Helping your child become an adaptive thinker.

click “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” The author L.P. Hartley opens his most well-known novel* with this haunting sentence. He is reflecting upon the changes in society that had occurred between the early 1900s, in which his story is set, and the 1950s, the decade in which he was writing the novel.

here These changes are accelerating. Fifty years from today society will be almost unrecognizable, in ways that are impossible to predict.

This poses a problem for today’s parents and teachers. Since the advent of mass education during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, the world’s children (those fortunate enough to attend school, anyway) have been educated for the society and workplaces of the day. Children have been taught the cognitive and vocational skills sufficient to survive, and hopefully to thrive, in the world in which they were growing up.

coumadin standing orders But we are now falling behind. The accelerating pace of change has made traditional education wholly inadequate for tomorrow’s world. Not only will society change but, at a more profound level, the ways in which we are required to think will change too. Not only that, but our children and our children’s children will not be the only thinking species on our planet. The other species is what we now tentatively refer to as Artificial Intelligence, and we so far have no idea what form these machines, or implants, or self-reproducing organisms will evolve into. We are indeed waving our children off into a Brave New World**.

Learning facts and formulae, which is what happens in the majority of the world’s schools, will not prepare our children for the future. Our children will need to be ‘adaptive thinkers’ because they will be required to adapt to a changing situation that is beyond our current comprehension. Teachers and parents can help children to become adaptive in their thinking by re-focusing the way in which we teach and nurture children in the classroom and the home.

Here are just a few examples of ways in which we adults can help our children prepare for their future lives; I have written about some of these in previous posts:

  • Teach children to think about things at a conceptual level. The national curriculum of your home country may not require this, but this does not prevent teachers and parents from taking children of all ages from going beyond the basic curricular requirements. For example, instead of teaching “the life cycle of the frog” ask children to investigate the similarities and differences between the life cycles of various life forms. All children a capable of doing this.
  • Teach children to think at different levels of challenge. Refer them to Bloom’s taxonomy and require them to move between the different levels of thinking by posing different levels of questions and instructions. All children are capable of doing this. Ask them to develop their own questions at the different levels. All children can do this too.
  • Ask your children open-ended questions. The teacher and the parent do not have all the ‘correct’ answers, so please let us not pretend that we do. The extraordinary physicist Richard Feynman*** credited his father’s skills as a questioner for his own early intellectual growth. During walks in the woods, for example, his father would not ask the young Richard to ‘name that bird’ but instead he would ask him ‘to observe that bird’s habits’. Naming the bird would have restricted Richard’s thinking. All children are capable of thinking more deeply than reciting basic facts.
  • Give your children problem-solving activities. These engage and excite children to stretch their thinking and imagination. Any number of books and online resources exist to help you. I’ll leave you to find them. All children are capable of solving seemingly intractable problems, but they need to practice logic and divergent thinking skills. When they have solved the problem, ask them to solve it in a different way. All children are capable of doing this, even if we are not!
  • Use metaphor and analogy when speaking with your children and ask them to do the same. Require them to make connections between seemingly unconnected phenomena. Make it fun: ‘In what ways is your best friend like an ice-cream sundae?’ It helps children think at a deeply conceptual level. All children thrive on metaphor.
  • Ask ‘what-if’ questions. Here are three examples: ‘In what ways would America be a different country if President Kennedy had not been assassinated?’; ‘What would happen if the moon were to leave the earth’s orbit?’; ‘How could we cook tonight’s dinner if we had no electricity, gas, or fire?’ Children are capable of hugely imaginative thinking if we allow them to attempt questions such as these.
  • Ask them to interpret today’s main news story from the point of view of a person from another country or culture. Children have high levels of emotional intelligence and empathy, but we need to challenge them in these ways of thinking too.

The list of ways to extend your child’s thinking goes on – in the home or in the classroom. You don’t have to know the answers when you give your child a challenge. If you only ask questions to which you have a ready answer, then you are limiting your child’s thinking to the knowledge that you yourself have acquired through your own education and life experiences. That will not be enough.

It is our role as parents and teachers to extend our children’s horizons beyond anything we have known and experienced ourselves, because their lives and experiences will be very different from our own. Please help them develop the ‘big picture’ thinking skills that they will need in order to adapt. After all, it’s their future – not ours.

Thank you

Next time: The child’s world and the child’s classroom

*The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, 1953.

**Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1932. One man’s glimpse into the future. Aldous Huxley and L.P. Hartley were friends.

***Start by reading, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman? by Richard Feynman, 1985. Feynman writes with the lightest of touches about the limitless possibilities of the human mind. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 – and was also an expert safe-cracker and player of bongo drums!

The importance of teaching your child resilience.

“Who is your blog for?” is a question I’ve been asked: “Parents or teachers?” It’s a good question and the answer is that it is intended for both parents and teachers! The reason is very simple. It’s the same child who moves between home and the school, and the closer the understanding between parents and teachers the better educated the child will be. A vital aspect of the relationship between parents and teachers is that they have a common understanding about how children thrive and also that they share a common ‘language’ that enables them to speak together about the child’s learning.

The current series of posts describes those desirable educational impacts that enable children to be successful whatever life may bring. The subject of today’s blog is resilience, which means the ability to start again following a set-back. Resilience is a key impact that teachers and parents can work together to nurture in their children.

In order to foster resilience, it’s important to help children develop a positive attitude on life – and to have one ourselves! Carol Dweck describes how to develop a positive outlook in her excellent book Mindset*, which I have mentioned in a previous post.  She uses the term ‘growth mindset’ to describe the determination that some people have to take control over their own lives. By contrast, people with a ‘fixed mindset’ are those who blame their failures on outside causes over which they have no control, such as unreasonable demands being placed upon them or even simple bad luck. When people choose to blame external causes for their own misfortunes, they lose the power to re-construct their personal futures.

Is it possible to teach children how to develop a growth mindset? It most certainly is, and here are two ways to achieve it:

First, parents and teachers must allow children to make mistakes. In the traditional classroom children were often frightened to make a mistake because they feared being punished or ridiculed for their foolishness. This is no longer acceptable. Children should be encouraged to accept challenges in life, in which case they will certainly make some mistakes. The adult’s role is gently to acknowledge those mistakes and to support the child as she learns from them. Mistakes are not problems; they are opportunities to learn more. Conversely, teachers and parents should not be embarrassed when they make a mistake in front of their children; this situation is an opportunity for the adult to model how to accept one’s own mistakes and move forward from them. The teacher or parent who refuses to acknowledge his own mistakes will reduce the capacity of the child to learn and grow.

Secondly, teachers and parents should praise children for their efforts and not for their intelligence or talents. If we wish our children to succeed they need to understand that success in any aspect of life – intellectual, career, social, sporting – depends upon hard work. If the child works hard then praise her for it. On the other hand, if you praise your child with words such as “you’re so smart” or “you’re the best in the class” she will understand from this that her success is based upon on her own natural ‘ability’. She will therefore come to believe that success comes easily and that she doesn’t have to work for it. When she is eventually faced with situations in which others achieve more highly than her she will believe this is because she doesn’t have sufficient intelligence or natural talent to succeed at the highest level. In this case the adult has actually impeded the child’s learning by giving the wrong kind of praise. Remember – when you praise a child for her effort rather than for her ability you allow her room for further growth.

To summarize, we should help children develop resilience by helping them see that mistakes are an opportunity for learning and that hard work eventually brings success. These are two of the most useful lessons for life that we can give our children.

I suppose that in a ‘serious’ blog such as this I shouldn’t conclude by quoting from a Hollywood film**! However, I can’t resist passing on a verse from the song “Pick Yourself Up” that Ginger Rogers sings to Fred Astaire after he has tumbled to the floor during a dancing lesson in the film “Swing Time”. These words are my favorite reminder of the power of resilience:

Will you remember the famous men,

Who had to fall to rise again?

So take a deep breath,

Dust yourself off,

Start all over again.

 I recommend learning the words and the tune of this bouncy little song and singing them with your child!

 Thank you.

Next time: Helping your child become an adaptive thinker.

*Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

**Swing Time. Directed by George Stevens (1936). Song lyrics by Dorothy Fields.