Teaching students skills, rather than merely facts

On Saturday, October 12, 2013, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, and his wife MacKensie Bezos, helped to launch the Center for Innovation at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. The Museum’s website introduces the Center in this way:

What does innovation look like? Who innovates, where does it happen, and how do great ideas evolve? To find out more, tackle a challenge in the Idea Lab, discover a Seattle-made invention in the Patent Tree, and check out cutting-edge concepts in What’s Next. Through lectures, special programs and changing displays, Seattle innovators will share their latest projects and invite you to take a look at the future as it unfolds. – See more at: http://www.mohai.org/exhibits/center-for-innovation#sthash.Nya7R3g3.dpuf

As an educational psychologist, I cannot help but admire this effort that models the very best practices in teaching and learning. For years now, academic research has been urging the education system to incorporate strategies that we know improve student learning. For too long, education has relied on a “top-down” approach, where experts fill the empty minds of students through lecture, and then ask those students to regurgitate those facts back on exams.

What educational researchers have found is that this model is fundamentally flawed in a number of ways. First, students do not enter the school situation with a blank slate. Rather, by the time teachers see their students, they have already developed conceptions of the world, pragmatic schemas for interacting with new information. A teacher’s job is not to spew facts, but to challenge students to question their constructed ideas, and to create progressively more complicated strategies for taking new information and integrating it with their prior knowledge.

Second, the secret to giving students the tools they need to succeed and remember the information we want them to have over the long term is to focus our energies not just on facts, but on skills. What our students need in the real world is not to become repositories of information, or to be good test takers. Students need great teachers to strengthen them into thinkers who can brainstorm, solve problems, and collaborate with others. Those are the skills that matter in real life. The Bezos Center for Innovation is providing a platform for visitors to interact with exhibits in ways that could inspire the highest forms of cognitive processing; namely, creativity and synthesis.

The days of stale lectures and memorization, when they finally disappear from the training programs our educators must complete to become teachers, will usher in a welcome phase of instruction that centers on helping our students be nimble of mind, and able to move our species forward with zest. The Bezos Center is a big step in that direction.

Positive parenting tips: Be the parent you want your children to be

positive parenting tips

One of my goals for this site is to read and review some of the most recent academic literature on positive parenting tips, and then summarize it for a more general audience. To that end, I am excited to tell you about an article that was published in Developmental Psychology journal in January 2015 called “The interpersonal antecedents of supportive parenting: A prospective, longitudinal study from infancy to adulthood.”*

Positive parenting tips
Positive parenting tip #1 – Treat your child with warmth and empathy

The authors of this study followed a cohort of children from the time they were three months old into their adulthood, when they themselves became parents. What they found was strong evidence for a connection between our own parenting and how we were parented ourselves. The authors were interested in trying to figure out how what they call “intergenerational transmission of parenting practices” actually worked. How is it that most of us treat our children the same way we were treated when we were young? Continue reading “Positive parenting tips: Be the parent you want your children to be”

Being kind to your children: It’s not coddling!

Every few days, I go on Google and search for articles that attempt to offer positive parenting tips to other parents. I generally feel that the first rule of positive parenting is being kind to your children. Treat them like human beings lol (because they are). Every time I do, I am surprised by the number of people who interpret listening to their children, and speaking to  them in an understanding fashion as “coddling.”

An example

On one site, psychcentral.com, the author attempts to answer the question of how to deal with a child that doesn’t listen. The author’s advice includes being honest, reliable, accurate, listening to your child’s needs, and being informative. Much of the advice corresponds to what I’ve written in my articles about rewards and punishment. In general, my own philosophy, which is backed up by voluminous amounts of psychological research, is that children learn the skills they need to navigate the adult world much better when the relationships they have with their parents are respectful, consistent, and loving. Being kind to your children makes them kind people, and kind people are more likely to have positive friendships. And yet, one of the representative comments from her readers says,

“That’s a bunch of BS on the second to the last one WE ARE THE PARENTS they will do what we say, they have to respect us we are placed over them… Not the other way around!!!” Continue reading “Being kind to your children: It’s not coddling!”

Using rewards: Effective parenting toolbox

Using rewards leads to great things

Now that we’ve talked about punishment, let’s talk about the more positive side of parental discipline – using rewards. When we reinforce our children, we get the delightful opportunity to speak nicely to them about how proud we are of their behavior, and sometimes to give them an unexpected gift or surprise. If you are a person who finds it hard to punish, you are most likely in love with rewards. You get to be the good guy, the buddy, the supporter and biggest fan of your child. And you can often see the joy in your child’s eyes when they hear your praise and feel your hugs and kisses. What a great reward we give ourselves when we reward our children for positive behavior! I call this the joy of reinforcements.

Some of you, however, may be the opposite kind of person. You may feel more comfortable with the punishing, while the rewarding may seem more unnatural. If I had to guess, you were raised in a very punitive household, and the lesson you learned was “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Remember that I am not anti-punishment (although I am anti-rod!). However, all of the research on behaviorism suggests that punishment alone is not enough to mold a full human being.

Humans have many needs, one of which is the need for esteem. If your daughter does not hear positive words from you, she will seek positive regard from others the rest of her life. If your son never hears that you are proud of him, he will seek approval from others for the rest of his life. I wish to reiterate what we have discussed previously – just because your parents did it, doesn’t mean it was the best way to get it done. It is up to you, in the process of reading this here and now, to make decisions about the kind of parent you want to be, and the kind of child you want to help create. Punishment is necessary, yes, but even more so, your child must experience positive results for positive behavior. Using rewards is the method for doing just that. Continue reading “Using rewards: Effective parenting toolbox”

Using nonviolent punishment: Effective parenting toolbox

using nonviolent punishment along with warmth and affection

“My 5 year old is driving me crazy!”

“I can’t get Sam to listen. I’m at the end of my rope!”

“I don’t understand why Emily keeps hitting her sister.”

Using nonviolent punishment to teach your child how to act

If any of these statement sound familiar, then this chapter is for you. Statements like these indicate a frustration on the part of a parent who feels at a loss to produce the kind of behavior that s/he wants to see. If you have been saying, “I need help with my child’s behavior,” don’t fret. You are in control, even if it doesn’t feel like it. In my years of experience as a parenting consultant, my observation is that many parents are overwhelmed by the abrupt entry into adulthood that having a baby entails. I remember the first time I held my first son in my arms at the hospital, and thinking, “Oh my God! How do I do this?” As brand new parents, we immediately transition from being able to think only of ourselves to having to think also (and more primarily) about someone else. Soon, we realize that this someone else doesn’t know how to do anything except cry, gurgle, sleep, pee and poop. Did it ever occur to you that it was up to you to teach this tiny being how to act “civilized?”

Parenthood is the first time that most people have to think seriously about how their words and actions can have a powerful impact on another human being. Parenting is an awe-inspiring responsibility, and without thinking intentionally – parenting on purpose – the task can seem like too much. How on earth can I turn a tiny creature with no understanding of the world into an adult who can contribute positively to society? Continue reading “Using nonviolent punishment: Effective parenting toolbox”