Friday, May 5, 2017

Two Yellow Books

One sign of a really good book is that it makes you want to read more books.  A great novel will make you want to read more novels by this author or in this genre, or set in the same location.  A great professional book does this, too, especially when they reference other authors who are like-minded or study a similar theme.  I make lists of these, much to Amazon's delight.

When I lived in Squamish, I'd often order books on Amazon sight unseen.  Sometimes they were not as helpful or inspiring as I had hoped, and it was not always worth the trouble to return them.  Now that I live in Vancouver and have the luxury of belonging to the Vancouver Public Library, I search for them on the data base and, more often than not, I find what I want.

Two good books I was able to borrow recently are Practice Perfect: 42 rules for getting better at getting better, by Doug Lemov, and Born to Be Good:  the science of a meaningful life by Dacher Keltner.

In Practice Perfect, Lemon lists forty-two habits that will help one practice more effectively.  He sets his advice in the context of teaching and coaching, but the rules also make sense for anything you would like to improve.  Most of the advice is pretty much common sense.  For example, Rule #1 is "encode success," which means to clarify what success looks like, and in practice, simplify the exercise to ensure reliably high success, before upping the complexity or endurance.  Rule #31 is "normalize error," which is part of encouraging growth mindset, the ability to take risks, fail, and try again.

But a few nuggets stood as a good reminders or things I had not thought of before.

Rule #2 is, "practice the 20%."  My interpretation of what the author is saying, is that if you take an activity that you love and frequently practice the 80% of what you love about it, try practicing the 20% that is hard, and your overall results will improve.  In educational leadership, I think of the 20% as having difficult conversations, meeting with people with whom you don't see eye-to-eye, paying attention to and loving the hard-to-love.  This hard work is an investment that pays off immensely.  I also think about my running practice.  I often practice the 80% - long slow runs that tire, but do not exhaust me or help to improve my performance.  I am thinking of the 20% as running stairs to simulate climbing, high intensity, short bursts of speedwork, and specific core exercises that help with stability and form.

Rule #4 is, "unlock creativity with repetition."  This was interesting because the author makes the claim that once a person has practiced a small skill enough to allow for automaticity, then deeper and more creative thinking and learning can occur.  For example, if a student is bogged down by not knowing his/her timetables, it diverts the cognitive energy to 8 x 9, rather than to something bigger and more interesting to investigate in numeracy.

Rule #33 is, "make it fun to practice."  Teachers need to embrace this rule and looks for ways to make the tedious, more enjoyable.  Math drills can be turned into games, for example.  Making multiple prototypes in STEM can be fun and rigorous at the same time when you are working with classmates.  I realized on my recent stair climbing workout that I was really struggling with the boredom of it.  I resolved to bring my iPod next time to distract myself with music that I love, to make the "monotony" of the 20% more bearable.

There are many more good ideas for principals, teachers, coaches and parents in this book, as well as for anyone who want to improve in a hobby or sport.  This is one book I will buy on Amazon for McNeely's professional library collection.

This book made me want to read Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov, and Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer.

The second yellow book, Born to Be Good, was written by a psychology professor from the University of California, Berkeley: Dacher Keltner.  His thesis is that we are programmed, biologically and through evolution, to be altruistic.  He uses research on the brain and behaviour to make the case that we are a care-taking species that values emotional literacy, that we have infinite capacity to reconcile and forgive, and rather than Darwin's "survival of the fittest," human history has been shaped by the notion of "survival of the kindest."  Basically, "we are wired for good."

Keltner's references that interest me are Born to Rebel by Frank Sulloway, Mother Nature by Sarah Bluffer Hrdy.

This is not a book I will be buying for our school's resource library.  It is interesting, but dense with scientific data and explanations and not geared particularly toward educators or parents.  But if you are a MindUp or Mind Set fan, Born to Be Good will be an affirming read.

(Just checked - all of the other books referenced are available from the VPL - get in line, people!)

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