Finished my pre-course assignment for my upcoming class, I don’t really have any idea if this was what the professor wanted.. but I’m hoping it is. Regardless, I’m done, nay DONE with it.. it’s handed in and bleh. So there. All grow-ed up about the topic.
The two books are “How Children Learn” and “Drive”.
Reaction Paper: Magda Vince
April 13, 2015
I feel as though much of what these two authors, Pink and Tough, had to say were not actually on the same topic and neither implicitly discussed how their concepts applied to how children learn in the assigned chapters. Pink primarily discussed motivation and what drives us to succeed, improve, and do more in business. Where Tough discussed how environment, and life experiences can affect one’s health, well being, and ability to learn. With that in mind I can still see how one could make them relate, because in the end, how well one learns is greatly based on their own motivation and the cards that they have been dealt in life, so to speak.
The two women in Tough’s book, the teacher Elizabeth Dozier and the doctor Nadine Burke Harris, are both shining examples of ‘Type I’ personalities (Drive, p64). They are both women who are driven by their own personal goals to be altruistic and make the world a better place. And while they came from very different backgrounds and had a much different experience in their youth, they both learned to be Type I motivated individuals, an idea that is supported by Pink (Drive, p64).
I found it to be very interesting how so many, experienced, and even later applauded individuals were unable to turn Fenger high school in Chicago around. They had done it before, or went on to be very successful in makes changes in other schools (How Children Succeed, p21), they had funding support, and nothing changed. Some would look at that and see a lost cause, or perhaps even a cursed situation. Dozier’s approach, to install afterschool programs, trauma counseling, and mentoring programs (How Children Succeed, p25) as well as to attempt to involve and engage the community was really quite clever. I have seen examples in other situations, where if one invests in the community, and is able to get the community to invest in itself there is a much greater chance of change. Community gardens, or breathing life into a community with small businesses run and partially owned by locals, brings a sense of pride and ownership, a desire to make the place better. I believe that she is on the right track and the documentary ‘Chicagoland’ seems to agree, according to the Huffington Post article that I read. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/24/liz-dozier-chicagoland-cnn_n_5007924.html) They reported that Dozier has made great progress where all those before her have failed. The Fenger graduation rate has gone from 47% to 73%, while still below the national average, it is significant progress and quite impressive. Ultimately, I do not find her success to be that surprising given the approach that she took.
I had not heard of the theory, presented by Tough in How Children Succeed, that our physical well being can be so strongly affected by experiences, especially traumas from our youth. I found the idea that having a higher ACE score can have profound effects on adult health even when negative behaviors such as drinking, drugs, or overeating are not present (How Children Succeed, p31) to be fascinating and eye opening. The numbers were astounding to me, that someone with an ACE score of 4 is far more likely to smoke, drink, and be promiscuous at a young age. An ACE score of 5 is much more likely to be a drug addict, and a score of 6 greatly increases the chances of suicide (How children Succeed, p 30). I would genuinely like to look into this further, take the ACE, and find my own score as well as that of some colleagues to get a better understanding of the whole process. I intend to look into this more in my free time because it is a very interesting concept and I can see far reaching implications, not only personally, but in how I interact with others and perhaps even how I approach new students.
Conversely, much of what Pink had to say in Drive, are concepts I have personally believed to be true. I have not actually seen any research, read his books, or heard any of his talks on the matter before so it was extremely validating to read this book. For many years I have refused to give out rewards, goodies, prizes or any ‘carrots’ with any kind of predictability. With the exception of verbal praise, of course, which I tend to be rather lavish with. I have always feared, and thusly avoided, that if you ‘pay’ students with points (or whatever your system is) consistently for any positive action that you are setting yourself up for disaster. Ultimately, the payment, or prize will become expected and therefore is no longer an “Oh goodie” reaction but a “excuse me where is my xyz, and if I don’t get it I’m doing nothing.” Which is beautifully illustrated time and time again in Drive, for example when they rewarded the children for drawing and the children who expected the reward lost interest in an activity that had been such a treat before the ‘payment’ (Drive, p35). I frequently reward students to engage interest, but I try to mix up how and when. I have been asked, “Why did he get a point and I did not?” and I explain that the reward is being engaged and participating or learning, not the ‘prize’. You should answer the question because you want to take part, not for the ‘prize’ you may or may not get one, but you will always have the satisfaction of a job well done. I have had great results with this, and my students are generally very active and happy in class. They are usually engaged, and always volunteer to join in, speak up and even help out in class, with no expectation of any rewards.
I believe it is an important life lesson, that can have far reaching effects, but to frank I had no idea how far reaching. In my own experience, I can attest to the ineffectiveness of the carrot and stick in the workplace, yet it is the first thing that we all seem to go to when we are discussing how to motivate people. Some could say that mentalities have changed a lot on this subject, but have they really? Pink’s example of Encarta vs Wikipedia is a perfect example of this, no sane sober economist would have predicted the result of that battle ten years ago(Drive, p19). But forget economists, forget the encyclopedias, couch it in different terms to present it to most people today, and I think the majority of people would fall on the side of paid for work, carrot stick ,Type X behavior even though it has been proven to not be effective. To use Pink’s metaphor, our operating systems are slow to upgrade, even though motivation 2.0 is no longer particularly effective in motivating people, most of us have not gotten the memo, in our conscious minds, yet. Even myself, when I think about how to modify behavior, I may have intrinsically somehow known that the carrot is not effective when used as payment. Yet to modify negative behavior the first thought I have is ‘stick’, a fine or something to make said behavior an unpleasant prospect. For example, I have been considering running a private class from my home, but I would not appreciate the parents being late to pick up their children. When brainstorming solutions I immediately thought, I will just have them pay a fine if they are late that way I will be compensated at least a little. Then I read the example in the book that proved this is a terrible idea, where the fines actually brought about an increase in the negative behavior the parents showing up later and more often late because they felt it was now ok as they were compensating someone (Drive, p46).
A lot of what was presented in Pink’s book is about the workplace and adults, but I see many applications for children, youth and school. For example, the sawyer effect, which as adults we see in children all the time. I certainly remember a time when I longed to be able to use the lawn mower to cut the grass, or was dying to be allowed to help vacuum the floor. But the moment I grew up, and HAD to do these tasks, I loathed them. I believe we all know that when a task is voluntary it can be and often is fun, but when it become mandatory it is work and therefore is undesirable (Drive, p34).
I was also very intrigued by Pink’s concept of goals, and how they can be beneficial and detrimental. He said that goals that people set for themselves are healthy and lead to mastery, whereas goals set by others can not only lead to unproductively, but can even be dangerous and lead to unethical behavior (Drive, p44-45). Negatives such as, risk taking, theft, cheating and dissatisfaction are all serious problems to be considered. He even sites a survey where they asked MBA students about regular cheating and 56% admitted to it (Drive, p109). Cheating is a big problem, and I teach my students that the one they are really cheating is themselves, but it’s difficult when society, schools and parents put so much pressure on students, and athletes to perform and excel. The idea that setting your own goals is far more effective is supported by an interesting book that I highly recommend if you have time, Influence Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini. Cialdini talk about POWs in Korea, and how they used commitment and consistency pressures to gain compliance from their captives(Influence, p61). You might think, hang on how do communist POW camps relate to goals and even more alarmingly to children? But actually the core concept behind what they did is really interesting and works amazingly well on all people. Once someone has made a commitment to something they are intrinsically driven to follow through, and to be consistent. Also giving people choices, once they have made a choice even if both are less than desirably, they have a much stronger commitment to it than if you had just demanded they do what you ask. This ties in perfectly with setting your own goals, you will be far more invested in them if you have been involved, or even just feel as though you have been involved, in the creation of the goals.
Something I had not considered before were the different kind of goals, such as performance goals versus learning goals. I must get an A on this assignment versus I will be able to use this information effectively in my work. It is simple yet profound, that performance goals may lead to results but they rarely if ever lead to mastery. Whereas a learning goal, like I am able to speak French may be difficult but has a much higher chance of leading to mastery (Drive, p97).
I look forward to exploring how I can use what have I learned from this assignment in my own life, to improve myself as a teacher and to improve the educational experience of my students.