I was really interested in an op ed from this Sunday’s New York Times, titled Education is all in Your Mind, by Richard E. Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and the author of Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. Here’s one example of several strategies taken by teachers to improve their students’ performance:
“Daphna Oyserman, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, asked inner-city junior-high children in Detroit what kind of future they would like to have, what difficulties they anticipated along the way, how they might deal with them and which of their friends would be most helpful in coping. After only a few such exercises in life planning, the children improved their performance on standardized academic tests, and the number who were required to repeat a grade dropped by more than half.”
The article even mentions the KIPP (Knowledge is Power) program, which Bill Gates noted in his recent TED talk. Gates went on to talk about his optimism that any problem (including malaria and education) can be solved. I wondered recently in my blog what conditions would be assumed in order for any problem to be solved, and though I may have come off as pessimistic, I am intrigued and optimistic that considering future problem solving can improve academic performance. My assumption is that the shift to a more problem-solving mode of thinking is made easier by considering one’s own future and possible barriers to success, rather than any problems in the abstract and that it naturally follows that a student could more successfully move to a more academic application afterward. Of course, I’m not a psychologist so I may be dumbing this down quite a bit. I wonder if the same approach could be effective in the workplace, too?