The American Center for Children and the Media and Teachers College hosted a fun and provocative discussion this morning between Ellen Galinsky, author of the book Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs and Lisa Guernsey, the director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation. The book breaks down dozens of studies about early childhood development into a readable and usable guide on how “children learn best.”
I say fun, because Galinsky’s book is actually a “vook,” or a video-book, which lets readers view some of the thousands of hours of videotape showing children involved in psychology experiments that she collected in her research, a few of which were shown during the presentation this morning. This included a video of the famous marshmallow experiment, which can be viewed along with others on the book’s website.
The discussion was also provocative, especially for those of us focused on the how-children-learn-best question. In her opening remarks, Galinsky talked about her journeys around the country to interview children about how they feel about learning. When she talked to young children and observed babies, “the fire in their eyes is burning,” she said — “You can’t stop them from learning.”
In contrast, when she spoke to high school-aged children, most seemed “dead on arrival.” School was about not becoming a “bum on the street,” and not much more. The underlying quest of the book, she said, was finding out how to keep the fire burning as students get older.
The short answer, according to Galinsky, is to “help them follow their passion.” That is, teachers, parents, administrators and others should follow children’s lead and discover what they’re interested in, then encourage them to go deeper. By this she doesn’t really mean letting children loose to self-direct their own learning. Rather, she held up the example of schools that have seen progress in achievement by doing project-based learning that is based on student interests, which reminded me of some of my own reporting in New York City, where I visited a sports-themed school that has done wonders with high school boys by tapping into their passion for sports.
If it’s done right, Galinsky argues that this kind of educational environment will develop the Seven Skills that are essential for kids to get along in the world now and in the future. The seven skills, by the way, are as follows: Focus and Self Control; Perspective Taking; Communicating; Making Connections; Critical Thinking; Taking On Challenges; Self-Directed, Engaged Learning. Does this seem like an exhaustive list, or is something missing?