Underdog power: Dyslexic entrepreneurs

A weakness can be a hidden strength, author Malcolm Gladwell tells Anderson Cooper.

Underdogs’ limitations force them to be creative, says Gladwell, whose new book is called David and Goliath.

One of his examples is Gary Cohn, a dyslexic who “couldn’t do school” and was “kicked out” for acting up. He learned to work around his disability. He’s still a poor reader. He’s also president of Goldman Sachs.

Malcolm Gladwell: An incredibly high percentage of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. That’s one of the little-known facts. So many of them, in fact, it’s like a joke among dyslexic researchers that you go into a room of very successful businesspeople, and you—you have a show of hands on who has a learning disability, it’s like half the hands in the room go up. It’s fascinating…

Gary Cohn: People that can’t read well, we tend to build a great sense of listening. We also tend to build a great sense of being able to deal and cope with failure.

Gladwell grew up in rural Ontario, the son of a Jamaican-born family therapist and a British math professor. He was not a strong student, but since his family had no TV and never went to movies, he read lots of books. If he got bored, his mother would say, “It’s important to be bored. You’re giving your brain a rest.”

Creativity meets technology

 Innovation:Where Creativity and Technology Meet.

First-grade ‘novelists’

First graders can write their own novels, according to Lily Jones on the Teaching Channel.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Adults are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel. Her first graders aimed at 5,000 words for the whole class.

As we approached November, we talked about what makes a novel a novel (chapters, fiction, characters, etc.) and analyzed the novels we had read as a class. . . . I had students draw several possible ideas for their stories, sketch out characters, and give each other feedback.

Her students had experience with personal narratives, informational writing, persuasive writing and poetry, but rarely wrote fiction, writes Jones. “Students thrived when they used their imaginations to produce amazingly creative writing.”

Throughout the month, I stressed novel writing as a really big deal. I would call my students “novelists” as they came in the classroom and allow my students the chance to share a little bit of their writing every day.

Students were motivated by the chance to read their work at a local book store. “It was adorable and inspiring to see my students, many of who had just started learning how to read, read excerpts of their novels in front of a crowd.”

 Though most of my first graders had a hard time mastering concepts of plot and chapters, they were still able to produce interesting novels.

. . . Malia, who was obsessed with cats, wrote a novel called Kitten and Baby Tiger’s Adventures. The opening lines were priceless: “Wish, baby tiger. Wish upon it, my child. Wish.”

David, who loved playing wild games with Legos, wrote a novel called The New Weirdos. I loved how he included the wacky sounds he made while playing in his writing: “Aah! Waaaah! Uh, oh, Darth Cranky. Puh puh puh puh. The ship blew up!”

Even though they were only six-years-old, my students were developing their own author voices.

(Here are her lesson plans for NaNoWriMo.)

High expectations are fine, responds Robert Pondiscio on Facebook. But he’s skeptical about writing “novels” in first grade.

What rankles is the cargo cult aspects of this, calling 6 year olds novelists, etc. We could do with far less of this, especially in elementary ed.

. . . Whenever I hear a cultish Writer’s Workshop teacher call children “authors,” or here a staff developer talk about having kids “live a writerly life,” I’m reminded of the wonderful line from Joan Cusack in the movie Working Girl: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.”

“Subject verb agreement is adorable,” adds Jennifer Midgley.

It would be more honest to tell first graders they can create their own “books.”

Learning whimsy instead of writing

When Katharine Beals’ son was in high school, his writing textbook was all about creativity, she writes in Out In Left Field. Learning to write apparently didn’t require practice constructing sentences or paragraphs.

These days, many believe “creativity means suppressing the logical, analytical left brain, and, thereby, unleashing those novel, right-brain-driven associations between prompts and ideas,” Beals writes.

What people forget, however, is that this is only one step in the creative process. Nor is it even the first step. That flash of insight, as it turns out, has preconditions. (Researcher John) Kounios’ studies of the split seconds leading up to creative insight show a momentary reduction in the brain’s flow of visual information, which allows the brain to turn inwards and notice those (initially weak) associations, which, in turn, allows certain ones of these associations to pop into consciousness as sudden bursts of insight.

“Chance favors the prepared mind,” Kounios quotes Louis Pasteur as saying.

Centuries before neuroscience, the philosopher John Locke distinguished between wit and judgment, she writes. “Wit allows you to think up wild new ideas, but judgment tells you which ideas are actually worth keeping.”

These days a better word for “wit” might be “whimsy,” Beals writes. Too often our approach to writing and other creative arts “mistakes whimsy for creativity.”

Most creative geniuses “work ferociously hard,” according to Temple Psychology Professor Robert W. Weisberg. “You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline,” he says.

To learn writing — creative or otherwise — students need less whimsy and more revision, Beals argues. Teachers should focus less on “inspiring prompts,” and “more on the art of sentence and paragraph construction, sentence and paragraph rearrangement, and revision, revision, revision.”

“Schools talk a lot about learning styles but refuse to acknowledge that some kids don’t find artsy projects fun and would rather write a proper report,” notes Mom of 4 in the comments.

Auntie Ann’s son “was graded down because he really, really wanted a project to be in black and white and the teacher insisted he had to color it. Very little of the grade ends up being actually learning or content based.”

Students invent classroom door lock

“Shaken by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and determined to prevent future tragedies, a team of high school students in Washington, D.C., has invented a new locking device for classroom doors,” reports Discovery News. Often classroom doors can’t be locked from the inside due to fire-safety regulations. They hope their low-cost device will help teachers keep intruders out.

lock

Ten Benjamin Banneker Academic High School students, led by math teacher John Mahoney, created the Dead Stop. A PVC pipe that’s hinged on one side can be locked on the other with a steel pin. Fitted over a hydraulic door closer, it will prevent the door hinge from widening.

 When the students did research about patents and commercially available door locks, they said most of the devices they found required physical installation either on the door or the jamb. Other devices were expensive and complicated to install. Theirs should cost less than $5 and be simple enough that a teacher could lock the door in under 30 seconds, they said. Once the danger has passed it should be easy to remove as well.

With a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant, the students plan to build and test several prototypes of their design, publicize the DIY instructions and collaborate with a company to manufacture the device. They’re hoping for pro bono help in applying for a patent.

Toddlers and tablets

Long before they start kindergarten, American children are playing with education tech at home, writes Alex Hernandez in Toddlers and Tablets on Education Next. At the iTunes store, “9 of the top 10 paid education apps are designed for small children, ages four and up.”

Touchscreens are the most intuitive interfaces ever created for small children. I still remember the weekend morning in 2008 when our 18-month-old padded into our bedroom, grabbed his mom’s new iPhone off the nightstand, turned on his favorite song, and began pawing through photos.

. . . Leading app developer Duck Duck Moose believed it was designing for four- and five-year-olds when it noticed two-year-olds using its math apps. Dragonbox, an algebra program for children eight and up was being used by five- and six-year-olds. No one informed these kids that they weren’t ready for higher-level math.

Children do incredible things when they are free to explore and learn.

Parents are dubious about young children using technology, Hernandez concedes. He thinks tablets are seen as too expensive for grubby-fingered preschoolers. There’s also a backlash against excess screen time. Education apps should supplement, not replace, hands-on play, Hernandez writes.

App creators shouldn’t just try to teach pre-academic skills, such as categorizing objects or recognizing letter sounds.

 . . . research suggests that children’s ability to pay attention and control their impulses (i.e., executive functions) are better predictors of future academic success than IQ. Children’s ability to manage their attention, emotions, and behaviors; learn appropriate ways to interact with others; and be creative are equally, if not more, important but often harder to target than pre-academic skills.

But not impossible. App maker Kidaptive recently released a turn-taking game in which children paint pictures alongside two animated characters. Children using the app must literally sit and wait for the animated characters to complete their turns before resuming their own painting (defying many conventions of good game design). The metrics don’t lie. Kids are being patient and taking turns.

The best new apps will develop preschoolers’ executive function, creativity, number sense and phonemic awareness, Hernandez predicts. Schools may be slow to use these games. Parents already are buying them.

The Gummy Worm test

Given a choice between eating a gummy worm now — or waiting and getting two gummy worms — a little girl finds a creative way to control her appetite.

Self-control gone wild?

Has teaching self-control gone wild? Daniel Willingham responds to Elizabeth Weil’s New Republic cover story, American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids: In Defense of the Wild Child.

Weil uses self-regulation, grit and social-emotional skills interchangeably, but “they are not the same thing,” writes Willingham.

Self-regulation (most simply put) is the ability to hold back an impulse when you think that that the impulse will not serve other interests. (The marshmallow study would fit here.) Grit refers to dedication to a long-term goal, one that might take years to achieve, like winning a spelling bee or learning to play the piano proficiently. Hence, you can have lots of self-regulation but not be very gritty. Social emotional skills might have self-regulation as a component, but it refers to a broader complex of skills in interacting with others.

. . . Weil is right that some research indicates a link between socioemotional skills and desirable outcomes, some doesn’t. But there is quite a lot of research showing associations between self-control and positive outcomes for kids including academic outcomes, getting along with peers, parents, and teachers, and the avoidance of bad teen outcomes (early unwanted pregnancy, problems with drugs and alcohol, et al.). I reviewed those studies here. There is another literature showing associations of grit with positive outcomes (e.g.,Duckworth et al, 2007).

It’s possible that better test scores (and fewer drug and alcohol problems) come at a cost, Willingham concedes. Weil suggests a trade-off between self-regulation and the wild child’s creativity and personality.

But self-regulation doesn’t have to crush exuberance, Willingham argues. It tells a child when she’s being adorably exuberant and when she’s being a pain.

If we’re overdoing self-regulation, children will “feel burdened, anxious, worried about their behavior,” he writes. “When I visit classrooms or wander the aisles of Target, I do not feel that American kids are over-burdened by self-regulation,” he writes.

Indeed.

How would you improve science ed?

If you could make one change to improve science education, what would it be? Science Times asked 19 scientists, educators and students.

Quite a few called for science teachers who know science, math teachers who know math and lessons that ask students to solve real-world problems.

Maria Klawe, a computer scientist and president of Harvey Mudd College wants teachers to “help all students understand that hard work and persistence are much more important to scientific success than natural ability.”

Focus STEM courses on “creativity and invention,” says Sal Khan, creator of Khan Academy.  The “traditional skills . . .  are tools to empower creativity.”

States aren’t rushing to adopt Next Generation Science Standards, which was developed by a consortium of 26 states, notes the Hechinger Report. California adopted the standards last week, joining Maryland, Vermont, Rhode Island, Kansas and Kentucky.

Paul Bruno, a middle school science teacher from California – a state which got an ‘A’ in the Fordham ratings – has gotten attention for his critique of the NGSS. He said that basic content knowledge was needed before students could understand scientific and engineering practices, or how scientists ‘do science.’

Bruno worries the standards will confuse and overwhelm students by asking them to do too much at once.

California hasn’t decided when to implement NGSS, reports EdSource  Today.

Like the Common Core standards, their counterparts in English language arts and math, the new science standards stress problem solving, critical thinking and finding common principles or “cross-cutting concepts” that engineering and various fields of science share. They emphasize scientific thinking and big ideas over memorization in the hope that more students will become intrigued by science.

Implementing Common core standards in language arts and math is sucking up schools’ time, money and “mindshare.”

Just eat the damn marshmallow

In their zeal to produce self-regulating, calm, marshmallow-postponing students, schools are failing non-conformists, writes Elizabeth Weil in The New Republic. Do we want a generation of Stepford Kids?

In the infamous Stanford marshmallow experiment in the late ’60s, nursery school kids were left in a room with a marshmallow and told that if they didn’t eat it they’d get two marshmallows later. One third were able to defer gratification. The tots with self-control went on, “or so the psychologists say, to show the straight-and-narrow qualities required to secure life’s sweeter and more elusive prizes: high SAT scores, money, health,” Weil writes.

Her daughter is not a marshmallow kid. In second grade at a private school, she resisted “the sit-still, raise-your-hand-to-speak-during-circle-time program.” The teacher didn’t discipline her. He recommended occupational therapy.  Teachers don’t punish, Weil writes. They “pathologize.”

She met a Seattle mother whose son was referred for testing because he had trouble sitting crossed-legged. The mother “learned every one of the boys in her son’s class had been referred out for testing.”

Another family, determined to resist such intervention, paid for an outside therapist to provide expert testimony to their son’s Oakland school stating that he did not have a mental health disorder. “We wanted them to hear from the therapist directly: He’s fine,” the mother said. “Being a very strong-willed individual—that’s a powerful gift that’s going to be unbelievably awesome someday.”

Punishing students for misbehavior has been “problematic” for teachers since the 1975 Goss decision, says Jonathan Zimmerman, an education historian at New York University. The Supreme Court found that schoolchildren  have due process rights. “As a result, students can say to teachers with some authority, ‘If you do that, my mom is going to sue you.’ And that changes the score.”

Instead of controlling students through rewards and punishments, teachers are supposed to get students to control themselves. Social and emotional learning (SEL) teaches self-regulation to produce a “good student, citizen, and worker” who won’t use drugs, fight, bully or drop out.

However, there’s no evidence SEL improves academic achievement, Weil writes. Meanwhile, as small children are expected to show more self-control, diagnoses of attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are soaring.

When I asked Zimmerman, the New York University education historian, if schools had found a way to deal with discipline in the wake of the students-rights movement, he said: “Oh we have. It’s called Ritalin.”

The push for self-regulation coincides with a sharp decline in measures of independent thinking, Weil writes.

The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking judge originality, emotional expressiveness, humor, intellectual vitality, open-mindedness, and ability to synthesize and elaborate on ideas. Since 1984, the scores of America’s schoolchildren have dropped by more than one standard deviation; that is to say, 85 percent of kids scored lower in 2008 than their counterparts did in 1984.

Suppressing feelings is mentally draining, according to Stanford Professor James Gross, author of the Handbook of Emotional Regulation.

The federally funded Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is pushing its model for social-emotional learning, pre-empting other ideas, some educators complain.

Self-regulation and “grit” may be “lost in translation” in the classroom, writes Sarah Sparks on Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.