Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Show # 86 Jenifer Fox- Your Child’s Strengths

This week’s show features the second half of my interview with Jenifer Fox. Jenifer’s new book, Your Child’s Strengths is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and it provides a blueprint for changing your child’s experience in school. This seems like a radical notion at first, but very small changes, such as looking at your child’s true strengths and giving them opportunities to do what they do best can change the way a child sees themselves and the world.

The Search for Strengths

One of the first steps in finding a child’s strengths starts by talking to them, listening, and looking for some patterns in their natural interests. Jenifer and I talk about how to find out more about your child, and how unstructured time can sometimes be a great place to begin looking and observing your child’s natural interests and proclivities. While there’s a trend to make sure children have structured play and are adequately supervised at all times, this doesn’t give them a lot of time or choice to really discover what makes them special as individuals.

This also means allowing your child to be disappointed and learning how to deal with that- positive psychology and reinforcement is NOT about making their lives perfect and happy all the time, but helping them develop a sense of solving their problems and be willing to take the risks necessary to learn and grow.

If we make our approach in schools more “project-based” (and please, no, I am not recommending any more posters or dioramas on the Book Report for the month…) meaning that children learn from examples and by doing as much as possible, we may be able to make the education they receive more meaningful. By the way, the case-based or project-based learning approach is one used in graduate schools, from business schools to law schools, currently. We just need to begin to apply this to younger students!

We need to collect specific information about what a child does well-this is essential to finding ways to build on the successes, and clues to other talents that might be hidden otherwise.

We also talk about what to do when teacher- student relationships are rocky, and how to go about trying to reach some sort of working relationship- what Nancy Hennessey from the IDA calls “Dystechia” It’s tough, but sometimes it seems we do have to teach our kids how to work the system or play the game. We also talk about the difference between entertainment and engagement, and how teachers need to be able to parse the difference, as do parents.

Recommended books and links in this episode:

The Unhurried Child

Dr. Bob Brooks- Raising a Self-Disciplined Child; Raising Resilient Children

Affinities Program at Purnell School

The Gates Foundation Report on High School Dropouts

Sara Lawrence Lightfoot- The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other

BBC Article on Basic Sums Stressing Adults

ooVoo- online interactive chat (free service) for up to six people at a time

The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and Chris Lehmann- His blog is Practical Theory

Click here to download Show #86- Jenifer Fox

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