Practice, even with failure, more important than talent – update

October 25, 2012

WordCrafter.net links to this story from an excellent page on picking a topic for an essay — English teachers, social studies teachers, you should probably make this page a part of your syllabus for essays, really.  A few teachers use the page, and when they assign essays this post starts rising in the hit count.

But that was five years ago.  There’s more information, and even an update at Stanford Magazine.  So, we’ll update here, too:

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset

Carol Dweck, Stanford University

Every teacher needs to get familiar with the work of Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford psychologist who is advising the Blackburn Rovers from England’s Premier League, on how to win, and how to develop winning ways.

Your students need you to have this stuff.

A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise—and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development. [emphasis added]

I can’t do justice here, in short form, to Dweck’s work described by Marina Krakovsky.  See this story in Stanford Magazine [2007].

Update from Stanford Magazine:

Psychology professor Carol Dweck has spent her career figuring out why some people give up in the face of failure while others are motivated to learn from their mistakes and improve. It’s all about fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets (“The Effort Effect,” March/April 2007)

Now Dweck has formed Mindset Works, which “helps human beings reach their full potential.” Its signature product is Brainology, software developed by Dweck and educational researcher Lisa S. Blackwell and now available at www.brainology.us following successful pilots in the United States and abroad. The program aims to motivate middle school and high school students to do better in all their subjects by teaching them how the brain works and how to boost their intelligence.

Also, no discussion of this topic can be complete without at least a mention of Malcolm Gladwell‘s work.  In a recent book, Outliers, Gladwell notes what has come to be called the “10,000 hour rule.”  Gladwell observed that most experts were made by practice at a skill, rather than talent — and that mastery was achieved after about 10,000 hours of practice.  Wikipedia describes the idea Gladwell outlines:

A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles’ musical talents and Gates’ computer savvy as examples.[3] The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, and quotes Beatles’ biographer Philip Norman as saying, “So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.'”[3] Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.[3]

Does Gladwell mention Dweck’s work?  Is Dweck’s work confirmed by Ericsson’s?  There’s a lot of room for discussion there, especially in an essay.

For writing, for writing essays, practice provides dramatic improvement for students — that much is certain.

More:


. . . and one test to rule them all . . .

October 18, 2012

The fundamental problem with standardized testing is that kids don’t come “standard.”  A teacher friend sent me this cartoon, summarizing the problem nicely:

One test fits all cartoon

If we use tests to cheat teachers out of a job, and to cheat students out of their futures, should we be surprised when students and teachers cheat on the tests?  Is that a mark of their innate sanity, if they do?

I wonder who the cartoonist was, and what other gems may be lurking out there by the same person?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Daniel Rhee.


Test “priming”: Malcolm Gladwell on how to push test results, and why tests might not work

July 31, 2012

Who is the interviewer, Allan Gregg?

From the YouTube site:

Malcolm Gladwell in an interview about Blink explains priming, and re-states some of the examples of priming from Blink with CC (closed captions)

Here’s a longer excerpt of the interview; from TVO (TVOntario)?

Discussion:  Gladwell appears to confirm, for testing results, the old aphorism attributed to Henry Ford:  “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”  Gladwell seems to be saying that the student’s view of his or her abilities at the moment the test starts rules in a significant way how the student performs — worse, for teachers, it’s the student’s unconscious view of his or her abilities.  As a final shot in class, I have often had students predict their performance on state tests.   I have them write what they think they will scores.  Then I ask them to predict what they would have scored, had they applied themselves seriously to study of history — and of course, almost always the students have a fit of honesty and predict their scores would have been higher.  Then I ask them to pretend they had studied, and cross out the lower predicted score and replace it with the higher predicted score.  At the schools where I’ve taught, we do not administer the tests to our own students, and such exercises are prohibited on the day of the test.  Too bad, you think?

Another exercise I’ve found useful for boosting scores is to give the students one class period, just over an hour, to take the entire day-long TAKS social studies test, in the on-line version offered by the Texas Education Agency.  Originally I wanted students to get scared about what they didn’t know, and to get attuned to the questions they had no clue about so they’d pick it up in class.  What I discovered was that, in an hour, clearly with the pressure off (we weren’t taking it all that seriously, after all, allowing just an hour), students perform better than they expected.  So I ask them to pass a judgment on how difficult the test is, and what they should be scoring — almost unanimously they say they find the test not too difficult on the whole, and definitely conquerable by them.

What else could we do with students, if we knew how to prime them for tests, or for writing papers, or for any other piece of performance on which they would be graded?

With one exception, my administrators in Dallas ISD have been wholly inuninterested in such ideas, and such results — there is no checkbox on the teacher evaluation form for using online learning tools to advance test scores, and administrators do not regard that as teaching.  The one exception was Dorothy Gomez, our principal for two years, who had what I regarded as a bad habit of getting on the intercom almost every morning to cheer on students for learning what they would be tested on.  My post-test surveys of students showed those pep talks had been taken to heart, and we got much better performance out of lower-performing groups and entire classes during Gomez’s tenure (she has since left the district).

Also, if psychological tricks can significantly affect test scores, surely that invalidates the idea that we can use any test score to evaluate teacher effectiveness, unless immediate testing results is all we want teachers to achieve.  Gladwell said in this clip:

To me that completely undermines this notion, this naive notion that many educators have that you can reduce someone’s intelligence to a score on a test.  You can’t.

More:


Colorado’s Mike Miles named “sole finalist” for Dallas ISD Superintendent job

April 5, 2012

Four teachers mentioned to me last week their fear that Michelle Rhee might get the top education job in Dallas.  She didn’t, but is Mike Miles enough different to make them breathe easier?  Probably not.

Here’s the DISD video of his press conference, at which he was named sole finalist.  Under Texas law and regulation, a district must name a sole finalist, and then wait a period before confirming the appointment.

Miles, a former Army Ranger and Foreign Service officer, leads a school district serving part of Colorado Springs, Colorado, Harrison District #2.  He’s led the 11,000 student district since 2006; Dallas has 157,000 students.

Dallas ISD sent a notice to employees late Tuesday afternoon about Miles’s designation as superintendent-to-be:

Dallas Independent School District’s Board of Trustees have named Mike Miles as the lone finalist for the district’s superintendent position.

Trustees have been conducting a nationwide search for a new superintendent that included receiving input from several stakeholder groups.

Miles, 55, has served as Superintendent for the Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs since fall 2006. He is known as an innovator and reformer who is changing the face of public education. His ideas and innovations around systems thinking, measuring teacher and principal effectiveness and building an adaptive organization have been recognized by national education institutes and have been adopted by numerous districts around the country.

Under his leadership, Harrison County District Two has experienced increased graduation rates and improved student achievement.

“The Dallas ISD Board of Trustees is thrilled with our selection of Mike Miles as the lone finalist for Superintendent of Schools,” said Lew Blackburn, President of the Board. “Mr. Miles has spent his entire life serving the public and has a proven track record of success. Not only will his life story serve as an inspiration to our students, he is a recognized leader who is focused on student results. Today is a great day for the Dallas Independent School District.”

Mike Miles is a former Army Ranger who graduated from West Point in 1978. He then entered the ranks of the officer corps at Ft. Lewis, Washington, where he served in the Army’s elite Ranger Battalion and commanded an Infantry Rifle Company.

After the Army, Miles studied Slavic languages and literature at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Leningrad in Russia. Miles then pursued advanced study of Soviet affairs and public policy at Columbia University and earned a master’s degree in 1989. The same year, he joined the U. S. Department of State as a policy analyst at the Soviet desk, and then from 1990 to 1995 as diplomat in Moscow and Warsaw at the end of the Cold War.

Miles and his family returned home to Colorado Springs in 1995 where he started as a high school teacher in his alma mater school district – Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8. Miles continued to grow professionally and held other positions such as middle school principal, coordinator of administration services and from 2003 to 2006 served as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, in the same school district.

Currently, Miles also serves as an educational consultant and motivational speaker for school districts and other public organizations around the state of Colorado. He is recognized as an accomplished practitioner of curriculum alignment, organizational effectiveness, and systems thinking.

Miles is married to Karen Miles, and they have three children.

The Dallas ISD School Board plans to officially approve hiring Miles on Thursday, April 26. If approved, Miles is slated to begin work Monday, July 2.

Miles’s experience at the Soviet desk may prove useful in his work to understand various bureaucracies inside DISD (I hope I’m being overly, cynically sarcastic).  One might wonder how a leader could come from an Army Ranger background, but turn around to advocate pay-for-performance for teachers, as he did in Colorado.  Miles said he has no plans to do anything like that in Dallas, at least not without studying Dallas’s situation more.

Maybe more comments here, later.  Still have too much in the in box to write a lot here.

More:


“Is our media learning?” Test scores require raises for public school teachers, don’t they?

September 10, 2011

Mike the Mad Biologist makes the case succinctly and clearly (teachers, observe his methods):

That shudder you felt was the Earth wobbling as an . . .

. . . education story actually covered U.S. students’ academic achievement during the last few decades accurately. I’ve made the point before that the claim of stagnating test scores for U.S. students is demonstrably false–in every demographic group, there has been a rise in achievement (and the minority-white achievement gap is closing to boot). Shockingly, in a Slate report on Steven Brill’s new book Class Warfare, Richard Rothstein sets up Brill with this:

The case they make for their cause by now enjoys the status of conventional wisdom. Student achievement has been stagnant or declining for decades, even as money poured into public schools to improve teacher salaries, pensions, and working conditions (reducing class sizes, or hiring aides to give teachers more free time). Teachers typically have abysmally low standards, especially for minorities and other disadvantaged students, who predictably fall to the level of their teachers’ expectations. Although teachers’ quality can be estimated by the annual growth of their students’ scores on standardized tests of basic math and reading skills, teachers have not been held accountable for performance. Instead, they get lifetime job security even if students don’t learn. Brill observes a union-protected teacher in a Harlem public school bellowing “how many days in a week?,” caring little that students pay him no heed and wrestle on the floor instead.

Protecting this incompetence are teacher unions, whose contracts prevent principals from firing inadequate (and worse) teachers. The contracts also permit senior teachers to choose their schools, which further undermines principals’ authority. Union negotiations have produced perpetually rising salaries, guaranteed even to teachers who sleep through their careers. Breaking unions’ grip on public education is “the civil rights issue of this generation,” and some hard-working, idealistic Ivy Leaguers and their allies have shown how.

And then knocks him down with:

Central to the reformers’ argument is the claim that radical change is essential because student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades. This is, however, false. The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago. (There has also been progress for middle schoolers, and in reading; and less, but not insubstantial, progress for high schoolers.) The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels. The causes of these truly spectacular gains are unknown, but they are probably inconsistent with the idea that typical inner-city teachers are content to watch students wrestle on the classroom floor instead of learning.

The question we need to ask is “Is our media learning?” (to steal a phrase from Little Lord Pontchartrain).

Maybe they are . . .

Brill, God bless him, proposed to shake up public schools in America a few weeks ago in a long article in the Weekend Wall Street Journal.  His solution?  Make AFT local leader Randi Weingarten superintendent of New York’s public schools.

Actually, his story was much better than his advocacy.  But I hope to get more commentary on that proposal, and this continuing War on Education and War on Americans, soon.


Bill Adkins: Art education boosts achievement, but needs administrator support to work

June 24, 2011

One of our very good art teachers at Moises Molina High School, William Adkins,  works with a group called Big  Thoughts.  Big Thoughts interviews teachers who work with the program about how arts education boosts student achievement in core areas, and how to leverage arts to improve the boost.  Adkins had some thoughts about how art really is a core part of education , and on the role of administrators in helping teachers:

You can view 74 videos from about 30 different people on the Big Thoughts menu at Vimeo.

Adkins’ students regularly win awards, often outperforming the many more students at our district’s arts magnets.  One of his students, Moses Ochieng, too the top prize at the state art meet this year for a brilliant sculpture he did.  Moses was my student in U.S. history, too — a great adventure, since he emigrated from Kenya just a few years ago, and he lacks the familiarity with so many American things that we, and the textbooks, and the state tests, take for granted that students know.  Ochieng’s art helped focus him on history.  It supplemented his studies so that he picked up two years of history work in just one year.

More:


Can public schools work? Texas Tribune’s interview with Michael Marder, Part II

June 11, 2011

From my earlier post on the Texas Tribune interview with Michael Marder, in which he questioned the assumptions that monkeying with teacher discipline, accountability, pay, training, vacations, or anything else, can produce better results in educating students, especially students from impoverished backgrounds.

Marder is the director of the University of Texas’s program to encourage much better prepared teachers, UTeach.

Michael Marder’s numbers show that it’s not the teachers’ fault that so many students are not ready for college, and not learning the stuff we think they should know.

Texas Tribune said:

In the popular 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee said, “But even in the toughest of neighborhoods and circumstances, children excel when the right adults are doing the right things for them.”

After looking at the data, Marder has yet to be convinced that any teaching solution has been found that can overcome the detrimental effects of poverty on a large scale — and that we may be looking for solutions in the wrong place.

[Reeve] Hamilton’s interview of Marder takes up three YouTube segments — you should watch all three.

Here’s Part 2:

Read the original introductory article at Texas Tribune.

For the record, Michelle Rhee is probably right:  In the toughest neighborhoods, children excel when the right adults do the right things for them.  But the right adults usually are parents, and the right things include reading to the children from about 12 months on, and pushing them to love learning and love books.  Teachers get the kids too late, generally, to bend those no-longer-twigs back to a proper inclination.  The government interventions required to boost school performance must come outside the classroom.  Michelle Rhee’s great failure — still — is in her tendency not to recognize that classroom performance of a student has its foundations and live roots in the homes and neighborhoods who send the children to school every day.


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