Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Week 7 Reading Response

My second video, better and much faster than the first :)

Still room for improvement (a bit choppy) ;)

Getting into the final weeks of this course and what do I want to share in this space I have been creating? I am reminded of a lot of things as I prepare to reflect and present some final ideas. For me goals have played a powerful role in my life. Accidently I stumbled on goals in my life but I've had the good fortune to discover teachers and books that have helped me develop this value skill.

I was recently flipping through my notes on this book and came across the story of Jess Goodell and these wonderful quotes on resilence. One of "those books" that caught my eye.

"I found my salvation in education." She read about war, natue, society. She began to see herself in the larger context of society and history. She began to look outward, for ways to help others. And in taking that positive action, directed at a goal, she could feel a change within herself. A key component in her ability to rebuild was her commitment to deeply pursue education. "Learning is its own reard as far as the brain is concerned. It deeply activates the dopamine reward pathways."

Gonzales does a excellent job of weaving together personal stories with explinations of brain science that make understanding their relationships very easy. For example Pamksepp's "assertive aggression" involves any activity that arises from what he refers to as "a dopamine-fueled" motivation. You might find yourself seeking advancement in your job. You might be in pursuit of a partner in marriage. You might be remodeling your home. All those acts of assertive aggression involve having a plan and carrying it out. Random chaotic neuromuscular storms produced by rage pathway cannot take place while we are making a careful plan and folling it step by step.

When you first learn a skill such as knitting or surgery (or violin or golf) it begins as a volunary, deliberate action that requires conscious thought. It begins in the frontal lobes as an idea. When learning a new skill, you have to think about it consciously. You have to make deliberate use of your body, step by step. It won't be smooth. But as you practice, control migrates out of the frontal lones into the lower parts of the brain and the activity becomes automatic. The basal ganglia become involved and your movements begin to flow. Your cerebellum and parietal lobe (the Where Pathway) begin to monitor what you're doing and correct errors automatically. You know longer have to think about it.
 Stress and cortisol also prevent chemicals such as dopamine from making you feel good. By engaging the seeking pathway with a task that you can achieve, most people can break the cycle of fear, rage, exhaustion, and depression. It also connects with the reward system in the brain. When the basal ganglia can broker a successful action through this pathway, dopamine is released, so the very act of correctly completing a stitch or row of stiches activates the reward and pleasure pathways of the brain. Learning by itself promotes dopamine.

A structure within the basal ganglia is activated during feelings of safety, reward, and simpley feeling great. It's called the striatum and learning a new habit or skill and the performance of organized, patterned activites, perhaps even knitting. Acknowledge fear, rage, sadness, but then use those emotions to move into seeking mode. To achieve that, we need to think, analyze and plan.

I worked at the library from 2008 to 2012 and was fortunate to really find a lot of inspirational books. To me the research and the scientific method being used to understand human development and needs is facinating. But by far the most powerful aspect of these books are the personal stories. The ones that say ordinary people have done this, so can you. I find more inspiration in the story of Jess Goodell then I do in the explination of how the brain works, but both are connected and if I can understand that I can try on my own to repeat that experiment. Not having gone to school created in me a void, some of my siblings filled theirs with relationships or their own pursuit of knowledge (in wonderfully different ways), I filled my with trying to be better today than I was yesterday. I have had a number of setbacks, I have had a number of failures. Getting laid off at the library in 2012 was one of the hardest things because I loved working for the library. I loved holding books and taking them home, I loved passing them around, I loved discovering new ones and old classics. But when I told people where I worked I often heard in response that the last book "they" had read was required reading in school. Heart breaking. It is not a lack of good books but rather an education that has killed the joy of reading with comprehension questions. I decided when I got laid off at the library that this was going to be the chapter in my life that the fates intervened and forced me in the direction of my future. I would take all these things I had been learning and I would apply them to becoming a teacher. I would try to inspire 50 students a year to find their own joy of reading and let their curiosity take over from there.

In my reading wanderings I discovered this little gem. When we look back at the Reading Response for week 6 there is a link to Heather Wolpert-Gawron 's blog about the goals for public education. What I found interesting about her list is that a lot of what we hope education will do is not something a standardized test can tell us, but they are the types of things that Paul Tough is talking about here. Recently I noticed Tough had a new article in the Atlantic. "When teachers are able to create an environment that fosters competence, autonomy, and relatedness, Deci and Ryan say, students are much more likely to feel motivated to do that hard work." Students who feel safe in an environment where they can make mistakes and try things that are outside their normal activities will be more likely to develop those character traits we want a good education to inspire.
Of course the thing that stands in our way is: 
The problem is that when disadvantaged children run into trouble in school, either academically or behaviorally, most schools respond by imposing more control on them, not less. This diminishes their fragile sense of autonomy. As these students fall behind their peers academically, they feel less and less competent. And if their relationships with their teachers are wary or even contentious, they are less likely to experience the kind of relatedness that Deci and Ryan describe as being so powerfully motivating for young people in the classroom.  
A teacher's interventions in the classroom should be intended to help children learn a different set of skills; controlling their impulses, staying focused on the task at hand, avoiding distractions and mental traps, managing their emotions, organizing their thoughts. Naturally teaching chidlren how to follow rules and regulate impulse. An inclination to persist at a boring and often unrewarding task; the ability to delay gratification; the tendency to follow through on a plan. Which as we discussed earlier can actually make a person feel better. Caregivers who are able to form close, nurtering relationships with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment.

One of the things I think all this has to do with the other is that if we teach ourselves how to learn from each failure, how to stare at our failures with unblinking honesty, and confront exactly why we messed up, I believe we would do it better the next time. 

Want a little more Paul Tough, listen to this interview "They Don't Teach That" ;)

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