Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Notes from Visit to UPENN

UPENN: Philadelphia
Grit Workshop: Oct. 27th, 2013
Take Away Point: Early adolescence provides a powerful opportunity for individuals to grow their social, achievement, and emotional skills.

Recommended Reading: Can Perseverance be Taught? by Angela Duckworth

This past weekend I met with a small group of educational leaders and researchers at UPENN in Philadelphia. It was the first of eight meetings. I am happy to report that the group was friendly, caring, and focused on improving education for our youth. And our leader, researcher Angela Duckworth is a kind, humble, and a thoughtful guide as we work through important educational approaches, curriculum, and policy questions. Here are a few highlights of what I learned over the weekend:

1) Flood the Transitions: Our group's conversation highlighted new brain research that keys on the unique opportunity that is early adolescence. While brain researchers have long known that the ages 0-3 are crucial in brain and disposition development, it seems that early adolescence provides a second major window of opportunity for development. In other words, it may be true that much of our trust in others, self-regulation ability, impulse control, and abilities to handle stress are determined in those first three years of life, but researchers are finding that adolescence is also a time when major growth can take place with these skills. That is why have a school culture and school expectations that encourage this growth are so important in middle and early high school. My suggestion is for us to Flood the Transitions. By that I mean we should really highlight 6th and 9th grade as crucial times in students' lives. Perhaps for the first few weeks of school, all adults and older students should rally around these age groups to help set up positive thinking habits, (i.e. growth mindset), goal setting, quality work habits (turning off cell phone during home work), and help build that self control. Core curriculum could be tailored to support the effort, (i.e. book selections) staff could be temporarily moved to increase focus, and direct instruction could take place in freshman academies and teacher advisory programs in addition to the invaluable micro-moments of authentic learning.  

2) Scaffolding Versus Coddling: One of the themes that has come up frequently for me over the past few years is the concern over enabling students and creating an entitled generation of youth. The issue came up again this weekend at UPENN. It seems that while "no excuse" charter schools have proven to be very effective in improving test scores and getting their students to college...they have not proved effective in keeping students in college. Their concern, is the same concern I have heard while sitting at the teacher's lunch table at Enosburg Falls High School, or around the dinner table during the holidays with my family. That is, are we raising a generation of coddled students? Although well intentioned, are hard-working teachers and parents doing TOO much for students and making them dependent in the process? Its a tricky balance, but an important one to consider as a staff and as a community.

Ms. Duckworth in her discussion with KIPP founder Dave Levin offered that the answer to those questions regarding enabling his students might be, "No." It seems that the gap their students are not bridging is learning to ask for support while away from KIPP and transfer their skills to new environments and new problems. In other words, achieving students of all demographics need ongoing support, just some know how to seek it, and others do not. It seems that for some reason, his students are not developing the skill set needed to seek out the support they need in new environments for new challenges.

*You know Rocky has grit! 

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