Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Top British school to provide lessons in true grit: £34,000-a-year college to teach pupils how to deal with setbacks

A leading public school is to give pupils lessons in ‘grit’ to help them emulate children in high-performing East Asian nations such as Singapore.

Wellington College will encourage youngsters to adopt beliefs more commonly associated with so-called ‘tiger mothers’ – that ability is not fixed and hard work will eventually pay off.

The Berkshire school – which charges boarding fees of £34,125 a year – aims to find the best way of teaching pupils to persevere in the face of academic setbacks, instead of assuming they are simply not clever enough.

It has become known for adopting innovative approaches including ‘happiness’ lessons to boost pupils’ well-being and outlook on life.

Working with a Harvard University researcher in a two-year project, pupils will be introduced to cutting-edge brain science which emphasises the role of effort and practice – rather than relying on innate talent.

If successful, the initiative could be introduced in other schools.

The lessons will aim to explode the widely-held view that only some children are born ‘smart’. Instead of giving up, they will be told that working hard will boost their abilities in areas they find difficult.

Schools in countries such as Singapore, South Korea, China and Japan, which regularly top global league tables, are known to value hard work rather than focusing on natural ability.

But experts warned youngsters should not be ‘drilled at all costs’.  Project leader Dr Christina Hinton, of Harvard Graduate School of Education, said she believed it was right to encourage hard work, but that the approach ‘should be paired with compassion’.       

Dr Hinton said: ‘The results would show these countries excelling and they would also show that they adopt a growth mindset, that the harder you work the better you will do.

‘You’ll hear things like, “that’s such a beautiful project, you must have worked so hard” as opposed to “that’s such a beautiful project, you must be so bright or so talented or so smart”.

‘Right away, the cultural assumption is that if you did something very well then you worked very hard, as opposed to then you are talented.

‘Actually that is more accurate from a neuroscience point of view. Working really hard at something does develop your brain and your abilities.

‘It’s a really important concept and important to correct that misconception in pop culture and definitely with children.’

Dr Hinton said she believed tiger mothers were ‘right’ in their belief in encouraging hard work.

But she added: ‘It should be paired with compassion. It’s good for students to work really hard but it’s important to really invest in things that they personally feel are important and interesting, not what someone’s forcing them to do.

‘If a student is really passionate about something themselves and they are working really hard, that’s the ideal case. They will be more what we call intrinsically motivated or internally motivated. I think it’s problematic if there’s too much pressure coming from external forces making them do things.

‘Kids can’t just do what they want all the time, of course. But it needs to be a supportive environment, and for them not to be drilled at all costs, that’s not good education.

‘Some neuroscience shows that if your brain is too stressed in that way, it’s not as effective at learning. You really want to support them emotionally while you are supporting them to be hard workers, I think that’s important.’

The project is being carried out in conjunction with three local state schools and the techniques it develops could be adopted by schools around the country.

It is one of the first to emerge from Wellington’s new educational research centre which was launched this month to eliminate ‘guesswork’ and ‘hunches’ from teaching practice.

Tasks are likely to include spotting shortcuts around the school which have become well-trodden paths as more people have walked on them.

‘We use that as a metaphor for what’s happening in the brain - that the more you are using your circuits the more strengthened they are becoming,’ Dr Hinton added.

‘There are genetic contributions but the environment has a really powerful impact on the brain. Nothing is set in stone genetically.’

The moniker ‘tiger mother’ was popularised by US law professor Amy Chua who described how she chivvied her daughters to achieve academic and musical success Chinese-style in a best-selling guide which provoked fierce debate in Britain.

The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, published in 2011, was described as ‘the story of my family’s journey in two cultures’.


Teach-in at Brown U highlights sharp divides over Gaza

Panel addresses political context behind violence in Gaza, draws some criticism from audience

A teach-in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict grew tense Wednesday evening as opinions clashed in a MacMillan 117 filled to capacity.

The event, entitled “Why Gaza Matters: The War and its Consequences,” featured a panel of five speakers followed by a question-and-answer session that continued nearly an hour over the planned time frame.

The panel was moderated by Beshara Doumani P’17, director of Middle East studies and professor of history, who encouraged students to ask tough questions and voiced his hope to “bridge the gap between public discourse and academic knowledge on the issue.”

Panel speakers addressed the historical, political and international dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Professor of History Omer Bartov said the conflict is a “deadlock” that stems from the fundamental idea that it is better to gain territory than to gain peace. On both sides, “no leader has been produced who has had the courage and sense to make the sacrifices that are called for,” he said.

“This conflict is very personal to me,” said Sa’ed Atshan, postdoctoral fellow in international studies, who is from Palestine. “My family and friends are there,” he said, adding that a few of his friends’ family members had died in the conflict. Atshan showed a presentation to the audience, including slides with photos of relatives of friends who had lost their lives.

Many describe Gaza as an “open-air prison” where people are “trapped in a brutal siege with nowhere to go for safety,” Atshan said, adding that those living in Gaza are being “denied the basic rights.”

Atshan also addressed how the American media treats the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said the mainstream media in this country assumes that Israel and Palestine are “symmetrical in terms of the power they yield” despite an actual imbalance. He described Israel as an occupying force with nuclear weaponry, while he characterized Palestine as “a colonized, occupied, stateless population.”

Melani Cammett, professor of political science, highlighted the political dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Conflict and violence empower extremists,” she said, adding that support for Hamas was bolstered during periods of heightened tension, such as when the Israeli blockade began to take effect in 2008.

Cammett said data has shown a “lower level of self-reported economic security” for Palestinians who are unaffiliated with or opponents of Hamas, which she said was likely due to “discretionary access” for Hamas supporters in the Gaza. “The blockade disproportionally hurts people who were less supportive of Hamas,” she added.

“It’s tragic how extremes on both sides are feeding and legitimizing each other to produce no solution other than more and more violence,” Bartov said.

Cammett highlighted the recent decrease in global public approval of Israel, with the United States emerging as an exception. There has been “strong and consistent support” for Israel in the United States, she said, including higher public support for Israel among Republicans than among Democrats, a characterization that raised a question during the question-and-answer session about Cammett’s motivation behind associating support with Israel with conservative opinions at Brown. Cammett responded to the question by saying she had no objectives behind the characterization other than the available data.

Nina Tannenwald, director of the international relations program and senior lecturer in political science, said the concept of human rights is central to the conflict, and there is no prospect of a stable solution without addressing the “grievances” on both sides.

Violation of international law on one side does not justify the violation by the other, Tannenwald said. Though Israel has the right to self-defense and Palestinians have the right to resist occupation, there are limits to both parties’ actions, she added.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, Adam Bennett ’16 said the panel lacked representation of and support for Israel, garnering claps and shouts from the audience, some of whom yelled that the panel was biased. Bennett also questioned whether the role of the panel was to foster “an objective conversation” about the conflict or to serve as a forum for the Middle East Studies program.

When the panel members moved on to address the next question, some audience members  said the panel was “a stacked deck.” Doumani reiterated that the panel would only address four questions at a time, prompting two audience members to exit the room.

Nancy Khalek, assistant professor of religious studies, expressed her disappointment over some community members’ “angry departure” of the teach-in before it had concluded.

“The value of a teach-in comes from actually listening to each other,” Khalek said, calling for people to discuss the situation in Gaza with “a slightly more open mind and a little more empathy for each other.”

In response to Bennett’s question, Atshan asked audience members to consider“why don’t we have anyone who supports Hamas” in the auditorium. Atshan urged the audience “not to impose our own labels” and to “listen empathetically to what others have to say,” which led to snaps of approval among some audience members.

Matt Dang ’16 said he was “surprised, to say the least” at the abrupt change in tone during the question-and-answer session. It was interesting to see the clear divide in strong opinions in the auditorium, as the open discussion became more of an argument, he said.

Jonathan Tollefson ’15.5 said he was surprised at the lengths to which audience members went to try to defend Israel.

Carly West ’16 said she saw the panel as an “interesting mix of constructive, insightful people with civil questions and sharp, emotive reactions.”


All schools 'should run a longer day' to benefit poor pupils

Schools should run a longer day to prevent pupils from working-class white families falling behind their peers, according to the Department for Education.

All state primaries and secondaries should consider extending the school day to give pupils more teaching time and access to "character building activities".

This is likely to include extra-curricular activities such as sport, cadet forces, the Duke of Edinburgh award and debating societies which are seen as vital to the development of important "life skills" outside the classroom.

In a report, officials said pupils from poor backgrounds benefited the most from a longer day because it gave them time to “complete work in a calm and supportive environment” – away from often chaotic home lives.

The DfE failed to set out recommended opening and closing times but evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation - a government-funded charity - has found that some schools extended the day from the usual seven or eight hours to 12.

It would involve running lessons and extra-curricular activities from 7am until 7pm.

But the EEF has indicated that "smaller increases are associated with greater gains, and with more than three of four hours a day the benefit decreases".

Schools should plan their day based on “what works in the best interests of their pupils’ education and not simply on tradition”, the DfE said.

Some schools that have already extended the day make it compulsory for pupils to attend extra lessons but extra-curricular activities run into the evening are often option.

The conclusions were made in response to a report from the Commons education select committee in June that found large numbers of working-class white pupils – particularly boys – were being turned off school.

Figures show poor white British children – those eligible for free school meals – perform worse in their GCSEs than any other ethnic group, with just a third gaining five good grades last summer. This compares with more than three-quarters of poor children from Chinese families, 61.5 per cent of those from Indian backgrounds and 59.2 per cent of poor Bangladeshi pupils.

In a report today, the DfE endorsed many findings of the report, including calls to increase the length of the school day.

Since 2011, all state schools in England have been able to run classes into the evening without undertaking a “prescriptive” application process, the DfE said.

The report said: “Longer days can mean schools have more time to work with pupils who need additional help, and can open up opportunities for pupils to access purposeful, character building activities that help them build the confidence to succeed when they leave school.

“Some schools, including some in disadvantaged areas, are already recognising the benefits of longer days and are re-organising their timetables to ensure a good balance of teaching, extracurricular activities and supervised self-directed work.

“Those schools report that just having a dedicated time of the school day to complete work in a calm and supportive environment can make a big difference to pupils; increasing confidence and engagement in schoolwork.”

The report said the DfE would not enforce a longer day but told how Ofsted, the education watchdog, was planning to “identify successful practice in this area as part of its inspection” process.

These examples will be published on the Ofsted website as evidence of the benefits of a longer day, it emerged.

In a series of further conclusions, the DfE also set out plans to boost the language and vocabulary skills of all poor children amid fears large numbers of pupils start compulsory education unable to speak properly.

New hubs will be set up in children’s centres to target infants from 96,000 families “at risk of language delay”, it was announced.

The DfE also raised the possibility of overhauling the way it classifies pupil deprivation, which gives schools access to additional funding through the "pupil premium".

Currently, deprivation is based on the number of pupils claiming free school meals but the system has been criticised in the past because some parents fail to register.

The DfE said it was investigating the possibility of matching parental income and benefits data with pupil records to establish an automatic entitlement to extra funding. Clauses set out in the new Small Business, Employment and Enterprise Bill may enable this link to be made, it emerged.


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