Think Again

I know that it’s hard to imagine doing anything “extra” after this crazy school year, but some schools like to do book studies over the summer – and some teachers, like me, get reinvigorated by reading professional books. I’d like to toss this one out there as an idea for those of you searching for a book for one of those purposes or even as just as a non-fiction book to read for enjoyment.

Think Again is by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at Wharton. I received this book as one of three that arrived in this quarter’s Next Big Idea Book Club subscription box. When I read the intro on the book jacket, I thought this book was ideal to read given the current state of our world. “The bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals examines the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people’s minds, which can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life.”

Before you read, you may want to take the free quiz to find out which type of thinker you most resemble: Preacher, Prosecutor, Politician, or Scientist. This tends to influence the methods you use to open the minds of others when you disagree.

If you have never read a book by Adam Grant, I can assure you that he is a talented writer who engages the reader with anecdotes sprinkled with relevant facts. I was prepared to find some good nuggets of advice in Think Again, but didn’t realize I would use up all of the ink in one of my highlighters as I turned each page to discover more and more guidance that would be helpful in my everyday life.

Even though the entire book is valuable, I want to summarize some takeaways from one specific chapter because it addresses “teaching students to question knowledge.” As this is primarily an education blog, “Rewriting the Textbook” is probably the most pertinent to you, the educators who read this blog.

Grant discusses the importance of questioning information no matter the source, being willing to take risks and accept being wrong some of the time, and students taking ownership of their learning – all precepts that I have also encouraged in my classroom and on this blog. He, of course gives evidence to support why these are vital skills and interesting examples of teachers (including himself) using student-centered techniques that encourage this type of thinking. One of the observations he makes from a collaborative lesson he taught in his college classroom is that the Straight-A students often struggled on the open-ended project, quite possibly because the obsession with being “right” was interfering with any inclination to take creative risks.

Among the teachers Grant showcases in the chapter, he mentions Ron Berger who worked summers as a carpenter and during the school year as a public elementary school teacher who “devoted his life to teaching students an ethic of excellence,” which includes “constantly revising our thinking.” I liked reading about Berger’s habit of posing “grapples” to his students that were multi-phase problems rather than beginning every lesson by presenting information. As Grant described more of Berger’s unconventional methods, I was impressed by the iterative mindset he instilled in his students, prioritizing revision and increased mastery rather than racing to completion. It should not have surprised me (but it did) that Berger became the chief academic officer of EL Education, one of the schools in which the famous video, Austin’s Butterfly, was filmed.

From the Black musician who confronts members of the KKK to an epilogue that analyzes the communication of leaders during the pandemic, Think Again is a book that parents, educators, leaders, and followers in all walks of life would find meaningful and timely. I plan to thumb through those pages often to remind myself of the power of re-thinking.

Think Again, by Adam Grant

LatiNext Poetry Project

April is National Poetry Month in the United States, and it is not too late to celebrate! You may remember when I posted about the Teach Living Poets site way back in January right after being blown away by Amanda Gorman’s recitation of the poem she wrote for the Inauguration. Scott Bayer (@LyricalSwordz), who contributes to the Teach Living Poets site, tweeted out this amazing interactive Google Doc of poetry and accompanying lessons for Latinx poets featured in the publication, LatiNext, from Haymarket Books. Next to each of the eleven poets’ portraits, is a link to a detailed lesson plan, and a link to an interactive image made with Genially that provides even more resources. Kudos to Scott Bayer and Joel Garza (@JoelRGarza) for putting together this excellent compilation of meaningful activities submitted by participants in #TheBookChat. In addition, thanks to the @breakbeatpoets editors, @_joseolivarez @WilliePerdomo and @writeantiracist!

For more Poetry links, visit my Wakelet here. I also have Wakelets for learning about Amanda Gorman and Anti-Racism.

Astronauts Zoom!

I’m excited to announce a new nonfiction book by Deborah Lee Rose, author of Scientists Get Dressed and co-author of Beauty and the Beak. The latter will always be near and dear to my heart because Rose first contacted me when she saw the connection between the story of Beauty, an eagle who received a 3d-printed prosthetic beak, and articles I had posted about my students’ adventures with 3d printing back in 2016. With her new book, Astronauts Zoom!, Deborah Lee Rose continues along her path of providing first class STEM materials for young children.

Persnickety Press/WunderMill Books is publishing ASTRONAUTS ZOOM! in celebration of 20 years of astronauts living and working on the International Space Station (ISS). This “Astronaut Alphabet” features high-quality photographs of male and female astronauts from several countries so that children of any gender and race can see someone reflective of them representing this incredible career. One unique aspect of these pictures, as Rose pointed out to me, is that “you can rotate the book fully, and the photos taken in space will still be correct because there is no true “upside down.”

public domain photo from NASA

With age-appropriate – yet challenging – vocabulary as well as inclusion of both the technical and entertaining aspects of spending time in microgravity, Astronauts Zoom! will be an excellent addition to any classroom library or child’s reading collection. Though it is a picture book, there are many levels to approach it from, so re-reading it is definitely a pleasure.

There are informational pages in the book that expand on the simple sentences used for each letter, list the vocabulary, give additional facts, and name the astronauts who are pictured along with their countries of origin. In addition, you can download this free Educational Guide to accompany the book:

In the past couple of years, we have watched the first all-female spacewalk and the first African American astronaut to spend an extended period (longer than a few weeks) in space. On April 9, 2021, the station is scheduled to have 10 people aboard as crews rotate in and out. With all of these historical events, as well as excitement over Perseverance and its implications for humans to make trips to Mars in the future, Astronauts Zoom! is the perfect book to share with students to garner enthusiasm for STEM and reaching for the stars.

Click here for more information!

Can an Anti-Racist Still Love Dr. Seuss?

Most of you are probably aware of the controversy surrounding Dr. Seuss, especially with this week’s announcement that six of his books will no longer be published.

This is not a unique dilemma, and it is not just a literary one, either. When it comes to creative work, can we separate the person who made it from our appreciation of the product itself? And, if that work was once hailed as iconic in our history, can we cancel it when our interpretation changes?

Yes.

And no.

First of all, let’s talk about Dr. Seuss, a complicated human being who some may argue evolved in his personal opinions about race over time. The evidence of some of his later books and stories, such as The Sneetches, Butter Battle, and The Lorax, certainly seem to reflect a view that humans should put aside our differences and take better care of each other and our environment. After a visit to Japan following World War II, he wrote Horton Hears a Who, and dedicated it to a friend he made in that country.

But, whether or not he was a good man should not be our concern. We need to stop glorifying human beings because we will invariably be disappointed when we dig deeper into anyone’s life. So, let’s stop seeing this as choosing sides for or against Theodor Geisel. He wrote and illustrated many racist materials. But he also created some incredibly thoughtful stories.

We don’t need to idolize this man who most of us never knew. Whether or not the 6 books that have been removed from publishing will be part of his legacy is up to the company who is in charge of his legacy. If you thought those books were so important, you have copies of your own – but I don’t think any child will lead a deprived life if he or she doesn’t read them.

If you are worried about censorship, you may want to read this article, which shows how many libraries are tackling the issue of these books and others that are coming to light as problematic in their depictions of non-white people. Basically, there is only so much room in a library, so decisions need to be made on a regular basis what goes and what stays. But we can also use these as lessons in history, pair them with more contemporary books to compare perspectives, and recognize that there are many issues that determine what is “art.”

The bottom line is that if we leave these books “loose in the wild” we perpetuate stereotypes for anyone who reads them without context. Would I still read a Dr. Seuss book to my class? Yes, but not one of those. Do I love Dr. Seuss? No, and never did. I admire his talent, and find some of his books to be masterpieces of children’s literature, but he wasn’t perfect.

And neither am I.

I will be adding this post to my growing collection of Anti-Racism resources. Please take a look, and feel free to offer suggestions!

The Ace That I Could Keep

To continue this week’s theme of Random Things That Remind Me of Education, I would like to share a book that I read over the break. I subscribe to The Next Big Idea Club, and receive a few new books every quarter. One of them is The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. As you might guess from the title, this non-fiction book is about poker – specifically Konnikova’s self-assigned project to learn how to play Texas Hold ‘Em and win against some of the best players in the world.

I began reading the book because I imagined that I, too, would become a champion gambler. I have a tarnished history with anything where I rely on chance, beginning with the time that my friends and I decided to sing the Kenny Rogers song for a talent show in 5th grade and I procrastinated learning my solo part, relying on my brain to recall the words from the radio without any practice, and subsequently embarrassing myself in front of the entire school when Luck did not even pretend to reward my faith in it. Luck has been similarly disloyal in my attempts to play pool, betting on horses, and pretty much any card game, including Uno.

About 20 pages into the book that was certain to change my fortune, I got up to rummage through a drawer for a highlighter, not because I wanted to note how to perceive “tells” from other players or remember the odds for certain card combinations, but because Konnikova’s observations are so applicable to teaching, learning, and living.

Maria Konnikova is a scientist with a PhD in psychology from Columbia University. So she approached her new endeavor with the mindset of someone who studies human behavior. She, herself, recognizes how closely poker mirrors life with its combination of luck and skill, and states that, despite luck’s constant interference, “Skill shines through over the longer time horizon.”

In her chapter, “The Art of Losing,” Konnikova demonstrates with her own personal story how important it is to learn from our mistakes, a philosophy that was apparent in my classroom every day. Her mentor, Erik Seidel, says, “When things go wrong, other people see it as unfairness that’s always surrounding them. They take it personally. They don’t know how to lose, how to learn from losing. They look for someone, or something, to blame.”

Does that remind you of anyone?

Erik also tells Maria about another famous player who would ask audiences he spoke to, “What is the object of poker?” After people would shout answers like, “Winning money,” he would respond, “The object of poker is making good decisions.”

As I read that, I thought about all of the times that I reflected on teaching days that didn’t go well, berating myself for being a terrible teacher. What if I had looked more specifically at my decisions, instead of the things out of my control? What if I looked at my life that way?

Two more of the many, many things that I highlighted in this book that I think are specifically applicable to teaching:

  • “You can’t just plow ahead with one strategy because if worked in the past or you’ve seen someone else employ it successfully.”
  • “You don’t have to have studied the description-experience gap to understand, if you’re truly expert at something, that you need experience to balance out the description. Otherwise, you’re left with the illusion of knowledge – knowledge without substance.”

Though there are hundreds of other pearls of wisdom in this book, I will leave you with the advice given by Jared Tendler to Maria Konnikova, advice I would have given my 10 year-old self the night before I was supposed to belt out The Gambler from the floor of our Catholic school auditorium. (Hmm, speaking of decisions, which nun gave us permission to sing that particular song?)

“You need to think in terms of preparation. Don’t worry about hoping. Just do.”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing is a picture book, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James. The beautiful words and accompanying breathtaking images represent the ultimate Black Boy Joy, as the young child narrates his delight in life and ideas for the future. In a Q&A about his book, Barnes said that he wants, in part, for people to take from the book that, “No matter where Black boys come from, I along with the people that love them want them to win in life. They are not living breathing stereotypes that fit like jigsaw pieces into your biases, only useful for your entertainment, and to justify your ridiculous fears. They are human beings capable of extraordinary feats.”

This book, with its fantastic metaphors, reminds me of the “I Am” poetry my own young students would author – celebrations of uniqueness and life. But, of course, there is another dimension to this work as we not only see a child seeking to be accepted for his remarkable traits, but one who some unjustifiably view as threatening merely because of the color of his skin. James, who used his own son as the model for the oil painting on the cover of the book, says in this NPR story that he wanted to portray his child “looking like how I feel he sees himself and how we see him as his family.”

I Am Every Good Thing is a book for boys, girls, and families of every color. It is also for every age. Many educators can tell you the value of picture books grows in secondary classrooms, where new experiences and understanding can help teenagers see reading as both an enjoyable pastime and an invitation to think deeply. For discussion ideas and other reading suggestions, use this Learning Guide created by Tiffany Jewell (author of This Book is Anti-Racist) along with the book. Whether using the book in a history class as you discuss civil rights, or a language class where your students are learning about writing devices (see this mashup of Song of Myself and I am Every Good Thing shared on Twitter by @PaulWHankins) this book will be a gift to everyone who reads it.

This post is part of a weekly series of anti-racist articles. For previous posts in this series, please visit this link.