Monday, February 14, 2011

What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery - Part 2

By Sam Piha


In Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery, author Kathleen Cushman captures the voices of young people who explain what it takes to get really good at something. After reviewing our Learning in Afterschool position statement and seeing the alignment with her work, Ms. Cushman agreed to be interviewed on this blog. See an earlier posting for Part 1 of this interview. (A more complete bio can be found below.)

Q: What do you see as a role for afterschool programs in supporting motivation and mastery?
A: Many kids tell me that their afterschool programs give them more opportunities and supports than they get from any other source. A good afterschool program can open doors to the world of arts and culture, athletics, and the kind of projects that really catch the imagination and draw kids into curiosity and learning. Just as important, it can bring youth together with institutions and accomplished people in their community, enlarging the network of support they can call on as they approach the challenges of becoming adults.

Q: Does the experience of motivated learning and mastery outside of the classroom transfer in any way to young people’s engagement in school or planning for their future?
A: Absolutely! So much of what kids work to master on their own time gives them practice in the key habits they need in school or planning for their future. Some of these are “habits of mind,” like asking good questions, breaking down problems, or considering other views. Others are work habits, such as collaboration or persistence.

These are the very same habits that experts use in every field. They are absolutely critical to success in college and beyond. It’s important for all of us adults—not just school teachers—to notice and point them out as we see these habits developing in kids, anytime and anywhere. As we do, we are sending young people the message that they, too, can successfully navigate the path to mastery.
Kathleen Cushman

Q: There are those that say that young people who are behind in school and who score low on standardized tests, particularly those children that are low-income and of color, cannot afford the time it takes to experience mastery outside of the academic disciplines. What is your view of this?
A: I believe exactly the opposite. A test score can only take a narrow snapshot of a young person’s experience, earned knowledge, and strengths. In fact, those who have struggled against the obstacles of poverty and discrimination bring enormous assets to the work of learning. It is the adult’s job to talk with young people respectfully about what they know and can do and to identify those assets in their stories. From there, we can coach them in applying those strengths in other areas. We can help them acquire a mindset that respects the power of practice to build mastery in any field they choose.

Q: Can you speak about the Learning in Afterschool learning principles and the degree to which you believe we should live by these principles in afterschool programs? And why?
A: Your core learning principles set forth a picture of active, collaborative, meaningful  learning that supports young people in practicing habits of mind and work that will last them a lifetime.  Solidly based in research, these principles are the same ones that we see in the best schools in the nation. They underscore the “anytime, anywhere” nature of learning. And they remind us that schools and communities must work as partners. All our young people must have rich opportunities to use their minds well, crossing cultural and political divides to help solve the problems that confront us all.
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Kathleen Cushman is the author of Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery and many other books about the lives and learning of youth. A co-founder of the nonprofit What Kids Can Do (WKCD), she collaborates with young people around the nation to bring forward their voices and visions. She lives in New York City.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery - Part 1

By Sam Piha

In Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery, author Kathleen Cushman captures the voices of young people who explain what it takes to get really good at something. After reviewing our Learning in Afterschool position statement and seeing the alignment with her work, Ms. Cushman agreed to be interviewed on this blog. (A more complete bio can be found below.)

Q: In conducting research on learning, what did you learn about what motivates young people?
A: Just as with us adults, their first sparks of interest come from lots of different sources. They might admire something that they see someone else doing, for example. It could be the activity itself—or it could be the desire to be with (or be like) the person they admire—that makes them want to do that thing, too.

Still, our wishes don’t turn into the motivation to try something unless another key factor is present. To turn that spark of interest into a fire, young people have to expect that they can do that thing, if they try. They need someone to encourage them to mess around with it a bit, explore its possibilities, take those first shaky steps without fear of humiliation.

Opportunity and encouragement are the key supports that adults can provide to help young people develop the skills and strengths that will help them thrive at home, in school, and in later life. Just giving kids the chance to watch accomplished people do things opens doors of opportunity. And if we follow up by providing a supportive situation where they can try such things themselves, we create a magical combination.

Q: Why is it important for young people to have the experience of being really good at something? Is this what you mean by mastery?
Kathleen Cushman
A: It’s not so much “being good at something” that I’m interested in—it’s the process that we go through when we’re “getting good at something.” That’s why the Practice Project I conducted for What Kids Can Do began with asking almost 200 ordinary young people from all kinds of backgrounds, “What does it take to get really good at something?”

We looked at the many things that they could already do well—making music, making robots, even making it safely home through a rough neighborhood. And we discovered that “getting good” has certain common elements that always show up, no matter what knowledge and skills you’re working on.

Q: What did you learn about the process for kids to actually master something?
A: Whether kids are learning how to skateboard or how to speak a foreign language, they’ll have to try it again and again before getting it right. They’ll have a lot of frustrating moments along the way. And if they have someone coaching them step by step . . . if each step is not too easy, but not unrealistically hard . . . and if they stick it out and keep practicing—they will feel the satisfaction of mastering a challenge.

The wonderful thing about that? Learning is never finished. They can use the process again and again, in everything they try. Mastery is a lifelong journey, not a goal—and its habits start young.
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Kathleen Cushman is the author of Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery and many other books about the lives and learning of youth. A co-founder of the nonprofit What Kids Can Do (WKCD), she collaborates with young people around the nation to bring forward their voices and visions. She lives in New York City.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Summer Program that Boosts Engagement Gets Results

Robotic clubs are one way to boost young people's
interest in math and science.
By Sam Piha

Baltimore public schools recently issued the results of their summer program offered in 2010. The summer program was wildly successful in attracting and retaining students - attendance increased by 3,000 over last year, with middle school enrollment climbing from 300 to 2,000 and boasting an 85% attendance rate.


Summer students also showed dramatic academic gains."In the new program, elementary school students noted double-digit percentage-point gains in language arts and math tests taken at the beginning and end of the summer; more than 60 percent of middle-schoolers who participated in newly created summer programs retained or gained skills; and more high-schoolers passed their high school assessment courses," wrote Erica Green in The Baltimore Sun.


So what made the difference in the success of the 2010 summer program? (The answer would come as no surprise to those who support the Learning in Afterschool principles.) They moved from a "remedial, punitive model, to highlighting the importance of enrichment," said Ashley Stewart, senior director of community initiatives for the National Summer Learning Association. Enrichment included robotics, forensics, and sports. Stewart said many districts' summer programs suffer because they don't understand that "when you create a program that provides academic rigor with things that are fun and engaging, you have a captive audience." 

To learn more and view the complete article, click here.