Tag Archives: thinking

Before the Birds Start Singing…

Let's get some thinking done before the birds in trees start singing and the phone starts tweeting.
Let’s get some thinking done before the birds in trees start singing and the phone starts tweeting.

One of the things I enjoy about starting my day between 4:30 and 5 a.m. is the quiet. At this time of the year even the birds aren’t up to sing. The phone doesn’t ring. (Well, usually… sometimes there’s the call inviting me to sub at school but it usually doesn’t come much before 6 a.m.) Unfortunately, email does arrive–but usually at a much slower pace than throughout the day so I can start t feel like I’m catching up. And, depending on what my plan is for the morning, I can of course “turn off” the email. I don’t mind bragging that I can accomplish lots in that hour or two of solitude with no interruptions or distractions.

This morning’s email included a point to an article on a site I particularly enjoy called “Brain Pickings.” (I’d been using the phrase “brain leaks” before I came across it and now I’m not sure but what I like their idea better. The idea of picking someone’s brain does seem more acceptable than looking at what leaks out. Maybe.)

Anyway, this particular article is “The Psychology of Writing.”But it’s really about way more than writing. The article is an in-depth review of a book by Ronald T. Kellogg by the same title. I gather from the review the book “explores how work schedules, behavioral rituals, and writing environments affect the amount of time invested in trying to write and the degree to which that time is spent in a state of boredom, anxiety, or creative flow.”

It’s particularly interesting that the book was written in 1994 – twenty years ago – before we became constantly connected to each other electronically. But it’s not much of a stretch to see some application and connection. Are we really more productive because our smart phones are strapped to our side? (Actually more often they are in the hand at at the ready.) Our “behavior rituals and writing environments” have definitely changed in the last twenty years.

There’s a quote on this site “I write to discover what I think” and I would offer that the psychology of writing is akin to the psychology of thinking.  For some reason, there is a fascination with writer’s environments and habits. Perhaps we could develop an interest in thinkers environments and habits. We may not all be “writers” in the professional sense, but we are all thinkers. I hope.

When I teach writing, my bias is “put the pen on the paper” (or your fingers on keys) and get started. That physical act will often get the creative juices flowing. Thinking is a bit more abstract, but physical acts or rituals can be developed. With the kids at school we sometimes go through a motion of putting imaginary thinking caps on to signal we are going to make a deliberate effort to think. It’s really fun to watch the kids’ countenances change. The room becomes quieter and facial expressions change to a serious, thoughtful look.

Certain types of thinking do require a disciplined approach and that can include consideration of the environment and perhaps some ritual, particularly when we are starting. Reading the habits of great writers can be particularly entertaining–although one might do well to wonder how much was about writing and how much was about branding. I can’t say that I’m conscious of any particular rituals or habits I use, but I’m working on some. I think it would be fun to be a “character.”

I do have some thinking rituals. I actually have two imaginary thinking caps that help me decide how I’m going to think about the topic at hand. One is divergent or lateral and I wear it when I’m trying to generate ideas or look for possibilities and consequences. The other is convergent and I wear it when I’m trying to get focused and task oriented. I’m convinced we should sometimes think about how we’re going to think as much as what we’re going to think about.

The more we write (or think) the more likely it is we will discover what works and what doesn’t work for us. I don’t have a writing cap, but I suppose I could. Writers and thinkers should develop a high level of self-awareness and a few rituals along with it. It will increase our efficiency and output. Let’s put on our thinking caps and read The Psychology of Writing, then give some thought to what thinking and writing environments and rituals work best for us.

All work and no play is bad for your health. So says Jack.

What follows is the work of friend and colleague Jack Falvey–who many will recognize as the author of the “blurb” on the back cover of my book, Small People–Big Brains. Jack’s authoring this online investor program for Saint Anselm College… a free daily investor brief. See the bottom for additional information… try ’em! The price is right and I think you’ll enjoy Jack’s style. As a bonus you’ll learn a lot! Subscribe here.

Jack F HeadshotWorking smart is harder to do than working hard. To learn the application of this principle, read a few biographies. They are usually written about people who have accomplished things. Most pay a high price for being recognized in print. The lesson well could be that it is best not to be biographical material.

For all those who focus and lead the world, there are some impressive members of the pack who have not done badly. At times, hard work, long hours and dedication are justified and indeed are the smartest strategy. Biologically, we have reserves that make this possible. Realistically, we are better off if we can come down off of an adrenaline high and figure out how to even out things in a healthy way that will produce acceptable results.

Good financial planning has never required master-of-the-universe efforts. Being in a hurry is not a workable guiding principle. Progress is seldom smooth. Fits and starts seem to be the rule. Being smart enough to know when full forward is required and when reasonable cruising speed is best is the challenge. Having physical reserves to commit when needed means that you must get each day to work for you without having to force it to do so. How best to use the division of labor is a “work smart” skill. What must be done by me, by when? cannot have an “everything right now” answer.

Technology now requires around-the-clock commitment. Getting off the grid is a new life discipline to be mastered. Eventually, we all will learn how best to deal with this challenge. Working smart, while often requiring a lot of hours and effort, eventually translates into a strategy of setting priorities and doing only what must be done. Patience is a rare virtue. Take some time off to think about that. Thinking time is very important.

Investor Education Briefs is an online investor education program provided by the Institute for Politics at Saint Anselm College. It goes out each business day of the year at no charge. The editorial opinions of Jack Falvey, a Fellow of the Institute and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, are provided for investor education only and are not offered as financial advice. Anyone may enter or exit the program at any time. There are no tests or academic credits involved. It is designed as a free program which will recycle and be updated every twelve months. Subscribe here.


Nobody Taught Me…

I can figure this out!

A recent LMS (Learning Mangement Systems) newsletter had some fun with this statement. “I can’t use Facebook–nobody has taught me how.” For those of us in the business of education, it was a funny thought–at least initially. How many times have you heard someone say they can’t use Facebook because they haven’t been trained?

Of course there’s a not so funny aspect we’ll get to in a moment, but we chuckle because the “nobody has taught me” excuse is in fact a selective one. Given the addictive nature of Facebook use, most folks tend to jump in with both feet. You might occasionally hear somebody say he or she is not using Facebook because “I can’t be bothered…” But you aren’t likely to hear, “I’m not using Facebook because I don’t know how.” Grandma–who is anything but a technology whiz–is “facebooking” so she can see what the grandkids are doing.

The aspect of this that’s “not so funny” is the lack of critical thinking sometimes applied when things get so easy. Just because you can post almost anything on Facebook doesn’t mean you should. While that might seem obvious, to many it’s not. Unfortunately, once people learn how to type in the box or find things to share, the learning can stop because the desire to learn is diminished or perhaps even extinguished. Now it’s about the desire to share.

What we’re really talking about here is “engagement.” While there are a number of factors impacting whether or not a learner learns, one of the most powerful is his or her desire to learn. The “nobody has taught me” excuse is an attempt to remove responsibility from the learner and place it with the teacher. Kids are particularly adept at this. I hear it occasionally in a classroom when I’m subbing. My usual response to “Mr. Boomsma, we haven’t learned this yet…” is “Well, then I guess we’ll have to now.”

The elementary kids I work with are not supposed to be using Facebook, but I do know this much. They can figure out some complex computer games and software without much help (teaching). And I have caught six graders using a chat function that we don’t cover during class.  Why aren’t they complaining that we haven’t taught them how it works? I do not ever recall hearing a kid say, “Nobody has taught me how to play computer games.”

The will to learn is a big factor in the learning process. Whether I’m teaching kids or adults, one of the awesome moments happens when it becomes apparent the student is “turned on” and wants to learn. I have seen a strong desire to learn overcome limitations that range from a lack of resources to a perceived learning disability. I have said that my biggest challenge as an educator is to convince people they can learn things and it doesn’t change whether the student is five years old or fifty.

A second grader who recently brought a pile of books to read to me–everyone was about the Titanic and we spent nearly as much time with him telling me things about the sinking of the Titanic as we did reading about it. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself learning some things I didn’t know. I’m not sure what exactly got him so interested, but he is becoming quite the expert on the Titanic! Since as far as I know the Titanic is not part of second grade curriculum, nobody has taught him this.

But learning is not just about engagement. One of the things Facebook has accomplished is that at some level, it’s extremely easy to use. In this regard, the good news is the bad news, because there are legions of Facebook users who are simply typing some words in a box and clicking “post.” This is, of course, in Facebook’s best interest–speaking of engaged learners, you have to admire Facebook’s ability to figure out how to make their system work.  You don’t hear them saying, “No one ever taught us how to make this work.” They have figured out, for example, that by making some things difficult to learn people will remain gleefully unaware of how much they are contributing to Facebook’s interests, sometimes a great expense to themselves.

The lesson for those who would teach is that we, too, need to figure out how to make things easy to learn. One of my three classroom rules is “We will have fun learning.” I usually have to explain this doesn’t mean we’re going to be rolling on the floor laughing and it doesn’t mean we’re not going to work hard. But I believe we humans are “hard-wired” to learn–it’s instinctive and natural. The “fun” is in the achieving and the intrinsic rewards that accompany learning. Learning is about consequences. As a teacher, part of my job is to make sure my teaching doesn’t interfere with learning. Sometimes my job involves getting out of the way so the students can learn.


Who Cares?

One of my old jokes was, “There’s a lot of apathy in our society but who cares?” I’m the first to admit it’s both funny and it’s not. I’ll also confess that I’ve been making the joke long enough that I stopped thinking about whether or not it’s actually true. Granted, it seems like people are less interested and less engaged, but is it due to apathy?

Last fall I self-appointed myself as a volunteer promoter and advocate for the “Pirate Specials Program” developed for our middle and high school students in M.S.A.D. 4. One aspect I’d like to share with you is the extreme lack of apathy I’ve encountered. I started out with a belief that it would perhaps be challenging to get members of the community to agree to participate. What I found instead was enthusiasm and pent-up energy. Most of the folks I talked to wanted to sign on before I’d delivered half my pitch. Sometimes there were logistical challenges such as scheduling, but I considered it my role to make things as easy as possible for those who wanted to volunteer.

Of course I’m still campaigning, but it has been rewarding to see people want to get involved with our schools and our kids. As far as I know, no one’s been avoiding me and I now find myself re-thinking my old joke. Maybe there’s not as much apathy as we think there is. 

Coincidentally, I was introduced to a Ted Talk entitled “The Antidote to Apathy” by David Meslin who calls himself a “professional rabble rouser.”   His formal bio describes him as “Multi-partisan and fiercely optimistic, Dave Meslin embraces ideas and projects that cut across traditional boundaries between grassroots politics, electoral politics and the arts community. In his work, in Toronto and globally, he attempts to weave elements of these communities together. (His business card reads “Dave Meslin: community choreographer,” which feels about right.)”

The video is only eight minutes long so I’m not going to make this post a spoiler. Yes, Meslin talks about Canada, but I think you’ll agree there are plenty of similarities in the United States. This definitely should be required watching for anyone who’s involved with a civic organization, political party, school, church… if you’ve found yourself complaining about people not getting involved in things that matter, watch this.

Five Minutes — Can you focus?

Well, actually it’s a little under five minutes. Most regular followers of my brain leaks and musings know that I’m a pretty big fan of Sir Kenneth Robinson. I’m going to ask you to spend five minutes with him–particularly if you’re an educator or involved in some way with the development of children.

Of late we’ve been hearing lots of discussion about things like “Core Curriculum” in public schools. Our governor recently issued an executive order “affirming Maine’s commitment to protecting local education control and student privacy rights.” It just may be healthy that we’re giving some thought to who “controls” what students learn.

At the other end of the spectrum, I encountered a man with what he thinks is a wonderful concept he calls “unschooling.” His solution to what he thinks are the fundamental problems with public education is to homeschool. Homeschooling is not a bad concept of itself, but in his home school there are no standards and kids (starting as young as preschool) only learn with they feel like learning. At a minimum, I think that he and his followers are at a doing a terrible disservice to their children. (Don’t get me started on this one… How rational is it to tell a five year old “just learn whatever you like, dear!” A “teacher” using that approach is only demonstrating what a poor teacher he or she is!)

My point is supposed to be that before we join the fray with firm opinions and too often a “don’t confuse me with the facts” approach to how and what we teach, we might spend five minutes trying to focus on this Ken Robinson video. In the interest of full disclosure and proper credit, I first received this from the blog http://classroomsandstaffrooms.com.

(Due to some technical challenges, I’ve removed the embedded video… you can find on site given above.)