Our Call as Educators: Teach Students What A Great School Year Is All About

A substantive concept of what it means to be a “good” or competent student not only identifies the skills required, but also implies the proper design and essential minimal conditions for student development. Student development skills can and should be substantively taught as student development thinking.

A substantive concept of what it means to be a “good” or competent student not only identifies the skills required, but also implies the proper design and essential minimal conditions for student development. Student development skills can and should be substantively taught as student development thinking. The one major goal being: to give students practice in thinking like a student. As a result, students learn not only how to interact and behave in the classroom, but also how to identify, refine and improve their study skills, habits and strategies.

Through this mode of instruction, students come to see the significance of student development thinking both in their own personal lives and in their lives in the classroom. Study skills, habits and strategies, in the student’s transformed mind, are no longer a set of strict and boring rules made up by instructors they do not relate to,  but a way to think and make smart decisions in the present and plans for the future.

To improve student thinking skills it is incumbent that instead of giving more information, we teach how to systematically analyze information and data. Below I have selected a few introductory and truncated thoughts drawn from “How the Wise Decide: The Lessons of 21 Extraordinary Leaders by Bryn Zeckhasuser and Arron Sanoski. These paraphrased excerpts help illuminate salient aspects of techniques used to promote classroom participation, discussion and engagement. Such techniques can and should be integrated in the minds of students at the very outset of the school year. Once implemented, students are empowered to develop the self-motivation to ascribe meaning to their education and inevitably improve their decision-making:

Purposeful Hearing & Listening

What: Do not simply listen carefully. But rather, ask yourself WHY ARE YOU LISTENING? What’s the purpose of your listening?

Why: Knowing clearly why you are listening allows you to optimize the time you spend listening and results in getting the knowledge you need to make informed decisions. Here are two basic reasons for listening: (1) To gather information. Not just any information, but specific information. This is accomplished by THINKING about the information you already know and identifying what specific information you still need and from whom/what you are going to get that specific information; (2) Communication. Listening precedes talking, that’s why “we have two ears and one mouth.” Therefore, listening for the most important information allows you to make better decisions and also helps you to be persuasive.

How: The purpose of listening is to learn. As a listener, it is your responsibility to interpret what you’re hearing, evaluate what you heard and place it appropriately within your decision-making process. An experienced problem-solver, in any vocation, understands that a right answer to the wrong question is not effective problem-solving. Therefore, always keep in mind the way a problem is framed (the way of structuring or presenting a problem or issue). Framing typically dictates how the problem is solved.

Result: Do not listen or think without asking questions! It is crucial to apply the following in your decision-making: analyze your and other people’s thinking with the objective of discovering its purpose, assumptions, questions, points of view, information, inferences, concepts and implications. This helps students develop 1) sensitivity to clarity, accuracy, relevance and depth; 2) discover the structure of their own thought; and 3) arrive at judgments through their own reasoning. This process allows you to take ownership of your decision-making.

Articulate Long Term Goals as a Daily Guide

What: Making the best academic and career decisions requires that you not only have a Long Term Goal, but also the discipline to allow that Long Term Goal to guide every decision in your daily, decision-making choices.

Why: An “articulated” Long Term Goal eliminates ambiguity and uncertainty in conscious and/or unconscious decision-making. Your Long Term Goal (e.g., academic, career, life, etc.) spells out in detail what you are trying to accomplish. Without an “articulated” Long Term Goal you don’t have a guided and disciplined way to know what your goal is, let alone, the ability to reach the goal! Most likely, you are going to waste a lot of time and effort, and experience frustration. In addition, a Long Term Goal allows for you to logically prioritize your primary objectives, allowing you to have a reference point against which you can objectively measure what needs to be done, and equally as important, what needs to be ignored.

How: Focusing on, a daily basis, your Long Term Goal inherently limits or restricts your options to only those that are within your Long Term Goal. Hence, your time, efforts and resources are directed only to those activities that move you toward your Long Term Goal. If you know what your primary objective is, then you need only to look for the option that best satisfies that objective. Without a Long Term Goal, and the primary objectives that arise from it, you will most likely choose options that either having nothing to do with your objective, or worse, will prevent you from achieving your Long Term Goal.

Result: There are two major advantages to developing and having the discipline to allow your “articulated” Long Term Goal guide every decision in your daily choices:

  1. You will be significantly more efficient because you won’t waste valuable time pondering over potential options that are in conflict with your primary objectives. All you have to do is simply ask yourself: “Does this option further my Long Term Goal?” If the answer is NO, it is NOT an option.
  2. Your Long Term Goal serves to bring you coherence to everything you are doing and going to do. The “articulated” Long Term Goal, is what it says it is, LONG TERM. Decisions, on the other hand, are short term. All of us are inclined to be undisciplined in sticking to our Long Term Goal, this lack of discipline can and will become a habit that destroys the “articulated” Long Term Goal.
To Win, Be Prepared to Lose

What: Human brains are programmed to “worry substantially about the possibility of loss, and not enough about the size of the loss relative to the gain”-Daniel Kahneman (Princeton psychologist)

Result: According to this Princeton psychologist, human beings have a tendency for “risk aversion.” This means we have a “psychological urge that causes us to put far greater weight on losing than winning.”

Why: As human beings, we experience the pain of loss twice as strongly as we enjoy the gains of the same magnitude. Therefore, our tendency is to have sloppy thinking because we ignore the reality of any given situation, and then we tend to make a decision not to take a risk even when the probability of success is huge.

How to overcome fear of losing: In overcoming “risk aversion,” it is essential to develop the discipline, practice and habit of critically analyzing whether the perceived risk is actually greater than the real risk. Here is one approach: First, identify the major driver of the risk; and, secondly, use fundamental questioning in conjunction with various sources to obtain evidence and thus transform undisciplined, fearful thinking into objective and calibrated problem-solving.
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Be Prepared and Have an Opinion

What: Your responsibility as a student is to participate in classroom discussion and/or discourse (i.e., be ready to talk and engage).

Why: When people with diverse backgrounds and well-informed opinions passionately argue their positions, it improves everyone’s thinking and decision-making. And here is the kicker, diverse and well-reasoned arguments can re-frame a problem so that everyone sees it in a new way. Your contribution is valuable and matters. This approach is how new and unique solutions to problems can emerge.

How: Be prepared for class by doing your homework and re-visiting the OjoOido Tip of the Week, such as: “Developing a New Mind-Set.” The best thinking occurs when there is dissent because the people engaged in the “discourse” are forced to expose their opinions to a barrage of counterarguments. The strengths and weaknesses of every opinion given are heard, and participants can/will think about all viewpoints by putting forth the strongest possible challenges.

Result: When a classroom learning environment that nurtures vigorous debate is created, developed and sustained, ALL student participants accept and embrace the highly charged atmosphere because they know that when the discussion is over there will be no winners or losers, just well-informed and honest opinions rendered. It makes students more lively and productive and inspires them to improve their social interactions with their classmates. Lastly, you and your classmates, instead of being bored, will look forward to going to class.

See. Hear. Learn!

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