I was captivated by this chapter from the introductory paragraphs. As Ellen Galinsky writes about comparing two contrasting images — that of an ever-curious infant, and that of an apathetic middle to high schooler — I thought of my own experiences with these contrasting groups. Her pointed questions on page 298 are similar to those I’ve asked myself, “What happens to extinguish that passion? What happens to dull their eyes?”
I feel equally passionate about the questions on the page that follows, questions she has used over the past 8 years to guide her research, culminating in this fascinating book:
How do children learn best?
What makes them stay motivated and engaged in learning, to see themselves as learners, and to be ongoing, lifelong learners?
What can be done to rekindle that motivation if it has been dulled?
What are the essential learning skills that will help them along this path?
The principles which follow in this chapter are critical to cultivating engaged learners, but so are the points made throughout the book. The seven skills combine together to support the whole child, and it is ultimately the education of the whole child that leads to meaningful, engaged learning (just check out Principle 3).
As I’ve mentioned before, I love that this book gives research-based explanations for philosophies and beliefs that are often considered “soft”. The first of which, is presented in Principle 1: Establish a Trustworthy Relationship with Your Child. I’ve long believed that learning, growth, development, all happen within the context of relationships. It isn’t enough to go through the motions and check all the boxes. If you want kids to engage, be engaged yourself. If you want kids to care about what they’re learning, care about the kids. It may not always be enough in itself, but any other approach will never be enough without it.
“There is no development without relationships.” — Jack P. Shonkoff, Harvard University (I love that quote so much I could stitch it on a pillow.)
Equally refreshing is the continued approach of presenting information with passion and urgency, but also tempered with reason and reality. I love that as the chapter discusses the importance of strong connections and responsive relationships, it also presents information showing that not only is it impossible to be 100% connected all the time, but it is actually beneficial for children to be a part of relationship reparations. It shows that the power doesn’t actually lie in the impossible quest for perfection, but that the normal process of getting out of sync and coming back together has benefits as well.
I also appreciated the reminder that we let children in on the Piagetian principle that “making mistakes is an essential part of learning.” While we may live in a world that is a bit “praise crazy” and “test crazy”, accountability does not have to mean our mistakes become our identity. As is pointed out so eloquently on page 345, “failure is not a way of labeling who you are — it’s just a way of identifying what you don’t know and what you need to put more effort into.” We need more kids — and more adults — who stop using mistakes to judge people, and start using mistakes to guide learning.
Lastly, I appreciated the reminder that we teach best when we number ourselves among the learners. Not only do we become better teachers when we consistently engage in professional discovery and growth, but some of the most powerful teaching we can do is through modeling. I love and completely agree with this quote from Kurt Fischer on page 348:
Teachers need to change their interaction patterns in the classroom so that they’re engaging in learning with the students. A common question I get [is]: “How do I teach my students to become critical thinkers?” The answer is very straightforward: “Do critical thinking in class — talk about complicated problems and come at [those problems] from different perspectives. Work on that with students and they learn how to do critical thinking. You can’t tell them what to do for critical thinking — they actually have to do it to learn it.“
I appreciated so much, the things that were in this chapter, for outlining what it takes to create powerful learning environments. I brought up some concerns about a learning environment I had connections with last year, and had a hard time putting all of my concerns into concrete terms. I feel like this chapter sums up what I felt was lacking. The relationships. The learning process. The culture of questioning and engaging in critical thinking. I feel this chapter has prepared me so much, not just as a parent and teacher, ready to implement these principles, but it has also armed me with information that I can use to address concerns going forward, concerns about what many see as the “intangibles” of a classroom, but which in reality make all the difference in the learning environment and learning experience.
What stood out to you in this chapter?
Are you beginning to formulate your questions for Ellen Galinsky? Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know later this week how you can submit your questions for our Q&A discussion!