Zest is enthusiasm for and enjoyment of something. John Holt wrote in 1967 that since we don't don't what people need to know in the future, "we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned." This makes a lot of sense and is similar to lifelong learning.
The authors break down zest for learning into two bodies of knowledge: psychology of flourishing (psychology traits, theories of intelligence, positive psychology and psychology of motivation) and education for flourishing (purpose and pedagogy). So they cover a lot of varied but interrelated topics. This entry will be more of a brief summary of key ideas.
The psychological traits needed for zest can be summed up with the mnemonic OCEAN: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Embracing novel experiences, risk taking and taking on new challenges is a big part of zest.
Theories of intelligence related to zest are cognition, experiential learning, deliberate practice (expertise) and experience flow. Zestful learners find meaning, both in body and mind. Experiential learning began with John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget, and the experiential learning cycle involves thinking, acting, experiencing and reflecting. The authors argue that the learning that happens in classrooms is as valuable as "real-life" learning. As much as teamwork and collaboration is held in high esteem in learning and society, deliberate practice is often best done alone, as in the case of elite athletes (Anders Ericsson). There is some disagreement with deliberate practice and flow, coined by Csikszentmihalyi. Angela Duckworth, who focuses on grit, explains that deliberate practice helps in preparation, but in the performance flow happens. Cal Newport and Jordan Peterson feel that flow might keep people in thrall but not actually improving. Duckworth is more positive about flow and feels grit is necessary to keep in the flow. Grit comes through four ways: 1) cultivate your interests; 2) develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice; 3) connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself; 4) learn to hope when all is lost!
Positive psychology studies well-being, self-actualization and flow. Similar to flow is the notion of "the zone" (Ken Robinson) when activities are "completely absorbing," A word of caution regarding the self-esteem movement, based on dispositions and character strengths, which carried to the extreme can lead to narcissism. The authors believe self-esteem based not on subjective feelings but rather the innate value and dignity of human beings is a wiser approach. Peterson and Seligman have identified 24 character strengths, based on six virtues, related to zest: 1) wisdom and knowledge; 2) courage; 3) humanity; 4) justice; 5) temperance; 6) transcendence. Carol Dweck's growth mindset also connects to this area of positive psychology; as well, maintaining optimism, physical activity and social well-being are all important aspects of zest.
The psychology of motivation is related to performance (though there are differences, of course). Performance has been turned into an equation by Campbell and Pritchard (1976):
performance = f (aptitude level x skill level x understanding of the task x choice to expend effort x choice to persist x choice of degree of effort to expend x facilitating and inhibiting conditions not under the control of the individual)
Four key factors for motivation are based on two habits:
1) performing well (feedback from good performance; expectation of good performance; goals worth pursuing) and 2) finding meaning (a sense of purpose)
Maslow (1970) identified 15 characteristics of people who are able to self-actualise. The following 8 are related to zest:
Source: Zest for Learning, Bill Lucas & Ellen Spencer, 2020
This book, written by Howard Eaton, caught my attention because of my recent interest in learning disabilities.
The basis of the Brain School is neuroplasticity, or basically the ability of the brain to adapt. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, neuroplasticity is the “capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behaviour in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction.” This is good news when you consider the people suffering from serious disorders and illnesses related to the brain, such as stroke, injury, autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, brain deficits, depression and addiction.
A psycho-educational assessment measures a variety of areas with a percentile rating (25% - 75% is average range, while 50% is age-level ability) :
ARROWSMITH PROGRAM (19 cognitive dysfunctions and common features)
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PSYCHO-EDUCATIONAL ASSESSMENT AND THE ARROWHEAD ASSESSMENT
The purposes of the two assessments are very different. The psycho-educational assessment seeks to diagnose a learning disability, assist in skill remediation, in-class adaptations, and assistive technology. The Arrowhead assessment is used solely to design the cognitive capacity training intervention for achievement acquisition. Psycho-ed assessments take about three to four hours, while the Arrowhead assessment can take several hours more. The psycho-ed assessments finds percentile scores on measures of intelligence, cognitive ability, and achievement in reading, writing and math. The Arrowhead assessment does not measure reading, spelling, or mathematical abilities but rather cognitive areas, and results falls on a spectrum from very severe to moderate to mild to above average.
It is unique in some ways. It goes from 8:30 to 3:00 pm, and has eight periods; six of those are cognitive classes, each 40 minutes long, and the other two are English and math. The focus of the school is cognitive remediation. There are two teachers per classroom, so the teacher-student ratio is around one-to-nine. When a student masters a cognitive exercise, a new one is started. Students keep track of their achievements and set new daily goals. In one word, students are focussed--on cognitive exercises, active engagement, and repetition. Despite the intensity of the cognitive classes, students engage in other activities, as well. Daily physical education is 40 minutes a day, and students can participate in extracurricular activities, such as field trips, plays, guest artists, track and field and a talent show.
Source: Eaton, Howard, 2011. Brain School. Vancouver, Glia Press.
Willingham's cognitive principle is children differ in intelligence, but the good news is intelligence can be improved through persistent hard work. This has been the Asian educational view for a long time, although with Dr. Dweck's growth mindset ideas, Western thought is changing in that direction. Intelligence is essentially how "people reason well and catch on to new ideas quickly." The current view of intelligence is that there is a general intelligence (g), which contributes to verbal and mathematical intelligence. Therefore, verbal scores are related to math scores, although individual verbal scores relate closer to each other. The "g" is not clearly known, but could be related to the speed or capacity of working memory.
What Makes People Intelligent?
It's the classic nature vs. nature debate; is it genetics or the environment that makes people intelligent? Through many twin studies, genes are responsible for about 50 percent of our smartness. What's interesting is that is starts off young, about 20 percent, then increases to about 60 percent in later life. The bottom line: genetic effects can make people seek out or select different environments. For example, imagine you start off life with a little better memory, more persistence, or simply more curiosity. Your parents pick up on this trait subtly, and begin to use a larger vocabulary or discuss deeper-thinking ideas. This leads you to spend more time with "smarter" kids, and grades become a natural focus. On the other hand, genetically you may not have the physical abilities, which leads you to avoid many sports and instead pick up a book and read instead.
Though genetics plays a large role, intelligence is malleable and can be improved.
Implications for the Classroom
Praise Effort, Not Ability
You want kids to understand they are in control of their intelligence. Praise effort, persistence, and taking responsibility for the work. Be careful of insincere praise, as kids are not easily fooled.
Hard Work Pays Off
Remind students that it takes hard work to be smart, just like it takes hard work and practice to be a successful athlete; natural talent can only take you so far.
Failure leads to Learning
Again, the most successful people (think entrepreneurs, inventors, athletes) take risks and fail in order to succeed. Michael Jordan talks about all his mistakes and failures on the court, which ultimately led to his greatest successes. Remind students that failure is not necessarily embarrassing or negative; it's an opportunity to learn something new.
Study Skills are Necessary
Help struggling students with techniques and methods of effective studying, memorizing, and organizing their time. They need to be self-disciplined and resourceful, as well.
Catching Up is the Goal
In order to catch up with the brighter students, they will need to work even harder than them. There is no easy solution or magic pill. They may need to revamp their entire schedule and drop activities that do not contribute to their educational goals.
Show Confidence in Them
As a teacher, set high standards and expect students to meet them. If they do an substandard job, simply state what they have done and give them feedback for improvement. Do not overpraise them for a mediocre job.
Source: Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School? (2009)
PERSONAL VS. SITUATIONAL
Pessimist: "I'm dumb."
Optimist: "That was a challenging test."
Pessimist: "I always get stuck with a weak partner."
Optimist: "I need to help my partner improve."
PERMANENT VS. SHORT-LIVED
Pessimist: "That team always beats us."
Optimist: "We are learning what it will take to beat them."
Pessimist: "I'll never figure out how to do math."
Optimist: "I'll need to spend extra time practicing these problems at home."
PERVASIVE VS. SPECIFIC
Pessimist: "There's no way I can find the time to do all of this. I have soccer practice tonight. My teacher gives me too much homework."
Optimist: "I'll have to use my time more wisely in class. If I spend 45 minutes a night studying, I can get my assignments completed."
Source: adapted from The Champion's Comeback, Jim Afremow, (2016)
Fixed: I can't execute this skill.
Growth: I'm going to devote more practice time to honing this skill.
Fixed: I am so embarrassed by this mistake.
Growth: I will learn from this mistake.
Fixed: I should be able to make changes quickly.
Growth: It takes time and effort to build winning habits.
Fixed: The other player (or team) is too good.
Growth: Playing against good players (or teams) is one of the best ways to improve my own performance.
Source: The Champion's Comeback, Jim Afremow (2016)
What does it take to become an expert in a field? Conventional wisdom tells you do something for 10000 hours, and voila, you’re an expert! No, says K. Anders Ericsson, an expert in the field of expert-level skill acquisition, who’s a professor psychology at Florida State University. It’s not how much time your spend learning, but how you use that time. Experts parse their learning into tiny slices or segments, practice that one action endlessly, but most importantly, they observe what’s happening and make imperceptible adjustments to improve. This goes for athletes, surgeons, chefs or spelling bee champions. Ericsson refers to this as deliberate practice: small tasks are repeated with immediate feedback, correction and experimentation.
The question is this: Are our students and we as teachers engaging in deliberate practice? Or are we just doing the same things over and over, without knowing what and how to change? Are we improving over time and growing, or just spinning our wheels in the mud?
(Source: Work Rules!, Laszlo Bock)
Dr. Carol Dweck has studied this area extensively. A fixed mindset is where a person is very pessimistic. They believe that their personal qualities are unalterable and negative experiences reveal their inherent limitations. The growth mindset is one where people assume that effort and dedication will shape achievement and failure is just an obstacle to overcome.
To support the growth mindset, we should praise effort and limit criticism of our students. Also, more importantly, we should encourage children's pursuit of challenges and focus proactively and what they can do right now to take on those challenges.
I think even as teachers we sometimes fall prey to the fixed mindset. We might look at a student and feel as if nothing is going to change, that today will be just like yesterday. But we need to remember to use our concerted effort and come up with fresh, creative solutions to overcome the present-day obstacle. As Albert Einstein once said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.