A cake for a friend

Contributing to a bookstore event

Cake for her aunt

Making fondant

Fondant dragon

Cake for the cat club

Cake for Toon Hermanshuis

If you want to internalize a piece of knowledge, you’ve got to linger over it.” … “Evidence suggests that when it comes to knowledge we’re interested in — anything that truly excites us and has meaning — we don’t turn off our memory. Certainly we outsource when the details are dull … [b]ut when information engages us — when we really care about a subject — the evidence suggests we don’t turn off our memory at all.” — Smarter Than You Think

 

I shared this teacher’s open letter to Google on my facebook page:

Dear Google,

I wish you’d talked to teachers like me before you made that $40 million investment in Renaissance Learning.

I’ve seen the damage Accelerated Reader can do.

I witnessed it for the first time when I tutored a struggling 5th grader…eighteen years ago.

He hated to read.

He hated being locked into a level.

He hated the points associated with the books.

But more importantly, he was humiliated when he didn’t earn enough points to join in the monthly party or get to ‘buy’ things with those points at a school store full of junky prizes.

I’ve seen kids run their fingers along the binding of a book, a book they REALLY wanted read, but then hear them say, ‘But it’s not an AR book,’ or ‘It’s not my level.’

I’ve watched them scramble to read the backs of books or beg a friend for answers so they can get enough points for the grading period.

And I watched it slowly start to unravel S’s love of reading.Dear Google, You Should Have Talked to Me First

I have strong feelings about kids being allowed to choose their own books and given time to read for pleasure, and I have seen both teachers and librarians tell school kids at the public library to put their books back because they weren’t allowed (graphic novels) or weren’t the right level.

Short version: Kids benefit from reading both above and below their level.

Above (for example, if you let them check adult research books out of the library that you think are way too difficult for them), they have to employ decoding strategies, they have to search for what they can read and understand, they have to wrestle with unfamiliar vocabulary, and so on — they’re challenging their skills. Below, they can read a favorite book over and over again and become fluent at reading it.

In both cases, they are making choices from a place of true engagement and desire. That is a path toward using reading for pleasure *and* purpose.

In both cases, they feel great about themselves. They feel great about tackling and making sense of a book that’s “too hard for them.” They feel great about completely mastering a book and finding it really easy (and they remember when it was hard).

When we narrow kids’ choices to something that we have chosen for them, we are doing more than just killing their opportunity to enjoy reading for pleasure. We’re putting them in a place where they can’t win. If they read a book well, it’s because we chose it and it’s exactly calibrated to their “level.” If they don’t read it well, they’re failing at something we thought they could do. Instead of multiple opportunities to engage with books and feel like a winner, they get to feel either “adequate” or “inadequate.” That’s it.

(More posts about kids and reading: Reading and In defense of reading … which should need no defense.)

We can’t *teach* kids to love reading, but we can certainly do our best to allow them to develop a love of reading. We can let them choose their own books. We can give them a book allowance. We can make sure they have free time to read every day, and we can make sure we don’t pit books against the other things they love.

All of this boils down to: We don’t think it matters whether the kids are interested or not. We just don’t care.

There’s a kickback against passion these days (personally, I think it’s just a “let’s go against trend” scheme), but thinking passion doesn’t matter isn’t new — parents and educators have been saying it for decades. Adults think they can teach kids how to work hard by forcing them to work on something they don’t care about. Do they think kids will love to read if they do well on the language arts section of a standardized test? Love can’t be forced. You have to create the circumstances in which it can bloom and grow. You have to actively try to not crush the life out of it.

There’s also a kickback lately against grit (see here and here, for example) — people are saying that it’s all well and good to say kids need to be gritty, but privileged kids start out way ahead of the pack and it’s unfair to tell the other kids that their failure is because they weren’t gritty enough. Insult to injury, etc. But pay attention to this part of Alfie Kohn’s criticism:

Challenge — which carries with it a risk of failure — is a part of learning.  That’s not something we’d want to eliminate.  But when students who are tripped up by challenges respond by tuning out, acting out, or dropping out, they sometimes do so not because of a deficiency in their makeup (lack of stick-to-itiveness) but because those challenges — what they were asked to do — aren’t particularly engaging or relevant. — Alfie Kohn

and

A second explanation for students’ not rebounding from failure at what they were asked to do is that they weren’t really “asked” to do it — they were told to do it:  deprived of any say about the content or context of the curriculum.  People of all ages are more likely to persevere when they have a chance to make decisions about things that affect them.  Thus, the absence of choice might be a better explanation than a character defect for giving up. — ibid.

In other words, authentic interest and engagement matter. Authentic choice and autonomy make a difference.

Personally, I don’t see Duckworth’s or Dweck’s work being about character defects or criticizing kids — their work says that these are attitudes any person can develop. Message: Your fate isn’t set in stone — you can improve if you work hard. It’s about helping kids see themselves in a way that helps them develop a growth mindset. I do think cultivating a growth mindset is beneficial for all kids (and adults) — but I agree with Alfie Kohn that kids have to actually care about the work first. It does no good to try to force kids to be gritty and focus on growth if they don’t care about what they’re doing.

And Angela Duckworth knows that:

“This quality of being able to sustain your passions, and also work really hard at them, over really disappointingly long periods of time, that's grit.”Does Teaching Kids to Get “Gritty” Help Them Get Ahead? (NPR)

and

I don’t think people can become truly gritty and great at things they don’t love,” Duckworth says. “So when we try to develop grit in kids, we also need to find and help them cultivate their passions. That’s as much a part of the equation here as the hard work and the persistence.” — ibid.

You can’t throw out passion. You can’t throw out authentic interests. They matter. Put learning in the context of what kids actually care about and helping them become master learners is a million times easier.

The importance of a child's authentic interest cannot be overemphasized. Without it, learning is like pushing a boulder uphill. With it, we're pushing the boulder downhill. Note: Learning occurs in both directions. So why do we usually go with the uphill option? — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Things I get tired of in education:

- Calling new ideas “fads” as a way of dismissing them. We can’t afford to dismiss useful new ideas.

- Grinding good ideas into jargon and liberally applying said jargon to the old way of doing things (cough PBL cough).

- Pitting ideas against one another, as if education is one long cage match and we’re only allowed one winner.

Today’s take-away is this: No matter what else is happening in any learning environment, it’s always going to work better if the learner is authentically interested and engaged. You can keep pinging content at them, but as that quote way up top makes clear, if they aren’t really interested, it’s not going to stick. If you really want to help kids figure out what they’re capable of learning and doing, start in the area of their deep, authentic interest.

This is a pic of my daughter on the “tiny sewist program”. She wanted to do a princess dress for her friend’s birthday. Of course, I freaked initially. Then, we discussed the steps (choosing fabric, making patterns, cutting, etc.) and I wrote them on a board… — M, in the forum

• • •

Every Wednesday we share a small win from the forumTwitter, the Facebook page, or (with the writer’s permission) from the mail bag.

 

My son (7) announced this morning he wanted to sew.

We saw a book at the library Sewing for Children (and I just saw a recommendation for it on the sewing thread — I think it is a nice intro to sewing, lots of felt, easy projects) and the kids have been looking through it for a while.

We have done some sewing in the past, and I have not been able to not take over. So I was a bit nervous. Luckily I have spend a great deal of time catching up on the threads here last night. ;-)

The kids each picked a project and started, both projects had lots of buttons and they started sewing it on haphazardly and I just couldn’t help myself given them a button sewing lesson and getting them to do a practice run on a scrap piece of felt. After that my son lost interest and I thought I blew it. And I felt so bad, I could kick myself for falling in this trap again.

We went to visit friends, while driving I reflected why I react in this way. Part of the ‘problem’ is that all the materials, tools, etc., are my sewing stuff. They do not have any sewing materials in their project cupboard.

On our way back we stopped at our little local sewing shop. They chose a few colorful felt pieces, needles and embroidery thread, and a plastic box to keep the thread and scissors in. They were so excited; they ran to our workspace and started working.

My son used his practice scrap and turned it into a little bag, sewing the seams all by himself. He then proceeded in hand sewing little bags for his sister and me. I was so impressed. He glowed and made each of us a pincushion as well, stuffing and hand sewing it with the utmost patience. He asked if he could make each of us a little felt needle case tomorrow (ever the practical one ;-).

My daughter, who just turned five, has her heart set on a mobile phone felt soft toy. I have helped her holding materials, threading the needle, tying knots, etc., if asked. I haven’t taken over — I have managed to be there to move her project along without her getting too frustrated or feeling it is too hard. And she is so happy and proud. She is still working on her project and tomorrow I am going to hang back more, now that she has practice with some of the skills.

We worked like this for over 2 hours and when I went downstairs to start dinner they both brought their work with them and sat at the table working. I hope I have turned a corner. I find it hard to let go if there is a definite skill or sequence involved; I want to teach them the basics. All with best intent of course: helping them to succeed. Yet the joy and pride they had this afternoon was so wonderful for me to witness. — L.

 

Why do we share small wins? Because we put on our attention on what we want to grow. We support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and we make more of the good stuff!

Have you had a small win this week? Whether it’s related to PBH or not, please share in the comments!

F sewing a stuffed solar system. — Dawn

F making cat ears. — Dawn

What I’ve been reading

Published by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2014 at 09:15 AM

“If you don’t take the time to get really clear about exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish, then you’re forever doomed to spend your life achieving the goals of those who do.” — Steve Pavlina, Personal Development for Smart People
 

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: School isn’t really for learning, and in fact, it inhibits our kids’ ability to learn.

Since learning well is the foundation to all success in life, that is no small problem.

This was a particularly depressing visit, not because it was atypical, but because of how typical it is

Consider the following two examples:

A ‘regular’ (non-honors) English class. Thirty-six students are sitting in rows in a darkened classroom at 10:00 AM. The teacher is showing final minutes of a video on a 1950s classic high school text. As I scan the rows, I see four students asleep with earbuds in place. Six students in the middle facing the teacher are carrying on a conversation having nothing to do with the subject of the class over the top of the teacher’s attempts to engage the class in a discussion. Four students sitting in the back are engaged in a valiant attempt to salvage the discussion by responding to the teacher’s questions. The teacher calls on these four students repeatedly. The remainder of the class sits silently, staring into space, waiting for the bell to ring.

An ‘honors’ English class. Thirty-one students are sitting in rows in a brightly-lit classroom, each with a fat three-ring notebook. By their dress, their ease of interaction, their casual demeanor of privilege, it is clear these are the ‘chosen’ students. The topic of discussion for the class is how to organize the notebook into a portfolio–which papers and quizzes go into which tabs, where to put teacher comments, what to do with class notes, etc. It is clear that the students are having a good time doing this; it is also clear that they have written a total of about ten pages of prose between January and May; and it is clear that the main reason they are having a good time is that they are forestalling whatever the ‘work’ is for that day. After 45 minutes of excruciatingly detailed, rule-oriented discussion of what goes where in the portfolio, the teacher suggests that the students spend the next 40 minutes silently reading a section of the text.

I wish these were exceptional examples. They are not. I wish that the teachers and administrators who were observing classrooms with me were as outraged by what we saw as I was. They were not.

“Mostly what I see in my visits to middle and upper grades classrooms are examples of what of Michael Sedlack, et al. (1986), long-ago characterized as ‘the bargain’ — ‘you give me order and attendance, I’ll give you passing grades and [minimal] homework.’

The only other public institution in our society that works this way, with this degree of focus and dedication, is the prison system. ”

“I wonder…whether [they] are aware of what classrooms in American secondary schools actually look like — the dismal, glacial, adult-centered, congenially authoritarian, mindless soup in which our children spend the bulk of their days.

I wonder whether people are aware of how robust the old ‘bargain’ is in the face of so-called ‘high stakes accountability’; how little the monolithic beast of American secondary education has been affected by the bright, high-minded optimism of professional reformers; how little the exemplars that professional reformers use to justify their role in society have actually affected the lives of adolescents.” — What Would Happen If We Let Them Go?

I wonder, too, whether parents really have a good grasp of what school looks like today. An professor of education told me that part of her job is observing student teachers who are placed in local schools. She is horrified by what she sees there. She says if her children were still in school, she would pull them out and homeschool them.

I gave a talk to a university class of elementary education students. They behaved exactly the same as the “chosen” students in the quote above. Out of two dozen students, two or maybe three were leaning forward, paying close attention, wanting to learn. The others were killing time until the bell rang. And they are our kids’ future teachers.

Last week I wrote:

Why are teens so uninterested in their own future? Perhaps because they’re so entirely uninterested in their present.

As a person who loves to learn and has two teen sons who love to learn — and as a person who has owned a school and spent seven years trying to create the optimal environment for learning — this makes me pull my hair out. How can this be happening and why don’t we change it?

Here’s a clue:

“[A 10th-grade girl] asked me:

I understand what you’re saying about trying new things, and hard things, but I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?

I was floored. All I could think as I talked to this poor girl is ‘America, you’re doing it wrong.’

I was 15 in 10th grade. If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time?

“Do we want a society that dreams new things and then makes them happen? I hear that we do, every time I hear a teacher, or a politician, give a speech. So why are we trying so hard to teach the next generation to do the exact opposite?” — Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail

It’s almost like this student doesn’t realize that school is for learning.

Students are rational beings. They know that school is about grades, not learning.

If schools were for learning rather than showing off, we would design them entirely differently.” — Schools Are Good for Showing Off, Not for Learning

Everywhere I turn these days, people are writing about Carol Dweck and the growth mindset. I am a big fan of Dweck and have been written about her a lot. But it is very evident that the way we are organizing education today is not for a growth mindset. This 10th-grader is not focused on growth. She is focused on protecting herself from failure.

Think about the way we punish schools for not meeting benchmarks for standardized test scores and you know our schools are not focused on growth. They are focused on protecting themselves.

So what do we do? Lots of suggestions here:

Realize that Out of School time tends to be more inspiring and powerful to lead to a life of creativity than school time.

Innovators tend to take responsibility for their own learning when they are on their own time.”

Show how getting Out of One’s Comfort Zone, taking risks, persevering and being energized by failure builds character and stamina which leads to breakthrough ideas.”

Have Adults encourage, support, and listen to children to better evoke a constant sense of wonder. Aunts, uncles, teachers, parents, friends of parents and even siblings who listen and mentor are more valuable than those who provide too much structure and rules that want students to be someone they are not.” — How to Inspire the Next Generation of Creative Thinkers and Innovators
How would that 10th-grader react to this list? I read it and think simultaneously “Yeah!” and “LOL nope, not gonna happen.” Because what part of this can be quantified and put on the test? How does this correlate to letter grades?
 
The first sentence is the most salient thing in the article: You better get your creativity out of school, because you’re not going to find it inside.
 
Here are some kids who did that:
“Ryan Orbuch, 16 years old, rolled a suitcase to the front door of his family’s house in Boulder, Colo., on a Friday morning a year ago. He was headed for the bus stop, then the airport, then Texas.

‘I’m going,’ he told his mother. ‘You can’t stop me.’

Stacey Stern, his mother, wondered if he was right. “I briefly thought: Do I have him arrested at the gate?”

But the truth was, she felt conflicted. Should she stop her son from going on his first business trip?”

“The college-or-not debate neglects other questions that high school students like Ryan and Louis and their families are wrestling with now: Go to class or on a business trip? Do grades still matter? What do you do with $20,000 when you’re 15? And when the money rolls in, what happens to parental control?

Things used to be linear. You went to a good school and you got a good job, and that was the societally acceptable thing to do,’ said Ms. Stern, Ryan’s mother, who was a straight-A student and is a graduate of Duke University.

Now, she said, ‘there is no rule book.’” — The Youngest Technorati

If you can start doing real work as a teen, is a college degree still important?
 
I don’t even think that’s the point. Why is it that we pit college against doing real work? Shouldn’t college be equivalent to doing real work? So what we’re talking about is doing real work and getting paid for it (and learning your skills primarily on your own, I’m guessing) vs. doing real work and paying someone else for the privilege (and being taught to do real things by professors — that isn’t what college was like for me, but let’s assume). These aren’t terribly different things; they are very similar things with terribly different price tags.
 
As pointed out by readers on Facebook, any kid who can write an app and earn $30,000 in high school should be able to figure out how to get a college degree if he or she needs it or wants it. Why the false dichotomy of school vs. real work/real world?
 
If we really believe that trite phrase “life-long learner” (and we don’t — please feel the power of my air quotes) then the transition from childhood to adulthood would look a whole lot different. We would be able to do real work and keep learning. They would complement each other, not be pitted against one another in the world’s most meaningless cage match. (Although it’s always fun to watch twins fight. Because that’s what meaningful work and learning are — the exact same thing.)
 
We were talking amongst ourselves on Twitter about how this article about teens doing real work started out strong but ended with a balloon-releasing-air noise:

Louis is committed to college, a view that solidified in the fall, partly after bearing witness to the experience of friends in the working world. ‘Their Facebook posts are all about work,’ he said. ‘Their lives don’t seem that interesting.’”

“He applied to Carnegie Mellon. He also applied to Georgia Tech, without parental prompting. It wasn’t lost on his father that both schools were far from Silicon Valley.

Louis said he wants ‘the full college experience.’ It’s almost as if he’s been given the gift of seeing an alternate version of his life — that of a passionate developer who leaps into the tech fray — and realizes that the real world is a lot of work.

I want to have fun,’ he said. ‘I still feel like a kid — kind of.’”

Is this a big win for parents who want their kids to go to college? It’s not like he’s on fire to go to college to learn. He wants to have fun. I’m seeing kegs in his thought bubble, not books and study carrels. This goes back to the idea that your four (or more likely five) years at college are a social rite of passage, not a deep immersion in learning and working — because, hello, work is boring. Louis already has that figured out! It’s work or fun and fun wins. Poor Louis. No wonder kids are taking longer and longer to finish their degree.
 
If your kid opts for college because he wants to hit the pause button on real life, that, to me, is not a win.
 
Here’s another quote from that same article:
Kane Sarhan…said that 20 percent of [teen] interns [in his program], making $25,000 a year, come directly from high school. But he also encourages college for many people, saying it’s the rare teenager who is ready for the “work, motivation and time” that it takes to go directly into the real world.
Okay, um. Let that sink in. Your teens aren’t ready for doing real work. They don’t have the motivation. They aren’t ready for the real world. Which means, presumably, that those things won’t be found in high school (and weren’t acquired in high school) — or even, apparently, in college. Only in the real world of work, which they will be completely ready for at age 22. Or 23. Or maybe a bit later; we’ll see.
 
Stating the obvious, but teens should be doing real work. Work and fun are not opposite poles. And if kids are just partying in college and not doing real work, then we’ve pretty much blown it. Our education system is a “delaying adulthood” system.
 
I’m going to end by quoting Meg Jay, whose book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter should really be read by all parents:

The longer it takes to get our footing in work, the more likely we are to become, as one journalist put it, “different and damaged.” Research on underemployed twentysomethings tells us that those who are underemployed for as little as nine months tend to be more depressed and less motivated than their peers — than even their unemployed peers. … Twentysomething underemployment is associated with heavy drinking and depression in middle age even after becoming regulrly employed.

Twentysomethings who think they have until later to leave unemployment or underemployment miss out on moving ahead while they are still traveling light. No matter how smoothly this goes, late bloomers will likely never close the gap between themselves and those who got started earlier. … Midlife is when we may realize that our twentysomething choices cannot be undone.

It is almost a relief to imagine that these years aren’t real, that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count. But a career spent studying adult development tells me this is far from true. And years of listening closely to clients and students tells me that, deep down, twentysomethings want to be taken seriously, and they want their lives to be taken seriously. They want to know what they do matters — and it does. — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter

I know you don’t need me to connect the dots for you, but let’s just say it out loud: As important as it is to not waste your twenties, it’s just as important to not waste your teen years.

This is a time when kids have the most freedom to learn and try and explore and do. And instead of encouraging them to make the absolute most of it — instead of filling that time with meaningful work and real experiences — we tell them to focus on getting good grades. Protect their GPA. Build a resume to get into the best possible college so they can enjoy a four- or five-year vacation before they have to face the real world and real work. If the economy’s down, that’s okay — throw a graduate degree on there as well. A few more years before reality has to set in.

If we really believe these incredibly negative things about life — that work is bad and fun is good and never the twain shall meet, that grades are more important than learning, that learning ends as soon as you get your diploma — then no wonder our kids are floundering.

There aren’t enough adults living lives that blend meaningful work and continuous learning. We somehow think our kids are going to spontaneously seek out something they’ve never experienced — a balanced life, challenging work, self-directed learning. But if they’ve never lived that way and they don’t know anyone who lives that way, how are they going to find that path and what is going to motivate them to walk it?

 

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass

 

Small Wins Wednesday: Authentic writing

Published by Lori Pickert on March 12, 2014 at 07:37 AM

Kit (age 3) is now plowing through the old Birds & Blooms magazines so she can figure out what to plant in the garden. #butterflyproject #pbh

She is insisting on writing all of the flower names herself. — Sarah

• • •

Every Wednesday we share a small win from the forumTwitter, the Facebook page, or (with the writer’s permission) from the mail bag.

 

My 10 yr old has been between projects since his football project waned, possibly as a result of the season ending. A couple of weeks ago he was reading a magazine article on the seven wonders of the ancient world when he became inspired by the information about the creator of this list. He began thinking about making a list of his own. Great, I thought — until he said he would make a list of the top Mario games on his blog.

How did we get from the ancient world to Mario video games? My eye began to twitch as it always does when video games come up during project time, but I know enough now to not say anything and not to jump to the conclusion that he’s just finding excuses to play games during project time.

He wrote his top 10 list and then decided, after getting his feet wet, he’d make another top 10 for the best galaxies in Mario Galaxy. He wrote this list over the course of three days. He researched other lists, watched videos of top 10s, and really considerd the best galaxies for his list and why they should make the top ten and their individual placement. By the time he was done, he had created a thoughtful and entertaining piece of writing that was also quite lengthy I might add (at least as long as any school report would be required to be and far more interesting to read). He had catchy openings and varied sentence structure and, although it wasn’t very academic in topic, it was authentic and I could see a budding talent for writing.

Never could he or would he write anything so amazing on any topic I told him he must write on. He might squeeze out a few boring sentences to compliment a topic he deemed boring, but it wouldn’t be anything close to this blog post on Mario. Even better, he came to me with his “to do” list one day so he wouldn’t forget what he needed to do the next day! Now he’s creating Mario pixel art. He’s using graph paper for his designs and then building them in Minecraft. He’s planning a post on that as well.

PBH can be hard, but I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it through all the struggles and doubts and difficult times. Both my boys have produced some amazing stuff in the last year, but I’ve had to see it with my fresh new PBH glasses. My old traditional school glasses would never have seen the value in all this work or even let it proceed. We would have missed out on so much!Christi

 

Why do we share small wins? Because we put on our attention on what we want to grow. We support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and we make more of the good stuff!

Have you had a small win this week? Whether it’s related to PBH or not, please share in the comments!

Kindle matchbook: Project-Based Homeschooling

Published by Lori Pickert on March 10, 2014 at 03:59 PM

Photo by Kara Fleck! Thank you, Kara!

If you bought the paperback version of Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners from Amazon, you can now get the Kindle version for just $2.99. PBH on the go!

 

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