NurtureShock – 2nd Cut
posted by: mcrocker
Looking back at my two years of teaching and outreach through the NDeRC GK-12 fellowship, I wanted to reflect on what I experienced. I also promised a second look at the book Nurture Shock. In the first blog post I wrote about this book, I took a critical look at the first 4 chapters. I definitely used a harsh tone in that post, and I would like to revisit the last 6 chapters of the book from a different standpoint. The book is filled with hints about how to successfully teach children. I find that these suggestions are often quite obvious: don’t lie to children, make sure children get the sleep they need, be clear when teaching children by using language that they understand, etc. I was shocked because the conclusions in the first 4 chapters seemed like they could be summed up as follows: be honest, loving, and thoughtful. Even when I was the child being taught, I knew that there was no magic to teaching well or raising children well. Simply be patient, loving, and selfless. Using business tactics and focusing ONLY on “results” will backfire when it comes to human learning.
This time, I finished reading the last 6 chapters, and I looked at the content from the perspective I gained during my two years in the fellowship. During this time I traveled to many schools in the area, and I heard many stories from teachers and students. While many of the conclusions in the book seemed obvious to me, the authors go to great lengths to explain these conclusions in a very scientific way. It turns out that these conclusions are not obvious to a great many people in our society and thus not obvious to a great many people in our schools. (For example, some schools test children in pre-school in an attempt to gauge their future academic success and lock them into the “advanced” classes.) I have noticed that in stories about award-winning teachers, the teachers are described as showing concern and care for their students, rather than implementing a perfect lesson plan. It turns out that the human brain is designed to feed off of honesty, conflict resolution, and positive reinforcement, not negative fear training or one-size-fits-all approaches.
One of the most telling conclusions from the book (after reading the whole thing) is that a child’s brain does not work like an adult’s brain. That does not mean that children should be babied, but rather that children should be treated like they are full of potential, not bracketed into categories of achievement. At any point before adulthood, is it very common for children to make rapid improvements no matter how under-performing they were before that period of growth.
Another key point in the book is that children learn from everything, including negative experiences. In fact, the biggest failing of children’s books and attempts to shield children from hardship is that they take away or reduce the many natural opportunities for children to see conflict resolution. The key is to repeatedly show children the RESOLUTION of a conflict situation more often than the conflict itself. Said in another way, failure is not good or bad. The only real failure is forcing children to think that perfection is something to strive for. The pursuit of excellence has nothing to do with never making a mistake, rather is about weaving solutions and beneficial results into a world that GUARANTEES mistakes. If a student appears perfect, it is time to find out what is really going on. Parents need to get the message just as much as teachers. Raising children is about helping them learn how to deal with hardship. Consistent arguments between parents and children with constructive resolutions is the way things SHOULD be. Punishment should not be seen as a reason to despair.
Even for infants and toddlers, a parent needs to be firm and consistent. If parents want progress, they should reinforce good developments. Not everything a baby does is helpful, so why reinforce actions that regress or stall development? It is problematic to reward everything and everyone all the time. Parents and teachers who reinforce both good and bad behavior are just producing children who cannot easily discriminate between progress and regression. In addition, there is no such thing as “wasting” time when teaching. For training and learning to work, there has to be intense time to gain skills and knowledge and significant breaks in between. As the NDeRC fellows learned in our brain workshop, trying to learn two similar skills without sleeping in between actually confuses your mind and body and makes you worse at that skill.
I am so glad to have had the NDeRC experience for the last two years. It has helped me teach students, teach my own children, and teach myself. It has improved my confidence, and it has been a very positive experience for me. I have often found that those who have been involved with the NDeRC project have increased their ability to learn on their own and have gained the ability to increase that skill in others. I hope that I can continue such a trend where ever I go in the future.