Friday, June 26, 2009

A Meter of Happiness and Success

A few years ago I blogged about "booby-trapping your day for happiness," or at least some happy moments. Now research backs up this idea. And it's not just good advice for teachers. Kids too, and in fact everyone benefits from at least three positive experiences for every one negative.

In a recent U.S. News and World Report article, "Positive Psychology for Kids: Teaching Resilience with Positive Education," points to experts' findings of how accenting the positive in experiences can help students cope with the stress of learning. And that means learning how to deal with failure as well as success.

This goes much better than mere self-esteem. In the past decade or so, I've seen the hollow sense of self-esteem students have been given by the empty words of "great job" and "excellent" no matter what the outcome. Rather than our gilding every effort no matter how weak or futile, students need to learn to find the silver-lining in the clouds of their mistakes and missteps.

The article also links to a free website to test your own happiness ratio, designed by Barbara Frederickson, a professor at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

"Doing so might help you learn the sources of your positive emotions and the
triggers for you negative ones. 'The truth emerging from the science is that
feeling good as it is a wise investment in our future,' she says."
Studies are showing that teaching our students as well as ourselves how to interrupt the negative scripts we have in self-talk and with each other can lead to greater achievements in the long run and longer life. Resiliency.

As a result of inflated grades and so called lessons in self-esteem, I've seen students in my office in tears over the "first B" and dealt with parents who complain about a score because they "know" their child is an "A student." What ridiculous--pressure on students with all the emphasis not on achievement and learning but on scores and false ideas of esteem.

Remembering the maxims about learning more from our mistakes than from our success, I ask whether students did their best, what they learned from the activity, what they learned from the score, and what they can do to make their best better. Only be being honest with children, with what is expected and what is accomplished can we truly accentuate the positive, teach the positive, and teach resiliency--all which is much more lasting and fulfilling than a cliche high-five for mediocrity.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Dry Spell?

I think of the students who say "I don't have anything to write about." I coax, I cajole, I tell them to get busy. But it nags me, could it be true?

I'm having a dry spell myself. The crush of this past school year. The end-of -the -year burn. I feel like I just want to lie in a hammock. So what about my students? How would I know if they really don't have anything to write about?

I say things like "write that you don't have anything to write about." Not original. Pliny the Younger said as much. Most of the time they are just not trying, right? Or just out of practice.

Could that be with all the practice of Twittering and texting and updating their status? Have they worn themselves out? Have we asked for so much writing they are tapped dry?

At any rate and back to my own dearth, I recall Franklin's charge: "Either write things worth reading or do things worth writing about." This summer I am headed on a Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad to do research on West African Culture in Africa.

And it's the rainy season!

Image credit: "'Dry' Season Road." By hoyasmeg. 19 Feb. 2009. Flickr. Used by permission of Creative Commons License: BY.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Information Highway: Country Roads, Take Me Home

For a short time I moved to Texas in the late 1980s. It was after the crash of the oil boom that preceded it. I lived in a suburban townhouse plan that had an exit of I-30 specifically built for the suburban sprawl right before the economic downturn; thus, the exit became specific to a few plans and a four-lane highway that went about four blocks in each direction before the black and white fence and sign reading "End of Expressway."

I am reminded of that roadway as I contemplate the information highway. As a teacher I often jump on the Internet to gain or refresh about topics in the curriculum. (What did teachers do before the Internet?) We can find websites, webquests, and lesson plans at our fingertips. Yet I was reminded such how fast and short those journeys can be when, after reviewing a few websites on a poet's work that I was reviewing for class, I consulted the hard copy leatherbound set of Encycolpaedia Britannica in my home library.
Was I reading about the same poet? Britannica led me into three and a half pages of fine print that gave so much breadth and depth on the subject that it almost seemed like a different biography altogether. I laughed. How many times during student research projects had I led my class to the literary criticism shelves of the nonfiction section and feigned amazement: "Lo! What have we here? Books, whole chapters--indeed whole books--on books!" (Seldom is my enthusiasm shared by my students--ah, but sometimes those "country roads of knowledge" are found serviceable by the earnest learner.)
As I pored over the Britannica entry and added to my lecture notes I enjoyed the scenery of one of those country roads, catching so much more than the information highway typically affords.
This month Microsoft curtails its Encarta program, stating:
People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past. As part of Microsoft’s goal to deliver the most effective and engaging resources for today’s consumer, it has made the decision to exit the Encarta business.
Is this a surrender to Wikipedia? I wonder . . . and worry.

Perhaps Encarta is off-mission for Microsoft in the long-term and I shouldn't fret. Still to loose an accessible, popular, and reliable reference tool is sad. Do we need to fear Britannica will follow suit, giving way to Wikipedia? Don't take this the wrong way: I myself love Wikipedia for a fast drive across contemporary knowledge and items not worth a encyclopedia's consideration, but when I want to get to know a subject in some depth I turn to a more established road. Wikipedia might get me there, but it's rather like asking a passerby for directions. In reaching my destination, if I don't suffer wrong turns, I still might not realize where I am along the way.
Image credit: Remix of Microsoft Encarta trademark and "Around the Bend." By Erica Marshall. 11 July 2008. Flickr.