Friday, October 22, 2010

Fires in the Mind (and body)

I had another frustrating, rushing, cajoling and threatening (in the gentlest way, of course) attempt to get my kids out the door at 7:30 this morning.  It occurred to me that our action was sheer opposite of Wild Play and I wish for more clarity about how to balance "the things that must be done" with all these great value-driven ideas for freedom, play, joy and community responsibility in our lives. Gotta hope once they got to school, that second part kicked-in.

While they are at school, I finally skimmed "Fires in the Mind" -- a somewhat research based book about how kids understand their own internal motivation and what we can extrapolate about how teens and adults move from finding an interest/passion, sticking with it, developing expertise.  There were many interesting bits although the 2nd half was written more for classroom teachers (I'm passing it on).

One finding that resonated with Sobel's lecture was the importance of an involved caring adult in nurturing the stick-with-it-ness and helping to give (or scaffold the giving of) quality, specific feedback that improved performance without overwhelming or discouraging the learner (perhaps my mistake this morning).  Kids reported learning a lot from watching a person they deemed an "expert" at the activity they were trying to master.

Another overlap with Sobel is the importance of joyful/playful/connected with other people exposure.  Kids reported starting things mainly because they were exposed to fun activities that provided ways to be with people they care about.  We open doors for our kids by sharing with them the activities we love, and that we think they might, by helping them connect with all kinds of people and possible mentors, and by staying playful ourselves.

The author and her colleagues propose a bunch of ideas for schools, ranging from engaging kids to design their own homework and reflect on their own learning style, to completely overhauling how we think about education.  They kindly provide a ton of resources on their web site, including some interesting conversation starters (under "practice project and pdfs from book) that I think could work well with younger children as well as their intended audience of high school students.

They also provide a blog edited with parents in mind and provide a lot of resources for teachers.

The research was funded by an organization called What Kids Can Do

An example:

Get the well formatted pdf here

It Starts with a Spark!
A discussion exercise for adults and youth
Write down something you enjoy doing and want to get better at:

What first got you interested in trying it? Check all the answers that apply, and add your own thoughts on what motivated you. Then share your thoughts with the group.

____ It looked like fun!
____ It seemed like something you could probably do ■ 
____It involved peers you wanted to be with ■ 
____Success didn’t all depend on you ■ 
____No one would be judging you, so the stakes were low
____Someone supported and encouraged you at the start
■ ____They broke it down into steps ■ ____They did it with you ■ ____They praised your small successes ■ ____They showed you how to do better

____The activity had an audience that mattered to you
■ ____At work or school ____Among friends or family ____In a public setting

You had a personal interest in getting good at it
■ ____To express yourself ____To grow into who you want to be ■ ____To feel the pleasure of mastering new challenges

Reprinted by permission from Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery, by Kathleen Cushman and the students of What Kids Can Do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2008. For more information, go to

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