Saturday, November 30, 2013

UPENN Grit Workshop Visit #2 Laurence Steinberg

UPENN: Philadelphia
November 24th, 2013
Take Away Point: Building perseverance and grit for students requires building self-control. Building self-control takes practice and strategies and is not simply a matter of willpower. How can we practice? What are the strategies?

Last weekend I returned to UPENN to participate in the Grit Workshops hosted by Angela Ducksworth. The November workshop participants welcomed Dr. Laurence Steinberg from Temple University. Laurence Steinberg is a highly respected professor of psychology at Temple University. He is the author of more than 250 articles on growth and development during the teenage years, and the author or editor of 13 books. For all intents in purposes, Dr. Steinberg is one of the foremost researchers on adolescent development in the world. For some excellent clips of Dr. Steinberg click here to view his big-think series:

Dr. Steinberg spent about an hour explaining his upcoming book and latest research. We then spent a second hour in a question and answer session. Because his upcoming book is not published yet, I won't give away too many details, but I will say that I found his lecture very helpful. His major themes are the growing length of adolescence for our youth, more explanation of the adolescent brain which goes beyond just an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex, and the opportunity that increased brain plasticity provides during adolescence. He also provided the participants a sneak-preview at one of his chapters that explores how we might change the status quo in our high schools. Dr. Steinberg is increasingly interested in building self-control in adolescence as a primary intervention. Amongst other strategies he is exploring mind-body connections such as deliberate practice with a physical activity, controlled risk taking opportunities for students, mindfulness, and more. I am looking forward to the book's release and recommend looking through his big think videos

Quote: “The most important scientific discovery about self control is that it can be taught.”
-Walter Mischel (Original Researcher of the Marshmallow Test).

The second half of the session was led by Angela Duckworth. She spent an hour or so discussing her latest work with self-control. Angela began the conversation by saying she understands that the idea of self-control being important is an obvious one. What she emphasized as different about her research is just HOW important self-control is in determining success. She also expressed her generalized concern that young people were not being challenged enough, that expectations were too low, and that more young people could show grit if given the chance to understand confusion, boredom and frustration are important aspects of learning. Then she highlighted the importance of teaching strategies to students over simply advising them to avoid self defeating behaviors. She used the "Just Say No" campaign as an example of why simply telling adolescents what to do is not an effective method. Instead she recommended teaching students strategies to utilize when they are faced with situations of needed self-control. A few of the strategies she recommended were:


1) Pre-Commit: Think of Odysseus and his strategies to face the temptation of the Sirens. He planned ahead to modify his situation by tying himself to the mast, plugging his ears, and covering his eyes. For students this could mean making the decision to sit at the front of the class everyday, before ever walking into class. It could mean a plan to commit to healthy peers or productive school groups before transitioning from middle school to high school. She also cautioned that forcing students to modify their situation is unlikely to prove useful. Instead, the students must have the strategy explained and then make the choice to pre-commit on their own.

2) Situation Selection: Much as it sounds, this intervention suggests that we should not put ourselves in tempting situations. For example, alcoholics shouldn't go to bars, students shouldn't sit in front of the TV to do their homework. It might require physically moving your cell phone out of sight, or rearranging your workspace to be more conducive to accomplishment. It is a simply intervention, but perhaps often overlooked because of its simplicity.

Angela Explains Some Related Strategies on The Today Show:

COGNITIVE STRATEGIES (Require self-control in the moment)

3) Selective Attention: Kids in the marshmallow test provide a perfect example of selective attention. When faced with the tempting marshmallow, some students cover their eyes, or turn around completely. These are examples of in the moment selective attention strategies. In the classroom it means where students look matters. Which makes a strong case for student/teacher techniques such as SLANT (Sit up, Lean forward, Ask Questions, Nod your Head, Track the Speaker with your Eyes).

Cookie Monster Learns The Look Away Strategy:

4) Cognitive Reappraisal: This strategy refers to thinking of the moment in the third person. "What is happening for me in this moment?" This is a difficult strategy to invoke, and thus it is 4th on the list.

5) Response Modulation: This is the strategy we most often teach. In the moment we want to turn on the TV, turn in an unfinished paper, punch back, eat another piece of cake, lash out, or any of the things that cause us to make decisions that provide quick satisfaction but long-term harm, we have long suggested strategies such as, take a deep breath, just calm down, control yourself. This is good advice in calming down one's fight or flight or impulsive responses to conflict or temptation, but it often requires too much willpower in moments when willpower is scarce. Thus, the most often taught practices should really only serve as a last resort.

Professor Duckworth said that willpower isn't as much about strength as it is about being clever. Using your own versions of the above strategies to bolster your willpower can improve your self-control habits, and those improved habits will increase your chances for success in whatever you might wish to accomplish. She concluded with the following quote:

“Our virtues are habits as much as or vices…our nervous systems have grown to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or a coat, once creased or folder, tends to fall forever afterward into the same identical folds."
William James 1899

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Photo Slideshow from KIPP High School Visit NYC

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KIPP Prep Academy High School: Bronx
Grades 9-12
One Sentence Take Away: In a modern, effective, responsive high school, strong investment in counselors and deans is money well spent.

KIPP Prep Academy High School is KIPP’s was started five years ago as KIPP’s first high school. It was created in response to requests from KIPP middle school parents who wished their students could continue within the KIPP experience through high school. 2013 marks the first year the High School is in its new location in its brand new  building in the Bronx. The building is beautiful! You can read more about the history of getting this state of the art high school built by clicking this link to robin hood foundation. Many of the lessons I learned while visiting this high school are within the photo slideshow, but I would add that the KIPP high school has two things I was very interested in. 

1) The administrative structure was very supportive of students and teachers. Aside from the principal, there is one vice principal that concentrates on instructional leadership and another that leads the dean team. Each grade has two deans! Plus each grade has two guidance counselors! That's ratio of about 100 students per counselor. In addition to these counselors there are two more college counselors and a crisis counselor that works with students with more extreme problems. What a dream!

2) The KIPP Academy High School has multiple different levels of diplomas that it awards. Based on Regent scores, graduates earn different variations of diplomas. This seems like it could create a lot of freedom for student choice as well as more reflective diplomas based on the given student's interest and effort. 

Notes from KIPP Middle School Visit

KIPP Academy: Bronx
Grades 5-8
One Sentence Take Away: “Do YOU remain calm even when criticized or bothered?”

Set amongst rows of apartment high rises in the Bronx, KIPP Academy is the original New York City KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school. There are now 10 KIPP schools in NYC and 141 nationwide. This middle school currently serves about 270 students in grades 5-8. In educational circles, KIPP is frequently admired, discussed, debated and sometimes criticized as a model for education. Overall, co-founders David Levin and Mike Feinberg, and the dedicated staff have been extremely successful in helping underprivileged youth in urban poverty achieve academic success at a impressive rate. KIPP is also one of the most well known models for character education. Their system of schools emphasize character enough to have created the KIPP character report card. Here is a short video from 2011 explaining a little bit about KIPP in general:

My visit to KIPP reminded me of my time at Polaris in West Chicago. Both of these charter middle schools have extremely high expectations for their students and teachers. Both schools work with populations from generational poverty in urban settings. In each of the schools I saw high levels of instruction from energetic teachers. And, in my opinion, both schools have a very strong adult administrative presence. Students are required to be silent in the hallway, walk in lines in the hallway, wear uniforms (or dress clothes), and follow many other fairly strict rules, enforced diligently. In both schools, teachers are in the hallway to walk their students to the next class, and students are expected to wait silently until their next teacher welcomes them into the room. Indirectly, compliance is of very high value. Whether or not that is a worthwhile goal for students can be debated, but there is no denying the positive academic testing track record these schools have, and the corresponding success of getting their students to college. Perhaps with so many students lacking structure outside of school, a highly structured environment is necessary in order to develop effective work habits inside of school.

In any event, the adults were very welcoming, the students were conscientious, and I enjoyed my time there. While I was there, I saw self-control emphasized by a number of administrators and teachers. In one class I visited, test taking strategies were explained in great detail. The teacher strongly encouraged all students to set a minimum of a 5% growth increase for themselves, with an excused homework as a reward for achieving that minimum growth level and 3 excused homework assignments for anyone in the 90th percentile. KIPP's hallmark phrases, "BE NICE. WORK HARD." & "ALL OF US WILL ACHIEVE" were painted in rooms throughout the school. Additional phrases on the walls included, "Do YOU get to work right away?" & "Do YOU show thanks and appreciation?"

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cookie Monster Weighs in on Self-Control

Cookie Monster is famous for devouring cookies as soon as he sees them. He has not been much of a role model for self control. The folks at Sesame Street must have recognized the opportunity that the Cookie Monster has to change this lesson. In this video he sings about self-regulation and taking a deep breath as a part of a larger executive functioning curriculum push from Sesame Street this season.

On their Youtube channel they wrote:

"'Sesame Street' launches its 44th season on September 16th, 2013 with a new self-regulation and executive function curriculum. Cookie Monster, the poster-child for someone needing to master self-regulation skills, attempts to explain these concepts while devising personal strategies on waiting to eat a cookie."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Notes From School of the Future Brooklyn Visit

School of the Future Brooklyn

One Sentence Take-Away: Giving students the opportunity to reflect upon their progress with their teacher in a "coaching" setting on a regular basis will improve engagement and hence student learning.  

View out of the school window in East NY/Brownsville-Brooklyn  
My second school visit in New York City was in some ways the opposite of my first visit. Today, I visited one of New York's newest public schools. This Brooklyn location of School of the Future is based on the more established Manhattan School of the Future. 100% of the 75 sixth graders in this school qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch. The school will be adding new sixth grade students each of the next two years to become a 6-8 middle school. The goal is to keep class sizes at 25 and under.
They are working on the fourth floor of a very old school building that lacks some of the resources other schools take for granted. The school is located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York. It is filled with housing projects and neighbors Brownsville, a neighborhood notorious for crime and high murder rates. The schools face a great deal of challenges. For example, a local high school, Thomas Jefferson High School was close in 2007 after having a 29% graduation rate and 2% of their students entering at grade level reading and math. Despite these historic challenges, the caring staff and friendly students welcomed me just the same.

 Student list of things they want to improve in their community.
I enjoyed my time meeting with these students and talking perseverance strategies with new principal, Sarah Kaufmann. Sarah is also a member of the grit discussion group being held at UPENN. She is dedicated to working with this challenging population, in a challenging setting. One of the pillars of their school is building resilience. The new school takes the time to help students think through their impulsive reactions and practice new strategies for self-control on a regular basis. I'm grateful to have had a chance to visit and look forward to hearing about their progress in the coming years.

**This is a five minute video of principal Sarah Kaufmann from when she was working as an ELA teacher at the Manhattan School of the Future location.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Notes from Riverdale School Visit: NYC

Riverdale Country School, Bronx NYC
November 12th, 2013
One Sentence Take Away: A character based school culture is oftentimes less about direct instruction and more about teachable moments and adult priorities that are emphasized in varied approaches over time. 

Riverdale is an independent (private) school in an affluent New York community. I visited the middle and upper schools. As a visitor, I was welcomed warmly by everyone I met. Both students and adults were friendly, thoughtful, and curious about my work. Classes were filled with focused, academically curious students. I was really impressed with some of the 7th graders' abilities to discuss some complex taxation concepts in early America and their annotate complex readings. I spent the day visiting three different classrooms (grades 7, 8, 11), speaking with three different deans, meeting with the director of learning, the school counselor, and attending a school-wide assembly that honored UNICEF child protection agent, Pernille Ironside. I had heard about Riverdale because it is featured in Paul Tough's book, How Children Succeed. Around six years ago, leaders from Riverdale collaborated with David Levin of KIPP (a graduate of Riverdale!), Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman to determine which character skills to champion in the their respective schools. The picture of their red poster illustrates those characteristics.

I had a great day and learned a lot from the folks at Riverdale, including the incredible opportunity to hear Pernille Ironside speak. She is currently heading UNICEF's gaza strip office and was heading to the Philapines today to help with the typhoon recovery efforts. A couple areas of learning for me included:

Report Cards: Riverdale has a concentrated effort to provide a substantial narrative report card to each student during 1st and 3rd quarters. Teachers are encouraged to keep notes on each student so that writing a personalized and meaningful progress report will be possible. After the reports have gone home, middle schoolers spent time during their advisory time (meets as a whole school for three 20 minute sessions per week in addition to home-room times each day) going through their report cards and highlighted strengths and areas of opportunity for growth. The opportunities for growth are then linked to one of the character strengths the school emphasizes. Once the area of growth is articulated, students are to write a detailed and measurable goal for the upcoming quarter. Report cards are released on a staggered schedule to give teachers more time for thoughtful remarks, and the deans (much like a guidance counselor) reviews the report cards and remarks before they are shared with the student and family.

Avoid Being Too Heavy Handed: Almost to the person, the educators I spoke with at Riverdale talked about how much they valued the momentum that is building in their community around character education. But they also spoke about the importance of a varied, and in many cases, subtle approach to conveying the message to students. They reported, and I agree, that as students get older their eye rolling for direct lessons on how to be gets too frequent for that kind of lesson to be consistently effective. They spoke about direct instruction having more success at the early middle level while action projects and micro-moments proving to be more valuable at the upper school. In either case, building a culture of character takes time, and Riverdale seems to be well on their way.

Riverdale middle schoolers chose someone famous or in their life that exemplified one the characteristics. Here you can see see a painting of Carmelo Anthony and a write up explaining why "Melo" exemplifies grit.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Check out what is on the walls at BURR and BURTON ACADEMY

Picture Taken By: Fellow, 2013 Rowland Fellow, Colin McKaig. Colin is an English Teacher at Black River High School. Colin's work this year is on how we can harness the power of cell phones and other one to one digital devices in the classroom.