“Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” A Book Review by Banríon S. – Part I

I’m always looking for ways to live smarter.  As a homeschooling mom of a large family and co-owner with my husband of a small business, working overtime is a given.  But even with the long hours, I still don’t have enough hours in the day.  My side of our bedroom is piled high with stacks of business books, homeschooling books, parenting books, health books . . . waiting for me to choose them to skim through and glean ideas on how to live smarter.

Enter a book I just finished reading, every page, cover to cover, entitled Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, written by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  I started the book thinking I’d find ways to help our business.  That I did, as well as ways to help me be a better homeschooling mom and manager of our home.  For me, the book was a page-turner.  While packed with practical tips on how to move myself and those around to change, it was chock-full of inspirational real-life stories of big changes that improved people’s lives.  

As a homeschooling mom, I was inspired by the story of Crystal Jones who joined Teach for America in 2003.  Her first class of first-graders included students who couldn’t even hold a pencil and didn’t know their letters or numbers.  Her goal?  To have these children attain third-grade-level skills by the end of the school year.  A lofty and seemingly impossible goal — but over 90% of these children were reading at or above a third-grade level by the end of those nine months in her classroom.

I was also fascinated by the idea of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.  These terms the Heath brothers learned from Carol Dweck, a Stanford University professor of psychology.  Dweck coined these terms and discusses them in great depth in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (which has now been added to my must-read list).  As the Heath brothers explain:

Dweck and her colleagues set up a study for seventh-grade math students in a school where 79 percent of students were eligible for the federal free lunch program – exactly the kind of low socioeconomic environment in which students are at risk for starting a pattern of academic failure.  The control group was taught generic study skills, and the experimental group was taught the growth mindset.

The growth-mindset students were taught that the brain is like a muscle that can be developed with exercise – that with work, they could get smarter.  After all, Dweck told them, “nobody laughs at babies and says how dumb they are because they can’t talk.”

. . . Some students made dramatic transformations.  In Mindset, Dweck reported, “One day, we were introducing the growth mindset to a new group of students.  All at once Jimmy – the most hard-core, turned-off, low-effort kid in the group – looked up with tears in his eyes and said, ‘You mean I don’t have to be dumb?’  From that day on, he worked.  He started staying up late to do his homework, which he never used to bother with at all.  He started handing in assignments early so he could get feedback and revise them.” 

To be continued . . .

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