After running across the new book NurtureShock on many different sites including Chip Wood's blog Yardsticks I knew I had to read it. I'm a little more than half-way through, but I'm loving it. To be honest I feel like I'm reading a book about my school, or at least written by my school. It's not necessarily new information, but it is great to see the brain research behind what we are already putting into action.
The first chapter is about the power of praise, and repeats what we've learned from Mindset by Carol Dweck. Dweck found that vague praise like "good job" or "you're so smart" actually has an inverse effect on students causing them not to try. Instead, she argues praise should be specific. We should be praising children's work habits, noticing exactly what they worked hard on and details we notice in their work. Last year I participated in a teachers-as-readers group with this book with our incredibly talented gifted and talented teacher.
NurtureShock looks into detail about Dweck's study on praise. Some of the interesting points that struck me were:
1) By 12 children think that getting praised by a teacher means you have maxed out your ability, while getting constructive criticism means you have the ability to do better. By then students have noticed that teachers frequently praise those students they think tried their best but couldn't do it, and will push other students to go farther.
2) Children who get frequent, generic praise are more likely to work harder on maintaining their image through tearing others down.
3)Children with frequent praise get the message that they have an innate ability. Once life gets harder for them they start to believe their previous praise was all a lie and that they've really just "been dumb all along". Their frequent, generic praise as children never gave them a strategy for handling failure.
4) Brain research shows that areas of the brain can actually switch on if there is a lack of immediate reward to remind the brain to keep working, a reward will be coming. Delayed gratification can actually be conditioned into the brain in order to encourage us to gain perseverance.
This is a shift in thinking I feel like my school has been making for awhile. Between Responsive Classroom's training on praise and books like The Power of Our Words by Paula Dunton (we're reading it as a school this year) we're really examining the language we use with our students. We've also read Mindset. We even have a strategy lab where we take our classes to play brain games (like games you can get at the ThinkFun company) where we talk about how to use strategies, praise children for their strategic thinking, and encourage children to transfer their strategic thinking from the strategy lab to the world around them. And of course we're also encouraging this type of thinking with Thinkblocks from ThinkWorks. I knew what we were doing was great, but knowing that we are actually conditioning their brains to accept delayed gratification is really pretty incredible.
The second chapter in the book is about sleep, how our children are missing an hour of sleep compared to children in the past, and all of the problems the lack of sleep is contributing to. More on this later...