School texts

Book Review of The Golden Age

The-Golden-Age-by-Joan-LondonI picked this one up as an option for VCE English next year.  It is a lovely, soft, and lyrical novel surrounding the patients, nurses and families who visit The Golden Age, a hospice for children with polio in the 1950s.

At the centre of the novel is Frank, an intense Hungarian Jew who emigrated with his family to Australia after the rise of Hitler.  Frank was introduced to poetry by another man he connected to in hospital, who died whilst receiving treatment in the dreaded iron lung.  Armed with a prescription pad in lieu of proper notepaper, Frank writes down free verse that inspires him – and he is largely inspired by beautiful Elsa in the girls’ ward.

This is a quiet story of connecting and losing connection.  I found it slow in places, but was still committed to getting to the finish.  I’d be hesitant putting it on a text list for this reason too.  This is no easy read and the payoff is subtle and perhaps, short lasting.  Lacks deep impact.

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Book Review of Station Eleven

Station ElevenEmily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven skips back and forward between the world as we know it today, and a dystopian landscape 20 years in the future where most of humanity has been wiped put by a superflu.  Starting over, survivors cling to many things to give life meaning… artefacts from the past (many of which tie the narrators together) and religion especially.

It’s a land where an unraided house is a rare luxury, and the knives tattooed on your wrist signify the lives you have been forced to take.  Some turn to the prophets who seem to dominate the isolated towns… others choose a life of wandering, not sure they will ever find a safe place to call home.  For these, memory is painful – “the more you remember, the more you’ve lost”.

It’s hard to determine a central character… but the action centres around two things.  The first is an actor who dies of a heart attack just as the pandemic becomes apparent.  The second is a science fiction world portrayed in a comic book carried by Kristen, a young survivor.  This world is the Station Eleven of the title – a space station that provides a haven for those who survived an alien takeover from Earth.  No wonder she holds it so closely… when a safe place seems so hard to find here.

There are a lot of beautiful and poignant moments here – not the least of which is the irony of a world in which Star Trek: Voyager provides ancient wisdom “Survival is insufficient”.  This is the mantra of a group of troubadours travelling and performing Shakespeare across a world that in many ways, seems to have lost hope.  What incredible juxtaposition.

This is a readable but clever book that is on the VCE English text list for 2019.  Worth consideration.

Book Review of Angela Duckworth’s Grit

gritThose of you who know me, know that I generally prefer fiction to non-fiction when it comes to my reading.  Although there is plenty of great non-fiction out there, and I have certainly been enjoying the books on Positive Psychology I have been picking up lately.

But when it comes to Grit by Angela Duckworth, I have no hesitation in saying that this is a book everyone should read.

Duckworth’s work was of interest to me as the longer I teach, the more aware I become that talent isn’t enough.  Time and time again, especially in my Year 12 classes, the most ‘talented’ student – the one with the greatest natural affinity for language – is trumped by one who works hard and works SMART.  The question I had was – how can I help each of my students to become that smart worker?  The one who succeeds in a way that surpasses their expectations?

Duckworth’s key mission here is to break down for us how some people achieve high levels of success – much higher than the average person.  She is particularly interested in understanding how they were able to do this, and how we can actually teach this to young people.  So it’s a great book for teachers and parents.

The bottom line is – Grit.  Those with Grit go further and do better than those that don’t.

But Grit does not just mean perseverance.  To truly have Grit – Grit that will lead us to success – she concretely discusses four things we need. The first is interest – high levels of interest.  We can only be truly gritty about things that deeply matter to us. But she tells us we can stimulate and develop interest, giving terrific advice for how to do this with children and even as adults.

After interest, we need to practice.  But we need to practice purposefully and strategically.  It’s not enough to work hard – we have to really consider what strategies will actually lead to improvement.  As a teacher we often see students working hard, but completing tasks that do not develop the needed skills.  Instead, Duckworth talks honestly about how painful practice can be and how to do it well – how to embrace negative feedback and seek coaching and set powerful goals.

After practice, she suggests that purpose helps separate high achievers as well.  If you have both passion and a sense of purpose about your work – if you love your chosen field and thin that you are making a difference – you are almost unstoppable.  Your motivation levels cannot be higher.  Sometimes even a few tweaks in thinking can assist us to re-evaluate and find the purpose in our work.

The final quality is hope.  This links in pretty strongly to Carol Dweck’s work about the Growth Mindset. We have to have hope – the belief that we can improve through the strategies that we have put in place.

Each of us will find some of these things difficult.  For example, having hope at times is hard.  Overcoming failure with a positive attitude sometimes relies on self-talk rather than a natural response.  I like how Duckworth acknowledges this – it’s all part of the process.  You don’t just HAVE Grit, you can learn to be grittier.  And that’s the message for us all.  We can all be better at those things we care about.  And what is more empowering than that?

 

Book Review of 10 Conversations to Have With Your Son

This is a work read – a book used by some high profile schools as part of their pastoral care programs.10 convos

Helping boys to be confident, caring and aware young men who aren’t held back by fear or stereotypes is a big ask – but a worthy one.  And Dr Tim Hawkes recommends some crucial conversations men really should be having.  You can see in the image attached to this post, that it covers everything from love and intimacy, to financial literacy.

There are also some great activities throughout.

My only real concern here is how conservative and hetero-normative it is.  All mentions of sex and romance are male-female – and we know that this approach is now going to alienate a significant proportion of the young population.  Something a little more open about gender identity and sexuality would address a few more issues and be more modern and appealing to all.

Book Review of The Bonsai Child

finalcover7-31-15Clinical psychologist Judith Locke is visiting my school next term, so I figured it would be a good idea to read her book.

After doing so, I’d have to suggest it is very good reading for anyone who has, or who works with children.

The Bonsai Child of the title is a child whose growth is hampered by over-parenting – or in the case of teachers, over-reliance on others instead of themselves.

Locke gives really sensible advice on how much help to give in order to raise – or help foster the talents of – young people, in a way that helps them to be self-sufficient and empowered young adults.

It gives concrete strategies to accomplish this, and clear discussions of the ramifications of what happens if you do not take her advice.

Easy to follow and something parents and teachers can easily look back on.

Book Review of Carol Dweck’s Mindset

You’ve no doubt heard about this book, that promises that sudweckmindsetccess is all about our Mindset.

Dweck’s research looks at parenting, coaching, teaching, the workplace and interpersonal relationships and how a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, can lead to a range of improved outcomes.

This is interesting reading – forcing you to observe and perhaps recognise some of the less helpful patterns of thought in yourself and those around you.

The fixed mindset does a couple of things – it makes excuses for why things are not your fault.  It promises you nothing will ever change.  It laments a lack of perfection and will never encourage you to try harder or at least, try things differently. It’s an easy way to move through life – but not one hat promotes growth.

The growth mindset is all about learning.  It values challenge and looks at errors as an opportunity to do better. Sometimes that ‘better’ is ‘even better’ – even champions need a growth mindset to really reach their potential.

As  teacher, it has made me rethink how I frame learning and feedback to my students.  On a personal level, it promotes a much more positive approach to all areas of my life, which will no doubt be useful with the areas that I feel need a bit of work.

Definitely worth a read, for whatever reason it inspires you.

 

Book Review of The Third Space

unknownI’ll admit this was more of a skim read, but this is a worthwhile book to take a look at. Adam Fraser offers us a way to better understand how to perform the various roles we have to play in life – parent, colleague, boss, coach and so on –   more easily and with more aplomb.

He suggests we use this by utilising the Third Space. This is the time in between performing one role and transitioning into another.

The Third Space is a clear space to reflect on one role, and plan for the next, Some people just relax and engage in self-talk. Some do a physical activity or a daily routine. Sometimes it helps to spend time with a particular person.

The initial benefits of this are obvious in terms of work/life balance, and transitioning into home in a more effective way. But it`s also worked for high profile sporting stars – such as tennis players, who need to re-focus in between each point, regardless if the last play was successful or not. It’s the same for high profile CEOs – especially ones that have to give feedback or work with people.

It’s all about considering the intention you have for the new space you are entering, and then being purposeful about your thoughts, emotions and behaviours to get that result.

Fraser touches on a whole lot of other elements of popular psychology too, including learned optimism. Definitely worth a look.