How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness

Russ Roberts

Adam Smith is credited with being the founder of modern economics and many have heard of his book The Wealth of Nations which was published in 1776. But Smith also wrote the little-known book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments which was published in 1759. The author is an economist who had read The Wealth of Nations but had never seriously considered reading The Theory of Moral Sentiments until he was asked to interview a friend about the book. When Roberts read the book he was surprised to be captured by Smith’s thoughts. Smith’s thinking had such an influence on him that he wanted others to have the same experience without having to read the original text. Continue reading

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Becoming a Nation of Readers

The Report of the Commission on Reading

This report was compiled from research on reading instruction and outcomes. The Commission on Reading was formed from representatives of three federal education agencies and the report was published in 1985. While we keep up with current research and new information, it is important not to forget select older volumes which contain information whose value has been proven over time. The following are some of the pearls from this publication.

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The reading teacher’s repertoire must draw upon the deepening knowledge of child development. I frequently see children who are referred for “problems” which are within the norms of development for their age but do not match the expectations of the curriculum. If their parents were doing this at their age, it would have been considered to be normal.

Mastery tests must not treat reading as a set of discrete skills when research has indicated that a closely integrated set of processes supports fluent reading. As adults it is easy to not recognize that the early stages of reading and writing require significant multitasking. Even after the discrete skills have become automatic in isolation, including a number of visual skills, rehearsal will still be necessary to develop their automatic integration.

Reading is a holistic act. A text is not so much a vessel containing information as it is a source of partial information that enables the reader to use already-processed knowledge to determine the intended meaning. (This calls into question the use of “cold reading” to assess reading ability.)

Five generalizations flow from the research of the past decade on the nature of reading:

 

    1. Skilled reading is constructive. Comprehension is highly dependent on prior knowledge and the ability to read with sufficient mastery to be free to simultaneously consider stored knowledge.
    2. Skilled reading must be fluent to free attention for the analysis of meaning.
    3. Skilled readers are strategic. They read for a purpose.  Becoming a skilled reader requires learning to sustain attention and learning that written material can be interesting and informative.
    4. Reading requires motivation. It will take most children years to learn to read well.
    5. Reading is a continuously developing skill.

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The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.

Such old-fashioned materials as chalkboards and paper and pencils can make a difference in children’s learning to read. When children who learned to read before going to school were compared to similar children who couldn’t read, the early readers were found to have greater access to chalkboards and paper and pencils and to do more writing.

Children’s proficiency in letter naming when they start school is an excellent predictor of their first- and second-grade reading achievement.

Familiar words are especially useful for teaching children letter names and letter-sound relationships, because children can learn to recognize familiar words prior to learning all the letters.

Phonics instruction should aim to teach only the most important and regular of letter-to-sound relationships, because this is the sort of instruction that will most directly lay bare the alphabetic principle. Once the basic relationships have been taught, the best way to get children to refine and extend their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences is through repeated opportunities to read. Child_reading_at_Brookline_Booksmith.jpg

Blending may seem simple to an adult who already knows how to read, but in fact it is a difficult step for many children. Until a child gets over this hurdle, learning the sounds of individual letters and groups of letters will have diminished value.

Teaching phonics is a benefit to most children who are learning to read, but the relationships between the sounds and the print are not as clear as it appears to adults who already know how to read. Implicit phonics depends on “phonemic segmentation”. This is the ability to identify separate speech sounds in spoken words. There is evidence that many young children cannot extract an individual sound from hearing it within a word. (This is also very hard for adults. We have the illusion that we can do this due to our word knowledge. How many times do we misunderstand what someone says because they did not say what we expected them to say? “Phonemic segmentation” must also be coupled with “visual segmentation” which is dependent on language arts knowledge and figure-ground skills within a crowded letters of a word.) Implicit phonics may actually presuppose what it is supposed to teach. Also see Marilyn Jager Adams in Beginning to Read.

A problem with explicit phonics is that both teachers and children have a difficult time saying pure speech sounds in isolation. All that phonics can be expected to do is help children approximate pronunciations. These must be “tried out” to determine whether recognizable words have been produced which make sense in the context. Oral reading errors provide a window into what is going on inside children’s heads as they read. Research suggests that first graders taught through an explicit phonics approach make more nonsense errors than other children.

A clear finding from research of the past decade is that young readers and poor readers of every age do not consistently see relationships between what they are reading and what they already know.

There are qualitative differences in the experience of children in high and low reading groups that would be expected to place children in low groups at a disadvantage. Children in low groups do relatively more reading aloud and relatively less silent reading. They more often read words without a meaningful context on lists or flash cards, and less often read words in stories.

An indisputable conclusion of research is that the quality of teaching makes a considerable difference in children’s learning. Studies indicate that about 15 percent of the variation among children in reading achievement at the end of the school year is attributable to factors that relate to the skill and effectiveness of the teacher. In contrast, the largest study ever done comparing approaches to beginning reading found that about 3 percent of the variation in reading achievement at the end of first grade was attributable to the overall approach of the program. Thus, the prudent assumption for educational policy is that, while there may be some “material-proof” teachers, there are no “teacher-proof materials.

How We Read

Reading Instruction in Kindergarten

Visual Factors in Reading

The Hidden Link Between Vision and Learning

The Knowledge Illusion Why We Never Think Alone

Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach

It may be disappointing to understand that we know less as individuals than we realize, but continuing to be deceived by this illusion can  lead to poor decisions and unfortunate actions. “Most things are complicated, even things that seem simple.” “Complexity abounds. If everybody understood this, our society would be much less polarized. Instead of appreciating complexity, people tend to affiliate with one or another social dogma.”

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Many of us are frustrated by how much we forget – or remember incorrectly – but “remembering everything is in conflict with what the mind does best: abstraction.” Remembering everything “would make us less successful at what we evolved to do. The mind is busy trying to choose actions by picking out the most useful stuff and leaving the rest behind.”reminder

 

In conjunction with their theme of pooled intelligence, Sloman and Fernbach explain how our thinking is embodied – not just with our own bodies but also with the people and things around us. “The fact that thought is more effective when it is done in conjunction with the physical world suggests that thought is not a disembodied process that takes place on a stage inside the head. Mental activities do not simply occur in the brain. Rather, the brain is only one part of a processing system that also includes the body (including the eyes) and other aspects of the world.” “Our bodies produce feelings to make us aware and warn us.” “In other words, the mind is not in the brain. Rather, the brain is in the mind. The mind uses the brain and other things to process information.” This is not easy to grasp when we already “know” that all thinking takes place in the brain because that is what has been understood for hundreds of years. For additional information and perspective, you may want to reference the following.

A challenging question to answer is: Why have humans evolved such large brains? Large brains are very expensive. They use a lot of energy, they make childbirth dangerous for the mother and the child, and they require a prolonged period of development. What advantage is so important to outweigh these problems? The explanation may be “that large brains are specifically suited to support the skills necessary to live in a community.” “People are built to collaborate.” “The transmission of knowledge enabled by our social brains via language, cooperation, and the division of labor accumulates to create a culture. It is one of the most important ingredients in the human success story. Human capabilities are constantly increasing, but not because individuals are getting smarter. Unlike beehives, which have operated pretty much the same way for millions of years, our shared pursuits are always growing more complex and our shared intelligence more powerful.” “The smartest among us – in the sense of being most successful – may well be those who are best able to understand others.”

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The authors spend the second half of the book “exploring how many of society’s most pressing problems stem from the knowledge illusion” and how change, particularly that triggered by technology, tends to cause us to “lose touch with what really matters.” It is easier and more comfortable to discuss issues with people with whom we agree, but “one common finding is that when people with like minds discuss an issue together, they become more polarized.” This is not informed decision-making. To probe decision-making, Sloman, Fernbach, and other researches have asked people about issues about which they have strong opinions and then probe how much they understand. Striking examples relate to the Affordable Care Act, support for military intervention in the Ukraine, and about the labeling of GMO foods. The results clearly indicate that “public opinion is more extreme than people’s understanding justifies.”non-gmo-logo-400x400

“Recognizing the limits of our understanding should make us more humble, opening our minds to other people’s ideas and ways of thinking.” “Intuition gives us a simplified, course, and usually good enough analysis, and this gives us the illusion that we know a fair amount. But when we deliberate, we come to appreciate how complex things actually are and this reveals to us how little we actually know.” “A mature electorate is one that makes the effort to appreciate a leader who recognizes that the world is complex and hard to understand.” This approach applies to all important decisions, not just voting.  The authors hope that, by helping us understand the routine pitfalls of our thinking, we can improve our decision-making.

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stev

What if Everybody Understood Child Development? Part 2

Rae Pica

 

According to Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development, children are not reaching their developmental milestones any sooner than they did in 1925 when Arnold Gesell first did his research. “One of our misguided expectations right now in the education field is that every child should leave kindergarten reading. Well, not every child is going to leave kindergarten reading.” A child’s development absolutely cannot be accelerated or hurried in any way.

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Politicians pander to the ridiculous notion that education is a race. And teachers – from preschool to the primary grades – are being forced to abandon their understanding of what is developmentally appropriate and teach content they know to be wrong for kids.

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Demanding that children perform skills for which they’re not yet ready creates fear and frustration in them.

Childhood is not a dress rehearsal for adulthood. It is a separate, unique, and very special phase of life. And we’re essentially wiping it out of existence in a misguided effort to ensure children get ahead.

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We do have a great deal of research detailing the impact of stress on the learning process. Dr. William Stixrud sums it up quite nicely when he writes, “stress hormones actually turn off the parts of the brain that allow us to focus attention, understand ideas, commit information to memory and reason critically.”

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The experts insist that today’s children are no less safe than children of my generation. Stranger danger, which tends to top the list of parents’ fears, truly is a myth. According to the U. S. Department of Justice statistics on violent crimes, between 1973 and 2002, out of every thousand children kidnapped, just one of two of them were abducted by strangers. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, children are four times more likely to die of heart disease than to be kidnapped by a stranger.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA stranger

The pressure for students to spend more time on academics and to pass test after test – to win the race that education has become – is so great that basic human needs are being ignored and unmet.

  • Numerous studies have demonstrated that physically active students perform better in, and have better attitudes toward, school.
  • Movement is the young child’s preferred – and most effective – mode of learning, but we make them sit still regardless. Why do we insist on teaching children in any way other than via their preferred – and most effective – method?

When children move over, under, around, through, beside, and near objects and others, they better grasp the meaning of these prepositions and geometry concepts. When they perform a “slow walk” or skip “lightly”, adjectives and adverbs become much more than abstract ideas. When they’re given the opportunity to physically demonstrate such action words as stomp, pounce, stalk, or slither – or descriptive words such as smooth, strong, gentle, or enormous – word comprehension is immediate and long-lasting. The words are in context, as opposed to being a mere collection of letters.

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The Mislabled Child

Thinking Goes to School:Piaget’s Theory in Practice

Reading Instruction in Kindergarten

Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember The Stroke that Changed My Life

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Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

This is the story of a young woman’s troubled life told by her now much less-troubled self. I recommend the book due to the quality of Christine Hyung-Oak Lee’s writing and how she is able to share the experiences of her stroke at age thirty-three. While the effects of all brain injuries and diseases are not the same, the mental, psychological, and physical experiences she lived through are similar to those of others. She also addresses the life-changes and challenges of those who are caregivers to this population of people who are changed in invisible ways. Continue reading

The Intuitive Parent

 

Stephen Camarata

Stephen Camarata defines intuitive parenting as “focusing on your child, enjoying the moment, and reacting naturally to whatever your baby is doing.” This may sound simplistic and naïve, but we now have research to support our intuitions. Continue reading