Children spend 1,146 instructional hours per year in school. With each new day comes a new opportunity to reengage in the learning process. How do teachers ensure that students are fully engaged and able to continuously renew their commitment to learn? Contrary to conventional wisdom
, it is not how many instructional hours a student spends in school that predicts optimal learning. Research proves what predicts success is the number of hours students are actively engaged in learning. Posiitve psychology is strengths-centric education
that engages students.
Even though other nations, who out perform the U. S. on some standardized test measures, have longer school years, they have shorter school days spending fewer hours a year in school: Singapore (903), Taiwan (1050), Japan (1005), and Hong Kong (1013). Asian countries have made a commitment to positive psychology because they know that the qualitative flow of learning is more important than the quantitative length of the school day.
So what does engage students? Teachers who acknowledge, recognize, and encourage their cognitive, affective, and conative strengths. Teachers who concentrate on what children and adolescents know, how they feel, and what they can do invite them to learn.
Donald Clifton, the father of strengths psychology, wrote a book - Strengths Finder. His book detailed a common set of strengths and developed a strength assessment tool. He then used it to prove the connection between focus on strength and degree of engagement with task. He discovered that when an individual is able to attend to their strengths -- and not their weaknesses – they are more engaged. When an individual has the chance to do what they do well every day, that person is six times more likely to be engaged…and three times more likely to report they have an excellent quality of life in general.
The research also demonstrated that when another person focuses on your strength, it has an even more dramatic impact on your engagement in learning. In contrast, if an authority figure focuses on your weaknesses, you are 27% more likely to disengage from the learning task. If an authority figure ignores you, and especially your strengths, there is a 40% chance you will disengage from the task.
If teachers focus on what students get wrong on the test and what behavior they need to correct, it is guaranteed to create students who simply hold their breath and watch the clock until the school day is over. If teachers put student names on the blackboard -- not for exhibiting their strengths but for exhibiting their weaknesses -- they hinder the engagement that forecasts success. Children learn to endure rather than to enjoy school.
Children and adolescents engage in optimal learning when the teacher recognizes their strengths instead of cataloging their shortcomings. The deficiency model in education does not increase engagement through strength in the elementary classroom. For this reason, teachers must shift attention from what is wrong with students to what is right.
So a new day can begin.
Rath, T. (2007). Strengths finder 2.0. Washington, D.C.: Gallup Press. Retrieved http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx.
Strengths Quest http://www.strengthsquest.com/content/141365/resources.aspx/
I would love to hear from you. How do you focus on strengths? How do you acknowledge them? Do you tend to attend to strengths or catalogue deficits? How do you assess engagement in the learning task? Are you aware when students are not engaged? Do you encourage or discourage use of diverse strengths in your lessons? Do you construct lessons that enable or disable strengths?
My upcoming book, Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom, is the first in a series intended to help teachers build positive psychology classrooms. http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Author.aspx?id=23961