Jessica Lahey Follow-Up

Governor Haley’s announcement of impending evacuations from Hurricane Matthew could not stop many hardy Mason Prep parents from experiencing Jessica Lahey’s presentation about “Raising Resilient, Intellectually Brave Kids” at Porter-Gaud on October 4. For those of you who planned to attend but were unable to make it through the traffic nightmares caused by gas station lines, here is a summary of Lahey’s presentation:

• Lahey spoke about two kinds of motivating factors and their effect on learning. Extrinsic motivators include rewards for good grades and threats regarding bad grades; Lahey reported that research shows that extrinsic motivators decrease a child’s motivation to learn. She said, “If you want your child to not learn math, pay him for his math grade.” She categorized surveillance, including overuse of parent portals and online grade books, as an extrinsic motivator.

• Instead of using extrinsic motivation, parents and teachers should strive to develop intrinsic motivation in children – the desire to succeed for its own sake.

• Lahey recommended Daniel Pink’s TED Talk about motivation and his book Drive.

• To stimulate intrinsic motivation, three things are needed: autonomy (which is not the same as independence), competence (which is not the same as confidence), and connection.

• Lahey contrasted “autonomy-supportive” parents with “directive” or “controlling” parents. According to her, children of autonomy-supportive parents can get frustrated but push through, while children of directive parents tend to give up when they become frustrated.

• Lahey said that “the self-esteem movement was an abject failure.” When we praise children for efforts or results that are not really praiseworthy, what we are saying doesn’t match reality and leads children to not trust our judgment.

• According to Lahey, competence is more desirable than confidence; competence is “confidence based on actual experience.”

• Lahey presented the concept of “desirable difficulty” from the book Make It Stick. She called “desirable difficulty” one of the most important tools in a teacher’s toolbox. When a student tries to absorb material that’s slightly more challenging, it is more likely to take root in long-term memory. This encoding can be enhanced through the use of flash cards, which Lahey recommends (she does not recommend the use of highlighters.)

• Research focuses more than ever before on the importance of connections in learning; this includes connections with what is being learned and connections between students, parents, and teachers.

• Lahey advocates praising students not for the end product (especially grades), but the process that leads up to it. She quoted children as saying, “I don’t think my parents love me as much when I earn low grades” and “I want to talk with my parents, but not so much about school.”

• Parents can help students become more engaged with what they are learning by making connections to what happens in the real world. She suggests taking children to museums, libraries, and maker spaces. 

• Lahey spoke about today’s technology-connected children learn so much through online videos. She recommended YouTube channels such as Michael Stevens’s Vsauce1, Emily Graslie’s Brain Scoop, Veritasium, and Vi Hart’s math videos

• Many teachable moments occur in middle school, which Lahey calls the “lab for organization.” When a student realizes that his organizational habits or study skills hinder his success, it presents an opportunity to ask “How can I do better next time?”

• Lahey advocates the use of checklists as a way for students to ensure that all steps of a task are completed. She recommends allowing or encouraging a child to create his own checklist; “maybe my checklist isn’t as important now and his checklist needs to take center stage.”

• Lahey talked about the “light bulb” moment that occurred when she did not bring her son homework that he had forgotten. She weathered her friends’ comments on social media about her parenting, especially since she does not have a problem with bringing forgotten items to her husband. Lahey said, “I am not raising my husband, but I am raising my nine-year-old.”

• By focusing on the long term, we can navigate the ups and downs of childrearing more successfully. Lahey said that a child’s growth and development does not produce a “nice linear graph – it’s more like the stock market.” 

• Ultimately, “the job of parents is to put ourselves out of a job.” If we don’t do that, our children will need us forever (and that’s not a good thing.)

We would like to bring Jessica Lahey back to Charleston again. Hopefully next time around, Mother Nature will be more cooperative!

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Mason Preparatory School
56 Halsey Blvd Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 723-0664 (843) 723-1104