Friday, May 30, 2014

Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck from Stanford University gave a talk on the Growth Mindset at Evanston High School a few weeks ago.  It was great for parents.   If you want your average child to be gifted, this is how to do it. Conversely, if you think you have a gifted child, this is how not to ruin him.  Dweck has a book called Mindset: The Psychology of Success that you can check out from the library after reading the Amazon reviews here.

Here's the bottom line.  For a kid to succeed in everything they do, they need 3 things:
1.  The child must equate hard work with success, or equivalently, their success with their own hard work.
2.  The child must have a good attitude.  This is a long discussion, but the short of it is a joy of learning, handing failure well, bouncing back, excited about challenges, etc.
3.  The child must use their efforts wisely.
4.  The child must define and solve their own problems.  (I added this one myself.  Don't blame Carol Dweck.  The child must own this at some point.)

For three years I pursued #1 hard work with my children at a level that would make the Marine Special Forces Survival training look like a day in the park, although we only did about 15 minutes a day, so it would be more like a 15 minute walk past the park for the Marines.  Once you let go of the ridiculously unscientific idea that intelligence is anything but work, the child has no limits.

#2 is a problem because we are right in the middle of a $50 deal for straight A's on the report card.  I just learned from Dweck that this is the second worst possible thing I could do as a parent.   I had to convey this to my son, and tell him frankly, "Good grades are the enemy of learning."  I'm adding this to "Speed is the enemy of math", which I've already been following.

Because we only got 15 minutes a day (at age 4 - for test prep), I naturally progressed to #3 use the time wisely.  The wisest way to use time is to ask "What should I do here?  What do others do?  What did they do in Euclid's time?  Am I doing the best job?  What's the standard?".  Don't read any education literature, because 97.63% of it is completely wrong.  Ask parents of kids who are way ahead of yours.

This is all really hard to stomach for a competitive parent, especially for a 2 time "Compettie" winner.  I'm wrong person to summarize this material since I'm still struggling with it myself.  Read Dweck's book.

How To Use Time Wisely

Wise for Math is easy.  In general, wise is challenging problems and thinking, logic, computer programming.   Not wise is multiplication tables, long division, and repetitive calculation of any kind outside of a problem.  Of course, by 3rd or 4th grade, it's a necessary evil to memorize arithmetic in order to succeed at higher levels of thinking, and Kumon is a good idea if your kids doesn't have number sense yet, or if you're desperate and your kid is behind in numerous areas of math and he woke up one day in the 4th through 6th grade with a C in math, or worse.

Wise for Reading is not so easy for me, but consists of great books that require thinking, judgement and imagination, a range of writing styles, and vocabulary that requires some thinking and exploring on it's own. Wise includes a stack of books and magazines of any kind at any level even baby board books just for fun, and staples that have learning content (Stick, Captain Underpants, James Patterson etc have ZERO learning content for a child that has mastered the technical aspects of reading, but we like them anyway).

Wise for Science is almost anything because it's all really great stuff for little kids and it's almost always a project with some background research - the definition of good teaching for a gifted child.. Get a big jug of vinegar and a box of baking soda, and then google Science Experiments for little kids.  I just saved you lots of money on kits.

How Not To Destroy Your Child's Future

Dweck's audience was primarily over achieving North Shore suburban parents and their over achieving gifted kids.   Seeing this, Dweck gave a special talk on "gifted".   Here's how it went, in my own paraphrasing.

The director of a private school out East came to me for help.   This school costs $50,000 per year and the children are the cream of the crop.   Given the substantial tuition, the teaching level and resources devoted to these students are over the top.  The director pointed out that none of the children have ever succeeded after college.  What are we doing wrong, he asked?

There was a look of death in the audience.  (That was me realizing I'm ruining my child.)

Dweck went on to explain and prove scientifically that if a child thinks he is gifted, and this dumbass idea can only come from the parents, he is destined for failure.  Yikes!  Here's how it works:
  • Step 1:  I'm gifted!  Yeah!  Everything comes easy to me.  I'm better.
  • Step 2:  At some point, the child is challenged with something and doesn't do well.   This will come with 100% certainty. 
  • Step 3:  If I'm really gifted, then this would have been easy, and I would have done well. Therefore I am not gifted.  I better avoid challenges for fear that people find out I am a fraud.
Meanwhile, all of the kids who know they are not gifted just plod along with hard work and eventually surpass the gifted kids.

Logically speaking, there is no proof at all that intelligence or giftedness is genetic in any way, and lots of counter proof that it is not.   I can't get parents to understand this logic, even though it is simple.  Maybe inability to think logically is genetic.  Regardless, there are plenty of kids that are "Ahead" and working at an accelerated pace (meaning they read for 20 minutes a day while the rest of the country plays wii) and will likely always be ahead.

I'm renaming "giftedness"  with the term "ahead".   More on this later.

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