Monday, June 30, 2014

Pain means gain

Catching up a bit on some old, blog-worthy articles, I’ve come across one from a September, 2013 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Written by Joanne Lipman, co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of "Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations," it adduces some empirical evidence for a number of points that have long rung true to me. Some of it is stuff that I’ve already blogged about ad nausaum--the benefits of drill for higher level thinking; the power of grit—but the bulk of it, even nine months later, still feels fresh. For example:

A little pain is good for you.
…Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson gained fame for his research showing that true expertise requires about 10,000 hours of practice, a notion popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers." But an often-overlooked finding from the same study is equally important: True expertise requires teachers who give "constructive, even painful, feedback," as Dr. Ericsson put it in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article. He assessed research on top performers in fields ranging from violin performance to surgery to computer programming to chess. And he found that all of them "deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance."
Failure is an option.  
…In a 2006 study, a Bowling Green State University graduate student followed 31 Ohio band students who were required to audition for placement and found that even students who placed lowest "did not decrease in their motivation and self-esteem in the long term." The study concluded that educators need "not be as concerned about the negative effects" of picking winners and losers.
I’m less certain about the psychological benefits of kids being sorting their peers into winners and losers: as happens, say, when students pick team members in gym class.
Strict is better than nice.
…What makes a teacher successful? To find out, starting in 2005 a team of researchers led by Claremont Graduate University education professor Mary Poplin spent five years observing 31 of the most highly effective teachers (measured by student test scores) in the worst schools of Los Angeles, in neighborhoods like South Central and Watts. Their No. 1 finding: "They were strict," she says. "None of us expected that."
The researchers had assumed that the most effective teachers would lead students to knowledge through collaborative learning and discussion. Instead, they found disciplinarians who relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures. "The core belief of these teachers was, 'Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it's my job to do something about it—and I can do something about it,'" says Prof. Poplin.
“It's my job to do something about it—and I can do something about it"--that’s also refreshing. So many educators these days (at least among the ones whose voices one hears on the Internet) seem so ready to use factors beyond their control, like poverty or uninvolved parents, as excuses rather than as motivators.
Creativity can be learned.
…Temple University psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg… has studied creative geniuses including Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright and Picasso—and has concluded that there is no such thing as a born genius. Most creative giants work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.
That’s certainly true of the most creative people I know. Very little of the creative process is sudden, out-of-nowhere inspiration, even if a spark of that helps sets things in motion.’
… The bottom line, Prof. Weisberg told me, is that creativity goes back in many ways to the basics. "You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline."
Then there's:
Praise makes you weak…
...Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has found that 10-year-olds praised for being "smart" became less confident. But kids told that they were "hard workers" became more confident and better performers.
I’ve seen this play out in my martial arts class: priase make me certain that my next kick will be weaker or will miss the target, as it almost always does. As a classmate of mine put it, compliments are the kiss of death.
.…while stress makes you strong.
...A 2011 University at Buffalo study found that a moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience. Psychology professor Mark D. Seery gave healthy undergraduates a stress assessment based on their exposure to 37 different kinds of significant negative events, such as death or illness of a family member. Then he plunged their hands into ice water. The students who had experienced a moderate number of stressful events actually felt less pain than those who had experienced no stress at all.
"Having this history of dealing with these negative things leads people to be more likely to have a propensity for general resilience," Prof. Seery told me. "They are better equipped to deal with even mundane, everyday stressors."
This is in contrast more extreme levels of so-called “toxic stress”—related less to routine stressors and more to high levels of domestic instability--violence, abuse, and neglect, extreme poverty/economic insecurity—the debilitating effects of which have been the subject of recent research.

Within reason, pain leads to gain—something that, like so much of this, we readily accept in our athletic fields, but not in our classrooms.

1 comment:

FedUpMom said...

Ugh. I have run into too many teachers who pride themselves on being tough to the extent that they lead my daughter to despair. Some people respond very badly to this approach.