Weekly Research Roundup
Each week during the 2019-2020 school year, we highlighted current research on topics related to either the year’s theme of empathy and connection, or the book Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls by psychologist Lisa Damour, Ph.D. In case you missed or would like to revisit any of them, here is a list of the topics we addressed with links to more detailed information and resources.
Research Roundup Archive:
6/1: Rethinking Education
- Jal Mehta, Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has written a reflection on the necessities and opportunities that the forced transition to remote learning provide. In "Why Distance Learning Should Not Replicate School," he observes, "At a fundamental level, we need to begin by recognizing that learning at home is just a different proposition than learning at school. We should not be trying to "implement" school learning at home. Rather, we should be taking advantage of our new circumstances, and draw on the strengths that come with learning at home. Learning at home provides longer blocks, allows for more choice, more depth, and more ways that it can fit the needs and desires of the child. It allows students to become more self-directed in their learning and take more agency over it." In this article, Mehta outlines the key differences between learning at home and learning in school and identifies benefits for students in terms of greater responsibility and independence, as well as the potential for deeper and sustained learning. Given that some degree or form of remote learning remains a possibility for the foreseeable future, this transformation will require teachers, students, and parents alike to reframe their understanding of education by embracing possibilities that fall outside the realm of the familiar. Read Mehta's full article here.
5/25: The "Ordinary Magic" of Childhood and Adolescent Resilience
- As we approach the uncertainty of a summer without camps, programs, and even travel, it's important to remember the strengths that sustain children and adolescents. One source of stability is having a structure and routine. In other years, students would be looking forward to the freedom from structure that summer brings. This year, however, once the school year comes to an end, students will have to create their own routines in what can only be described as reduced circumstances. In a blog post for Laurel School, Lisa Damour presents advice to parents as they face the unknown of summer with their children. Dr. Damour offers hope based on research that shows how some children thrive in adverse circumstances, and she outlines steps to guide children and parents in overcoming the uncertainties and challenges we all face. Read Dr. Damour's blog here.
5/18: Rethinking Disruption: Potential Long-term Effect of COVID-19 on Education
- As the end of the school year approaches, and the beginning of school in the fall remains uncertain, the time is ripe for an attempt to put the effects of the COVID-19 disruption into some perspective. Elizabeth McGregor's letter outlining the results of the recent survey provide a glimpse into how both students and parents are experiencing Westridge Without Walls. For students, the experience has required both learning new material and learning new ways to learn. It is no surprise that many feel overwhelmed by the work. As the students gain new learning strategies and teachers employ new teaching methods, the process of education moves to the forefront. In an article reflecting on the potential long-term effects of the COVID-19 disruption, Mark Siegel, Assistant Headmaster at Delphian School, identifies potential benefits, including more differentiated instruction, self-pacing for students, and a fresh look at the intersection of students, teachers, and subject matter. Read his reflections here.
5/11: Blended Learning
- As Elizabeth McGregor's message at the beginning of the week indicated, there is still uncertainty about what form school will take in the fall. While we all hope for the resumption of in-person, on-campus school, the possibility of partially or fully remote learning remains a circumstance that we must prepare for. This semester has been challenging for everyone – students, parents, faculty, and administration, as the transition to remote learning was abrupt and unplanned. The uncharted waters have sometimes been choppy, as everyone works to establish secure footing. In order to facilitate greater understanding of the opportunities and challenges of remote learning, we will offer some information and research about the principles and practices of remote learning. Teaching that involves a combination of in-person and online learning is typically called "blended learning." This strategy has the benefit of giving students more control over their work schedule, since they can choose when to do the online elements of learning. Click here to read an article from Teach Thought that provides an overview of blended learning. In future weeks, we will provide additional context that will help everyone be better informed and able to enhance whatever kinds of teaching and learning the fall brings. For additional COVID-19 resources from the Laurel Center for Research on Girls, click here.
5/4: Supporting Students During Remote Learning Pt. 5
- The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at UC Berkeley uses current research to promote the well-being and achievement of students by focusing on what makes life meaningful. In this time of global pandemic, the GGSC researchers are publishing a series of articles that highlight particular issues facing parents and students. Two recent articles are especially relevant as Westridge enters into what would have been a series of traditional year-end events. The loss of these rituals plays a profound role in the lives of students and families. In "How to help teens handle the loss of proms and graduations," Senior Fellow at GGSC, Christine Carter, Ph.D. provides strategies for acknowledging these losses and guiding students to a meaningful understanding of them. In a similar vein, school psychologist Rebecca Branstetter, Ph.D. offers strategies for dealing with the challenges of remote learning in "How to reduce the stress of homeschooling on everyone." Her advice to "simplify, structure, and support" outlines specific steps that will allow parents and their children work collectively to meet school expectations while maintaining their relationships. Click on the titles to read these articles, and explore other resources from the Greater Good Science Center here.
4/27: Supporting Students During Remote Learning Pt. 4
- Dr. Lisa Damour has been a resource and an inspiration for Westridge parents and faculty with her two books, Untangled and Under Pressure, as well as her in-person visits to the campus. As a regular contributor to The New York Times, she has recently published two articles and participated in a podcast addressing the needs of both parents and children in these days of sheltering at home with remote learning. Click on the title of each article to read her advice. Quaranteeangers: Strategies for Parenting in Close Quarters and 5 Ways to Help Teens Manage Their Anxiety About the Coronavirus. If you prefer, you can listen to the podcast by visiting Parenting When the Family is Locked Inside. Dr. Damour's advice is always practical, wise, and grounded in both her extensive research and her years working with adolescent girls, both in school and in her private practice.
4/20: Supporting Students During Remote Learning Pt. 3
- Dr. Christine Carter, Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center, and author of The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction, offers advice to parents in her article, "How to Help Teens Shelter in Place." Recognizing the unfamiliarity and challenges parents are now facing, she draws on her extensive research to suggest specific strategies to help parents (and their children) adapt to the reality of balancing work and parenting while staying at home. Read her article here. Rachel Simmons, author of Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives and speaker at Westridge, is offering a parent webinar, "Pandemic Parenting." Rachel founded the organization Girls Leadership, which is sponsoring the webinar this Sunday, April 19 at 5 pm PST. Although the webinar is free, participants will be asked to make a small donation to Girls Leadership, if they are able. Register for the webinar here.
- As students, teachers, and parents adjust to the reality of remote learning, everyone in more dependent than ever on technology. In these altered times, when technology is the medium for both education and entertainment, Common Sense Media offers resources that help parents guide their children in making responsible choices. A research-based, non-profit organization, Common Sense rates and reviews online entertainment, including movies, video games, and more. With specific recommendations organized by age, Common Sense can provide support for parents as their children rely more heavily on technology for entertainment. In addition, Common Sense develops programs and practices for education. For parents looking for help in supporting their children's learning, Common Sense also provides resources. Check out the Common Sense website here, and the education resources here.
4/6: Supporting Students During Remote Learning Pt. 1
- Given the unknown territory that we will all be navigating in the coming weeks, parents and families will be seeking guidance in helping to create the most supportive and effective home environment for learning. Adapting to the universe of remote learning will no doubt bring to the forefront many aspects of school and learning that remain in the background most of the time. In the words of the immortal Joni Mitchell, "You don't know what you've got til it's gone." In that spirit, we will be offering suggestions for helping with this transition. Dr. Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Success, has written advice to parents for supporting their children through the uncertainty of these days. Read her advice here or watch a Q&A here. Consult additional resources compiled by Challenge Success here.
4/16: Essential Conversations
- Sociologist of education and MacArthur fellow Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot travelled the country interviewing both parents and teachers. The result was her book The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. A distinguished teacher at Harvard herself, as well as a parent, Lawrence-Lightfoot explores the many facets of parent-teachers conferences with depth and insight. Her examples reveal how anxiety, both parents' and teachers', can prevent the conversations from focusing effectively on the student. Through vivid narratives, she recreates conversations that illustrate ways that interactions between parents and teachers can veer off track. She provides valuable suggestions about how teachers and parents can negotiate the potential pitfalls that can derail them. By following her suggestions, both parents and teachers can contribute to conferences that establish a relationship that supports and enhances the development and growth of children. You can watch Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot discuss this powerful book briefly here, and in much greater depth here.
- A focus on leadership and agency completes the Strategic Plan. By prioritizing leadership and agency, Westridge seeks to achieve its vision of creating "courageous, compassionate leaders." Research on leadership documents the persistent gender gap in many areas of public life, from business to politics. A study by the American Association of University Women, "Barriers and Biases: The Status of Women in Leadership," acknowledges the progress that has been made but also emphasizes the systemic obstacles that remain. While it is easy to count the number of women in various roles, this information comprises only a narrow definition of leadership. Westridge seeks to develop leadership skills in all students so that they can draw on these in any situation, whether it involves holding an office or guiding a group project. Rather than accepting a given definition of leadership, we encourage students to question a concept that has historically hindered women. In that sense, a new understanding of leadership can shape the program and experience of Westridge students. The "Teach a Girl to Lead" project at Rutgers University offers tools for students to identify and resist the implicit masculine characteristics associated with leadership. The project has developed a tool to evaluate assumptions that tend to exclude women. Using their "gender lens" equips students to uncover hidden biases. This gender lens offers a series of questions to pose about programs or issues to determine if they are gender neutral. Read the questions that focus this lens here. When leaders are courageous and compassionate, they embody the words of Wil Rose, "Success is not counted by how high you have climbed but by how many people you brought with you." Read the full Strategic Plan here.
- In asserting our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Strategic Plan, Westridge acknowledges two essential factors. First, research has demonstrated that all students who learn in a diverse educational environment benefit, regardless of their individual identities. Second, creating a culture of inclusion is instrumental in nurturing the "true sense of identity, emotional trust, and belonging required for being present for learning, teaching, and taking part in the Westridge community." Click on any of these titles to find out more about the research: "The Educational Benefits of Diversity: Evidence from Multiple Sectors" (Stanford), "Researching the Educational Benefits of Diversity" (College Board), "The Benefits of Socioeconomically and Racially Integrated Schools and Classrooms" (The Century Foundation), and "The many ways teacher diversity may benefit students" (Brookings Institution). Dr. Elizabeth Denevi, the diversity consultant who has been working with Westridge faculty, shared her perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion with a powerful Venn diagram demonstrating that belonging is the intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion–the sense of connection that links members of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. View the diagram here. Read the full Strategic Plan here.
- The next priority of the school's recently completed Strategic Plan focuses on academic excellence and innovation. The academic program provides the heart of the experiences of Westridge students. As part of the school's ongoing commitment to self-reflection and growth, all teachers have the opportunity to revise the content and enhance their teaching strategies as they seek to educate "intellectually adventurous thinkers, and courageous, compassionate leaders." In light of the recent highly favorable accreditation report, the school also recognizes an opportunity to take a broad look at the curriculum and ensure alignment of teaching and learning across all divisions as a major focus of the Strategic Plan. In particular, as an independent school, Westridge has the ability to draw on rich faculty resources to design a curriculum "to ensure all students are appropriately challenged and to expand deep and meaningful learning within our most rigorous courses." The Independent Curriculum Group has developed criteria for establishing the depth and challenge that best serve students as they learn and grow. Read their Principles of Independent Curriculum here. With other resources, these principles will guide the school in making sure that our students receive the best opportunity to engage in deep and purposeful learning. Read the full Strategic Plan here.
- The first priority of the school's recently completed Strategic Plan focuses on student well-being and social emotional development. Extensive research demonstrates the many benefits of a strong, consistent, and coordinated social and emotional development program, including psychological health, academic achievement, and resilience. As Westridge expands and refines its programs, guided by a focus on empathy and self-regulation, we rely on research that includes the student point of view. In the report "Respected: Perspectives of Youth on High School Social & Emotional Learning," the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning finds that students in high SEL schools experience a positive learning environment and greater academic achievement across differences of race, ethnicity, income, and geography, but that fewer than half the students believe that their school is doing enough. Read the full report here. Look for research on the other Strategic Plan priorities (Academic Excellence and Innovation; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and Leadership and Agency) in the coming weeks. Click here to read the full Strategic Plan.
- The victory in the World Cup of the US Women's soccer team focused attention on the accomplishments of these talented women, but it also was the occasion to be reminded of gender disparities that remain in sports. As the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, requiring equity for women's sports approaches, the Women's Sports Foundation has published a report that presents the current landscape, Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women. At the heart of the report are the benefits for girls and women associated with participation in sports. These include physical, social/emotional, academic, and leadership benefits, based on extensive surveys and interviews. Research from the National Coalition of Girls' Schools indicates that 80% of women in leadership roles participated in sports. Read the executive summary of the WSF report here. A recent article on the NCGS blog "Equity in Sports Coverage Will Help Level the Playing Field for Girls and Young Women" suggests a path that will lead to continued improvement in the opportunities that sports provide. Read the article here. The success of Westridge athletic teams is a testimony to the leadership roles these athletes will play in a wider arena. Go Tigers!
2/3: Teaching Girls: How Teachers and Parents Can Reach Their Brains and Hearts
- Peter Kuriloff, Shannon Andrus, and Charlotte Jacobs, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a large-scale qualitative research project with students and teachers at all-girls' schools. Rather than focusing on differences between boys and girls, they asked their participants to describe lessons or practices that they found especially effective. Using the all-girls' context as a given, they collected descriptions of experiences that led to the intersection of learning and engagement. The characteristics that emerged as most significant were relevance, clarity, and collaboration. While these findings are not surprising, they represent a rare insight into the experiences of students and teachers, in their own voices. Addressed to both teachers and parents, this book is filled with rich details of active learning and practical suggestions for achieving deep understanding. For more information visit the Center for the Study of Boys' and Girls' Lives at the University of Pennsylvania.
1/27: Life After College
- In his thought-provoking book, There IS Life After College, Jeffrey J. Selingo, former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, takes on the challenging question of how a college education plays a role in the long-term trajectory of life and career in a rapidly evolving economy. Through interviews and surveys, Selingo documents the paths of recent (and not-so-recent) graduates to independent adulthood. Questioning the expectation that there is a single path to success in college and in life, Selingo demonstrates a variety of paths through the changing landscape of education and employment. In one chapter, "The Benefits of a Detour," he outlines benefits of taking time off between high school and college, including travel, work, and community service. Rather than considering time off a handicap, Selingo shows how this experience can provide valuable perspective and reflection that benefit students in their journey. Virtually all colleges permit students who have been accepted to defer enrollment while they pursue travel, work, or community service. With an acceptance in hand, students can take the time to explore and discover beyond the classroom. While not for everyone, the gap year can be a productive "detour" that leads to enhanced learning. For other thoughts about the future of higher education, watch Selingo's comments here.
1/20: The Power of Showing Up
- Authors of The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., have joined forces again to present a comprehensive understanding of parenting in their newly published book, The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired. Drawing on extensive research in neuroscience and their clinical experience, Siegel and Bryson identify the key elements of attachment that enable parents to establish the kinds of relationships in which developing children feel safe, seen, soothed, and as a result secure. Recognizing that no parents are perfect, Siegel and Bryson emphasize that building a supportive relationship enhances the resilience of both children and parents, helping them to remain connected while negotiating challenges of growing up. They "focus less on which skills and abilities you want to build in your children, and more on how you approach the parent-child relationship." Read more about Dan Siegel here, and more about Tina Payne Bryson here.
1/13: Studying Effectively and Strategically
- As Upper School students approach the mid-term exam period, a review of effective study strategies can be helpful in maximizing their learning and minimizing the unproductive stress that may develop. In her talk with Upper School students, Lisa Damour emphasized the need for students to allocate their time strategically, focusing on what they need to learn/review and paying less attention to what they already know. Research has shown that many frequently used study practices, such as re-reading, highlighting, and reviewing notes, are among the least effective practices. Research by John Dunlosky, Ph.D. and his colleagues evaluated a variety of study practices and found that taking practice tests, distributing study over time, and posing questions about the material were most effective in leading to lasting student learning. These practices emphasize the active assimilation of knowledge rather than the passive reception. For more information on these and other effective strategies, read "Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Student Learning."
12/23: Lisa Damour on Stress, Anxiety, and Other Topics
- On December 11, Dr. Lisa Damour visited Westridge to share some of her ideas from Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, as well as her latest thinking and research developed since the publication of Under Pressure. Dr. Damour met with students during the day in separate Lower, Middle, and Upper School groups, engaging the students in spirited discussions about understanding the benefits of constructive stress, resolving conflicts that interfere with learning, and taking a strategic approach to learning. Her blend of serious research findings and humor informed and entertained each audience. For anyone who was not able to attend, or anyone who would like to learn more, we are providing links to several presentations she has made. Dr. Damour spoke to students in the Challenge Success program based at Stanford earlier this fall. You can watch her presentation here. (Dr. Damour's presentation begins at about the 19 minute mark in the video.) For a presentation to students at the Stuart Country Day School on her previous book, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood click here. Finally, to view a TED talk on the difference between being an adult and being a grown-up, click here.
12/16: Defining and Redefining Leadership
- Cultivating the capacity for leadership plays a central role in Westridge's mission. As the school moves forward, supporting student leadership and agency will become an even more important focus for the program. Ann Klotz, head of school at the Laurel School, spent time with Laurel students to find out their understanding of leadership in the context of a girls' school. Not surprisingly, their perspective included characteristics that go far beyond the notion of holding a formal office in a school or organization. Building relationships, not holding authority, forms the heart of their redefinition of leadership. Read more of what the students told her here. In a similar vein, James Toole of the University of Minnesota identifies key components of leadership as a strengths mindset, an empathetic mindset, a creative mindset, a systems mindset, a giving mindset, a self-aware mindset, and a resilient mindset. Read more about his perspective here. This definition of leadership aligns perfectly with the goals of Westridge's commitment to the social and emotional development of students. Empowering students through developing their self-knowledge and their ability to speak up and speak out will nourish leaders at Westridge and beyond, whether as office-holders or inspiring participants.
12/9: Understanding Dyslexia
- MindShift is a service of KQED designed "to keep our passionate audience informed on multiple platforms with reporting from us and trusted sources in education." Recently, MindShift created and distributed the "MindShift Guide to Understanding Dyslexia" as a resource for schools, parents, and students to deepen their understanding of this still frequently misunderstood learning difference. While increased understanding has diminished the stigma sometimes associated with learning differences, there remains important education so that students are able to succeed. This fact is reflected in the title of the first chapter of Mindshift's report: "How Dyslexia is a Different Brain, not a Disease." Students with dyslexia often develop coping skills that mask their condition, delaying the diagnosis. In addition to clarifying what dyslexia is, the MindShift guide provides important information for teachers and parents, including what to look for in students who may be dyslexic. Fortunately, research has devised effective ways of enabling students with dyslexia to achieve their potential. Read the full report here. Learn more about other topics from MindShift here.
- Both the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at Berkeley and Harvard Medical School have conducted research on the benefits of gratitude. This research demonstrates that people who feel and express gratitude regularly lead happier, more meaningful lives and build resilience that helps them manage their responses to challenges they face. As we enter into the Thanksgiving season, it can be reassuring to recognize that gratitude can be daily a practice in our lives. In "Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier" researchers at Harvard observe "gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power." At the Greater Good Science Center, researchers have focused on the value of fostering gratitude in schools. At a "gratitude summit," sponsored by GGSC, two presentations in particular addressed this topic. In "How Can We Cultivate Gratitude in School," Giacomo Bono, Ph.D. describes the Youth Gratitude Project, which documents the practices and benefits of gratitude. In "How Parents Can Foster Gratitude in Kids," Andrea Hussong, Ph.D. outlines steps developed in her research that offer practical parenting advice aimed at making gratitude a part of children's lives. Click on the titles to watch their presentations.
11/18: Student Health and Well-being
- Each year, the students in the Peer-to-Peer program sponsor a week of activities to highlight the importance of mental health awareness. Called "Love your Mind", these activities provide an opportunity for students to both speak and learn about issues that they face as they negotiate the multiple demands of a school like Westridge (see news story above). As psychologist Lisa Damour asserts, managing the inevitable stress generated at school allows students to maximize their learning and increase their resilience. A study conducted at the Laurel Center for Research on Girls identifies strategies for aligning achievement and well-being with recommendations for parents, teachers, and students. At the heart of all these recommendations lies the need for open, authentic, and supportive relationships as a source of strength through the unavoidable ups and downs of school. Read more about the study here.
11/11: Technology and Student Well-being
- Parents often express concern about the role of technology on student well-being. Tablets, smart phones, and laptops allow instant access to the world of the internet, with all the benefits and liabilities that this access entails. Common Sense Media provides a wealth of information for parents, educators, and students to help negotiate the rapidly changing world of technology, entertainment, and social media. Donna Orem, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, focuses on the health-related effects of technology in her article "How Does Technology Affect Teen Health and Well-being?" Citing a variety of research from the Pew Research Center and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, Orem identifies some of the beneficial and harmful aspects of access to technology. She concludes, "To harness the good and protect against those unintended consequences that could be harmful to children, leaders, educators, and parents alike need to follow research, engage in active discussions, and develop policies and practices that allow students the room for growth while keeping them safe." Read her full article here.
11/4: How the Arts Build Self-Esteem, Achievement, and Cognitive Skills
- The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley collects, creates, and distributes science-based research that supports the healthy development of children. In addition to ground-breaking research on mindfulness, compassion, and gratitude, the center reviews factors that contribute to increased self-esteem. A recent study in England used data from a longitudinal project that has followed a group of over 18,000 children from their birth in 2000-2001 to the present. The researchers found that engagement and participation in the arts, including music, visual arts, and reading for pleasure were correlated with higher self-esteem, achievement, and cognitive skills. Engagement and participation, rather than expertise, played a crucial role in building self-esteem among the children. Students at Westridge are fortunate to have extensive opportunities to engage in the arts, and these opportunities are fundamental to the mission and purpose of the school. Read more about the study from the Greater Good Science Center here. Read the study in its entirety here.
10/28: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- On Monday, October 21, the entire faculty and staff engaged in a day of professional development with the guidance of Elizabeth Denevi, Ph.D., an expert of issues of diversity and equity, with a focus on independent schools. Dr. Denevi presented a variety of research studies that have demonstrated that all students in diverse schools demonstrate higher levels of achievement in academic performance, critical thinking, and collaboration. She began by helping the faculty and staff gain a common vocabulary and deeper understanding of diversity that includes but is not limited to race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, religion, and ability. Denevi approached the challenging topic of implicit bias as an impediment to student achievement in a way that encouraged self-reflection and exploration of opportunities to create a more culturally responsive curriculum. Since inclusion is a core value of Westridge, the school will continue to seek to identify and implement practices that enhance the achievement of all students. Additional information on diversity, equity, and inclusion can be found in the follow resources: "Diversity in the Classroom" (UCLA), "The Importance of Multicultural Education" (Geneva Gay), and the College Board publication "Researching the Educational Benefits of Diversity" (Emily Shaw.)
- David Epstein's new book, Range, argues that generalists, rather than specialists, are best poised to succeed in this evolving world. This premise undermines the value of early specialization as the path to success. As students seek to gain advantage by specializing early, they lose the flexibility of thought required to adapt to new situations. Epstein begins with clear examples where early specialization yields powerful results, including chess prodigies and Tiger Woods. By contrast, the research of Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman suggests that experts in a field are often less adept at solving problems than others. Epstein locates the difference between these two perspectives in the domain, rather than the individual or approach. Some domains are "kind" and reward pattern-recognition and repeated practice. Early specialization can be valuable in these domains. Other domains are "wicked" and resist easy standardization. Epstein argues that the domains of the present and future are more likely to be "wicked" than "kind." Breadth of knowledge and flexibility in thinking are better preparation for success in such domains. As students choose courses and career paths, it can be reassuring to know that deferring early specialization can be an asset that benefits them in the long run.
10/14: Transcending Limits in Learning and Life
- Jo Boaler, Ph.D., author of Mathematical Mindsets and expert on mathematics education, has expanded the context of her research to include learning in all disciplines. Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live without Barriers, her recently published book, builds on the growth mindset research of Carol Dweck and identifies six keys to unlocking the potential in every learner. According to Boaler, these keys "create opportunities for people to excel in the learning of different subjects, but they also empower them to approach life in a different way." Beginning with advances in neuroscientific research, she outlines the importance of mindset, making mistakes, approaching content through multiple lenses, thinking flexibly, and collaborating. Boaler's revolutionary research shatters the notion that minds are limited and offers strategies for achieving any goal. Watch her TED talk on learning math here.
10/7: Parenting as Gardening
- At the end of Candide's journey pursuing truth and enlightenment, Voltaire's Candide concludes with the simple sentence "Il faut cultiver notre jardin"–we must cultivate our garden. Alison Gopnik, psychologist and philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied child development and parenting throughout her career, would agree. Her research has led her to construct two models of parenting, the carpenter and the gardener. The carpenter believes that "if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you're going to be able to shape your child into a particular kind of adult." By contrast, the gardener seeks to create "a rich, nurturant but also variable, diverse, dynamic ecosystem." Gopnik links the carpenter model to increased levels of stress and anxiety in both children and parents. Like all dichotomies, these models oversimplify a complex process, but schools can also learn from the distinction. Schools can also be carpenters or gardeners in providing educational opportunities. Read an article/interview with Alison Gopnik here, or dive more deeply into her research by reading her book The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us about the Relationship between Parents and Children.
9/30: Developing a Sense of Purpose
- Research on adolescent development has demonstrated the benefits of having a sense of purpose. Purpose, in this context, has both an internal and an external dimension. Purposeful work leads to both personal satisfaction and the accomplishment of a goal beyond one's own individual pursuits. Developing a sense of purpose contributes to both psychological and physical health. A recent study found that having a sense of purpose differs by age group. For middle school students, for example, this study found that a sense of purpose involved forming connections with others and being empathic. High school students, by contrast, searched for a role to pursue their sense of purpose. These findings provide important direction for schools and parents as we seek to support the development of purpose at each stage of growth. The research also tracks the development of purpose for later adolescents and young adults. Read the study "Adolescent Purpose Development: Exploring Empathy, Discovering Roles, Shifting Priorities, and Creating Pathways" here.
9/23: Making Caring Common
- Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor concluded her convocation remarks by highlighting the goal of "making caring common." Her words echo the name of a research project based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education committed to "raising kids who care about others and the common good." Empathy forms the basis for perspective-taking and connection, crucial factors in equipping students with the disposition to do good, while acquiring the skills to do well. In its original research report, "Turning the Tide," Making Caring Common recommended key changes in the college admissions process that highlight character as well as achievement. In its most recent report, "Turning the Tide II," the researchers have turned their focus to the roles of schools and families in advancing these goals. Read their recommendations for helping schools create a caring community founded on empathy here. To read the report on how schools and parents can "cultivate ethical character and reduce distress in the college admissions process," click here.
9/16: Active Learning
- An ancient Chinese proverb says "I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand." A variation attributed to Benjamin Franklin says "Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I learn." Both proverbs emphasize the value of what is now called "project-based learning." A recent study at Harvard tested the wisdom expressed in these sayings in an introductory physics class. The experiment led to two significant, yet distinct findings. The same material was taught to two groups, one using the traditional lecture format and the other using project-based learning. As the proverbs would have predicted, the students scored higher on assessments if they used the project-based approach. Perhaps the more important finding was that the students reported feeling that they had learned more in the lecture format. So, the perception of learning in this case is contrary to the actual learning. Hearing a well-delivered lecture creates a perception of learning, but doing an experiment leads to greater understanding. Appreciating the value of project-based educational strategies must also overcome the false perception that lectures are the best route to learning and understanding. Read an article about the study here, and read the full study here.
- In her convocation address, Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor highlighted the importance of empathy and connection as key factors contributing to the development of children. As themes for the year, these concepts will help shape the direction of Westridge throughout the year. Educational and psychological research, especially recent research, has documented the benefits of empathy for students. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and parenting expert, writes, "Empathy—or the ability to understand others' feelings and needs—is also the foundation of a safe, caring, and inclusive learning climate. Students with high levels of empathy display more classroom engagement, higher academic achievement, and better communication skills (Jones et al., 2014). Empathy reduces aggression, boosts prosocial behaviors (Eisenberg, Eggum, & DiGiunta, 2010) and may be our best antidote to bullying and racism (Santos et al., 2011)." Dr. Borba's book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, documents two decades of research on the benefits of empathy. Watch her TED talk "Empathy is a verb" here.
9/2: Back to School Tips from Challenge Success
- Challenge Success, a research-based program at Stanford University takes a leading role in helping teachers, parents, and students redefine success in ways that reflect the importance of reflection, balance, and student well-being. Moving beyond a narrow definition of success in purely academic terms, Challenge Success seeks to foster practices and policies that create meaningful and enduring learning experiences for developing children. Part of their mission statement reads, "We all want our kids to do well in school and to master certain skills and concepts, but our largely singular focus on academic achievement has resulted in a lack of attention to other components of a successful life—the ability to be independent, adaptable, ethical, and engaged critical thinkers. Our work helps to foster learners who are healthy, motivated, and prepared for the wide variety of tasks they will face as adults." At Westridge, we seek to negotiate the challenges of supporting students' academic achievement with an awareness of the importance of social and emotional development through programs such as homeroom, Council, advisory, and human development. Challenge Success has compiled a set of recommendations for getting the school year off to a good start. Read their recommendations here.