This fall I met an award winning pre-school teacher from Hawaii named Jonathan Gillintine. He was just lovely and so patient while I peppered him with questions about early childhood development (I have a two year-old daughter). “If you only read one book it should be Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky,” he said. I have yet to finish Mind in the Making (review to come when I do!) but it is blowing my mind both as a parent as well as a secondary educator. Each of the seven chapters focuses on a particular “life skill” children need for success and includes research based tips for how to cultivate these traits. Here, for example, are Galinsky’s suggestions for promoting self-control:
Suggestion 1: Help infants and toddlers learn to bring themselves under control.
Suggestion 2: Weave these skills into everyday activities in fun and playful ways – no drills, “teaching,” or expensive games or toys necessary
Suggestion 3: Promote focus – encourage your children to have “lemonade stands” [a personal interest or passion to pursue]
Suggestion 4: Play games that require children to pay attention (like Simon-Says)
Suggestion 5: Read stories to children in ways that encourage them to listen
Suggestion 9: Promote congitive flexibility – have children play sorting games with changing rules
Suggestion 10: Encourage children to pretend and make up pretend stories
Suggestion 11: Give children puzzels
Suggestion 15: Promote inhibitory control – play games where children can’t go on autopilot
Suggestion 17: Make sure your child is well rested and has breaks
All of these suggestions are backed by extensive research and there are even technique recommendations for how to practice these ideas with young children. What stood out to me as I read How Children Succeed and Mind in the Making along side each other is how although both authors are looking to specifically teach the same skills (executive functions, “character,” soft-skills, etc.) the techniques are entirely different. Look at the list above: at no point does Galinsky advocate using a report card for character development.
In addition to character report cards, Tough writes about a program called OneGoal that works with underserved children in Chicago. The program aims to raise their ACT scores by an average of three points as well as teach a set of nocongnitive academic skills such as “study skills, work habits, time management, help-seeking behavior, and social/academic problem solving skills.” Sounds great! We know these traits are critical for success but the program is using the traditional classroom, teacher centered curriculum model. Where are the puzzels? Where is time to make up pretend stories? What is preventing these teenagers from going on autopilot in class? I deeply believe the same suggestions for cultivating self-control in pre-school children could easily transfer over to adolescents.
An entire chapter of Tough’s book is dedicated to looking at a particular successful chess program at a Brooklyn middle school. The founder of the program appears to have developed a reflection process around chess that is a very helpful means of acquiring focus and thinking skills. By carefully examining mistakes children can improve their performance.
What would it look like to take the suggestion list above an apply it to middle and high school students?