The Polish orphans of Pahiatua

Children from Eastern Poland who’d been deported by the Soviets, starved and orphaned were sent to a New Zealand refugee camp called Pahiatua in 1944, writes Anne Applebaum in Slate. Despite their childhood suffering and the loss of their families, the children of Pahiatua made good lives in their new country.

On Oct. 31, 1944, their ship pulled into Wellington harbor. More than 750 orphans, from toddlers to young teenagers, and 100 adult caretakers, teachers, and doctors disembarked. . . .  they stayed together, studied together, organized Polish scouting troops, and waited for the war to end so they could go home.

When the war was over, few had anyone to return to. Their former home, Eastern Poland, had been annexed by the Soviet Union. They made new homes in New Zealand. They started new families.

. . .  they had witnessed the deaths of parents and siblings, experienced terrible deprivation, and lost years of education before finding themselves in an alien country on the far side of the world. And yet they learned the language, they assimilated, they became doctors, lawyers, farmers, factory workers, teachers, and businessmen.

We believe children need “excellent schools, carefully organized leisure and . . .  high-concentration, high-focus parenting,” writes Applebaum. The Pahiatua orphans made do with a lot less.

Teaching grit

Educators are focusing more on perspiration than inspiration these days, looking for ways to teach determination, resilience and grit.

Can technology teach grit? asks Anya Kamenetz. A new U.S.Department of Education report touts the potential of new technologies to provide optimal challenge (not too easy or hard), “promote academic mindsets, teach learning strategies, promote the development of effortful control, and provide motivating environments.”

Some of these tech tools and applications attempt to teach strategies like mindfulness (including meditation), metacognition (knowing about knowing), and growth mindset (the belief that one can change one’s own abilities by working harder.)

Penn psychologist Angela Duckworth believes grit is “more essential to academic achievement” than intelligence, writes Kamenetz.

. . . while teaching 7th-grade math . . . she noticed that some of her strongest performers weren’t necessarily the smartest kids, and some of the smartest kids weren’t necessarily doing that well.

“I was firmly convinced that every one of my students could learn, if they worked hard and long enough,” she said. “ I came to the conclusion that what we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational and psychological perspective.”

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher told my parents I wasn’t quick in learning math, but I sunk my teeth in like a “bulldog” and held on till I got it. I scored a gritty 4.5 on Duckworth’s eight-question grit quiz.

Black male collegians need grit, grades

Black men’s college success on white campuses depends on “grit” as well as academic preparation, according to a study by Ohio State Professor Terrell L. Strayhorn.

Strayhorn tracked 140 mostly first-generation college students at a large public university. He found that those who scored higher on an eight-item measure of grit earned higher course grades after taking into account prior achievement, age, transfer status and school engagement, among other factors.

. . . “The ability to persevere in the face of obstacles is a key to college success for black men. You can’t change where a student grows up, or the quality of the high school he attended. But grit is something that can be taught and instilled in young men and it will have a real effect on their success.”

Grit is usually defined as “a mix of resilience, perseverance, self-control, focus, and positive mindset,” notes Ed Week. People disagree on whether grit is a character trait, or a skill that can be taught.

Strayhorn envisions pre-semester “boot camps” with “learning activities and experiences that (a) nurture students’ capacity to persevere despite setbacks or failure, (b) clarify their personal and professional goals, and (c) provide them strategies for overcoming obstacles to achieving such goals.”

The power of suggestion

The Power of Suggestion

By Brain Track.com

Parents, let your kids fail

Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail, writes Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

Thirteen years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, stumbling around my classroom on wobbly legs, I had to call a students’ mother to inform her that I would be initiating disciplinary proceedings against her daughter for plagiarism, and that furthermore, her daughter would receive a zero for the plagiarized paper.

“You can’t do that. She didn’t do anything wrong,” the mother informed me, enraged.

“But she did. I was able to find entire paragraphs lifted off of web sites,” I stammered.

“No, I mean she didn’t do it. I did. I wrote her paper.”

Overprotective parents are raising their children without “the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure,” writes Lahey.

It’s hard to teach children who’ve been shielded from frustration and failure. Kids can’t learn from their mistakes if their parents never let them make any.

. . . teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.

Her students who are “happiest and successful in their lives” are the ones  who were “allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.”

 

Can we make middle school less awful?

How Can We Make Middle School Less Awful? ask Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen on Slate. They call for giving  ”as much attention to emotions and values” as to academics.

Every morning, the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at Paul Cuffee Middle School in Providence, R.I. join together in what’s called a Circle of Power and Respect. In this “CPR,” they discuss anything from an upcoming science project to how to get boys to stop purposefully clogging the toilets.

Students write a social contract for the school.  Here’s this year’s version:

1. Respect the environment, yourself, and the community.
2. Cooperate: Teamwork makes the dream work.
3. Support each other even when the odds are against us.
4. Be yourself, do what you love, and try!
5. Be resilient: Fall 7 times, stand up 8.

When students behave badly, Principal Nancy Cresser asks which part of the contract they’ve broken.

“They know exactly which ones they’ve violated and they figure out how to fix it,” she says. Instead of storming off or pouting about the unfairness of the rules, Cresser says that Paul Cuffee students are OK with being held accountable. They’re the ones who created the rules, after all. So the students in question come up with a plan to fix what happened.

Creating a safe, supportive school pays off academically, write Glenn and Larsen. Although most students come from low-income families, Cuffee outscores a wealthier school across town in reading and math.

Praise is out

Schools are rejecting self-esteem boosting, reports the Washington Post. It turns out that pumping up students’ self-esteem through easy, unearned praise doesn’t improve their achievement.

As schools ratchet up academic standards for all students, new buzzwords are “persistence,” “risk-taking” and “resilience” — each implying more sweat and strain than fuzzy, warm feelings.

“We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. “That has backfired.”

. . . children praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to enjoy challenges and find greater success. Children also perform better in the long term when they believe that their intellect is not a birthright but something that grows and develops as they learn new things.

Brain imaging shows “connections between nerve cells in the cortex multiply and grow stronger as people learn and practice new skills.”  Montgomery County (Maryland) schools now teach children that they’re developing their brains when they struggle to learn something new. Teachers also try to provide specific feedback on how students can improve instead of a vague “Good job!”

Praise should be used to encourage students to take risks and learn from failure, Dweck said. “Does the teacher say: ‘Who’s having a fantastic struggle? Show me your struggle.’ That is something that should be rewarded.”

 

Empowering bullies’ victims

To Stop School Bullying: Fix the Victims, argues Hans Villarica in The Atlantic. He cites a new study in Child Development led by University of Illinois Psychology Professor Karen D. Rudolph that looks at why second graders  “retaliate, ignore, or repair relationships after an attack.”

Half of the children reported being the object of taunts, gossip, or intimidation.

. . . kids who wanted to be popular and feel superior tended to retaliate impulsively. Those who wanted to appear cool by avoiding criticisms were more likely to pretend like nothing happened. And those who were genuinely interested in fostering friendships tended to react in healthful, positive ways. They asked their teacher for advice, sought emotional support, and found means to solve the tension with those who harassed them.

Victims who tried to improve their relationships suffered less from bullying.

A previous study on mistreated kids in middle school also found that responding to bullies violently, impulsively, or in over-the-top ways can make the abused less accepted and a more attractive target to aggressors.

In short, punching the bully may not be the best strategy. (I have to think sometimes it is.)

Children who believed friendships are fixed, succeeding or failing without their involvement, tended to be more enamored with popularity and may be more vengeful as a result. On the contrary, those who viewed their friendships as works in progress tended to appreciate their peers more and interact more responsibly. “If children believe that effort is worthwhile, they’ll feel less threatened or helpless when they hit bumps in their relationships,” she says, “and they’ll be more likely to try to resolve relationship problems.”

What works in elementary school, such as seeking help from teachers, may not work in middle or high school, Villarica points out.

Indeed, even though anti-bullying advocates are correct in saying ‘it gets better,’ it may also be important to note that it’s going to get a lot worse first.

This reminds me of psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on students’ “fixed” or “growth” mindsets. Students who think intelligence is fixed — you’re smart or you’re not — won’t work as hard or take as many challenges as students who believe they can improve. (Her book is Mindset.)

To encourage learning — and resilience — we need to encourage kids to believe their efforts make a difference.

Let ‘em fail

Don’t let kids grow up without messing up, advises Max Bean, another person inspired by Paul Tough’s article on grit.

I was reminded of a conversation I once had with a school administrator about the difficulty of hiring effective teachers. “[Something] I’ve realized about recruiting really smart people [is] they’ve never truly struggled with anything,” he told me. “They’re used to working hard, and getting fairly immediate results and teaching doesn’t work like that. So it’s breaking them down mentally.” (It was clear from the context that “really smart people” coming from underprivileged backgrounds did not come with the same drawbacks.)

At 25, after two years teaching at a private school, Bean was hired to teach eighth graders at an inner-city charter school.

Had I had more grit and more experience with failure, I would still have gotten knocked around hard at that school, but I would have learned more quickly from my mistakes and from those around me; I would have had more strength and less fear in the face of my failure; and I would have recovered more quickly.

Years ago, I was on a committee interviewing applicants for a journalism scholarship. One girl was an excellent student, a good reporter, a star athlete, good-looking and confident. She was perfect. One of my colleagues asked her to describe a time she’d tried something and failed. She couldn’t. It hadn’t happened.  We gave her that first experience with failure by not giving her a scholarship. There were other excellent candidates with more grit.