Sunday, November 23, 2014

Help your child to learn

If your child is in school, then the most important objective of yours should be to Maximise his/her learning outputs. For this one needs a Continuous learning plan, based on the child's background of his abilities.

This sounds simple. But there are many hurdles to cross. One is the confusion between teaching and  learning. Second is the blackbox of  'earning?'. Let us try to decode learning bit by bit.

Open the blackbox of learning

Learning helps the child to understand 'something' and use it to achieve his personal goals. In other words, it changes him in some ways. To help you understand learning, it is useful to know that Learning occurs at five levels:

1. Learning of content ( what )
2. Learning 'why' of the content ( relevance, context, purpose)
3. Learning of how to use the content ( how to use counting to give money)
4. Learning of behaviour ( habits)
5. Learning of beliefs and mindsets

These five levels are inter-dependent and inter-related. But understanding them separately helps you understand and correct the child's mistakes that occur in learning. Lower Level learning ( say level 1 of learning content) takes much lesser time than higher learning levels, say learning a new belief. But higher level learning hastens the learning of 'lower level'. So sometimes, you have to spend time in 'teaching' higher level learning even though it takes longer time.

Learning has four characteristics:

1. Using multiple levels of learning consolidates learning faster

For instance, we often marvel at the 3 year old's ability to remember and recognise 'car names', or 'a for apple' or '1 to 10' numbers. At this age, the child is learning 'content' and 'replaying' it again and again. This is level 1. This is just 'using memory'. There is another way to consolidate learning. For instance, if one uses different 'senses' to connect with a word 'car', memory becomes deeper. Recollection is easier.

But if the child moves to 'level 2' when he understands more about cars. For instance, when he understands why a car is called 'Jeep', and another called 'taxi', it helps the child understand the finer distinctions of 'car', because the purpose of each car is different. Now he understands car a bit more. Earlier, in level 1 he is only using memory to 'remember' car. Now he 'understands' the meaning of car a bit, and therefore put this in 'working memory'. His learning consolidates as he can use this 'data' of car.

The more levels a child uses in learning, better the consolidation happens. For instance, let us say she has learnt counting numbers. If she uses it to count chocolates, which is both level 2 and level 3, learning consolidates better. If he learns to count money while taking it from shopkeeper, it improves even further.

2. Learning 'how' deepens learning very quickly

This is level 3. While learning radio magnetic waves from the books helps, Learning is deep when the student builds a FM radio transmitter. Learning ' the principles of L:ight' from books is helpful even with experiments, but it is very deep when the student builds a camera. Learning 'programming' helps, but learning is multifaceted when the student uses it to program 'robot'.

The first two levels, even though understood at a conceptual level, can be consolidated well if the student uses the 'how to use the concept' in a real object.

3. Learning of appropriate behaviour helps learning

Learning also helps if appropriate behaviour - habit - is accompanied while learning. ( This is level 4). For instance, habit of keeping things in order helps in learning , because it helps the child to take a step at a time and reach the final step ( sense of order).

The most important habit that helps learning of content is the habit to sit and work patiently. This also includes the habit of managing the distractions. Emotional distractions are the most difficult to manage for the child where parents can contribute the most. Without adopting this habit, as the child grows, learning stops abruptly.

Infact because our schools do very little to 'help' the child to increase his attention span, most of the students suffer from very poor attention span. For such a distracted child, the only way to increase attention span is to use the child's internal motivation. For instance, parents can use the child's motivation of learning Tabla or drive a bicycle to increase his attention span.

4. Adopting learning-friendly beliefs is very important for learning 

Learning is never sequential. Learning involves making lot of mistakes and learning from them. But, if your child has a belief that 'Performance matters" then he tends to do activities, or study subjects, where he 'performs well'. He does not take challenging activities where he is likely to fail. Carol Dweck calls this performance mindset. On the other hand, when the child has a belief that 'he can always improve himself', he keeps on doing activities for becoming better at them. This is improvement mindset.

Carol Dweck has done lot of research on these two mindsets ( beliefs) and how they impact learning. If your child has 'performance mindset' and has a fear of performing, then it is important to change his mindset. Because, if not today, his learning will get hampered.


Because learning occurs at five levels, one has to be mindful of the level of learning one is trying to achieve. Most of the schools work at the level 1 and 2. Some schools have some activities at level 3. These schools call themselves practical learning schools, experimental learning schools, or even Project learning schools. Very few schools work at level 4/5 and expect the parents to contribute. Parents can do a lot at level 4 and 5 to help their child 'hasten' their learning later even though they fall 'behind' in class. Unfortunately, like schools, very few parents know how to help child learn new habits or new beliefs. Their only method is to instruct, admonish or 'blackmail' children which never works. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Help your child unfold, not discover, his talent

Many parents believe that potential talent can be 'detected' at an early age. This assumption is simply untrue. Benjamin Bloom's study of 120 high performers proved that even 'potential' of high performers could not be detected at early age. Child prodigies make us believe that 'talent' can be seen at younger age. But the conversion of child prodigies to adult performers is so 'rare' that one cannot rely on potential talent at lower age. 

I have researched the process of unfolding of talent over 10 years. I have found large differences in how people discover their talent. Some like Boman Irani discover their talent at a later age. He discovered his talent of acting at the age of 35. And that too by chance. Last year, i met a corporate professional who discovered his talent of writing at the age of 40. Some discover it by chance and at early age. For instance, Jaya discovered her talent of drawing when she met a drawing teacher in her 8th Grade.

I have seen bigger surprises in the process of talent unfolding. Some discover their talent at an early age, but once they start their work-life, they find that it does not suit them. For instance, Jessica spend 28 years of life pursuing medicine, but once she started working she found that she is not ready for using her talent. Every year i meet countless students who pursue IIT courses after grueling preparation, get into IIT, and then find that IIT does not suit them. Abhay is one such student i met.

In other words, the process of finding talent is not a straightforward path of sequentially taken actions. It is path of tangled threads. Some deliberate , some unconscious. Even when the path is understood, one can 'influence' it, one cannot control the process of unfolding of talent. I therefore call the process as Unfolding of talent.

So how can you help your child to unfold his talent? 

Here are five basic rules that are practical and useful:

1. Accept broader view of talent: Talent was earlier seen as a narrow acquisition of cognitive ability like mathematics or programming. Lewis Terman's study of 1500+ high IQ students has proved that IQ alone is not the prime cause of any success. Meaning of talent, as we have discovered now, is much more wider and holistic. It is definitely not just one single skill. It consists of cognitive abilities, character traits and conative traits. For some more light on the subject, see this view of talent.

2. Making the right choice of education path at 10th grade is less important than making the most of a given choice: Our path of unfolding of talent goes through three stages. Stage I is choosing an education path after 10th grade. Stage II is choosing the work path after graduation. And stage III is choosing the career path after exploring various work-paths. If stage I directly leads to Stage III, your child is lucky. But if you do not want to depend on luck, you must take right actions during graduation instead of spending time on finding the right education path of graduation.

3. Maximise your child's learning outputs in school: There is a huge gap between teaching and learning. See this difference and help your child in learning. Help him contextualise his understanding of a subject be it Mathematics, English or History. Help him use his knowledge of subject to manipulate real life objects like radio and bicycle.

4. Tackle the bottleneck of emotional distraction in child's learning in advance: Bigger bottleneck of learning at school is not inadequate efforts or insufficient willpower. The bottleneck is the distraction that is caused by emotional upheavals that are part of growing with other friends. The transition of a student to adolescence during 7/8th grade causes huge hormonal changes that distracts a student the most. I meet many such students who have got distracted from learning because of their misdirected interest in sex-related articles. Help your child tackle emotional distraction by practicing empathy.

5.Actively manage the child's 'motivational engine' to guide learning: A child's motivation is very important for his learning.  But we cannot use his motivation to guide him because we do not know how to use the fire of motivation. For instance, the child's love of bicycle at the 4th grade can be used to motivate him to learn some of the basic principles of physics. Here are some ideas

Saturday, February 08, 2014

If your child is not fond of academics, help him PLAY

Schools and parents lay huge emphasis on training of cognitive abilities like logic ( science), numerical ( mathematics) and linguistic( languages). Indeed they are critical cognitive abilities that can help the child train his mind and then later use it for more producing productive outputs. But what if your child has fallen back in academics and has therefore lost interest in pursuing academics ? Do you have any option? Yes, there is. 

Second law of success states that talent can be built by combining COB ( Cognitive Abilities), Character Traits ( CAT) and Conative traits ( COT). In other words, if the student is not good in developing his cognitive abilities, we can use his school time to develop his Character traits. Three character traits are important later in life. These are to think creatively, to cooperate with others effectively, and to regulate oneself ( i.e to control their own impulses and emotions.) . These skills cannot be taught like subjects. So where can we learn this?

They are learned and practiced by children in play. Not structured play, but unstructured play. 

Structured play is the play where one competes at the highest level, but unstructured play is the play between the children where more than competition, getting along is more important. Structured play has strict rules and regulations imposed by the play, unstructured play have the rules that are decided by the consensus amongst the members who are playing.

Unstructured play is important because it develops three critical character traits that are important for building the talent in the later phase of life:

1. It nurtures creativity in the child

We can’t teach creativity in schools, because schools centers not on answering children’s own questions but answering those questions dictated by an imposed curriculum. In a school, all questions have one right answer and everyone must learn the same answer and repeat it. Surprisingly, in today's economy, we no longer need to perform routine calculations (we have calculators and computers for that), or to answer already-answered questions (we have search engines that can perform the same function). 

But we do need children who can ask and seek answers to new questions, solve new problems and anticipate obstacles before they arise. These all require the ability to think creatively. The creative mind is a playful mind. And where are the children most creative ?

In unstructured play, they design their own creative rules of play. They find innovative ways to negotiate the constraints like space or number of children. They convert their weaknesses into strengths by setting rules that will overturn the normal advantage of a over-aged child. They creatively find ways to bring in a strong partner to compensate for their weakness. They creatively find games where they have more specific strengths. 

2. It builds capacity to cooperate with others

Unstructured play, by definition, is voluntary, which means that players are always free to quit. If you can’t quit, it’s not play. All players know that, and so they know that to keep the game going, they must keep the other players happy. When players disagree about how to play, they must negotiate their differences and arrive at compromises. Each player must recognise the capacities and desires of the others, so as not to hurt or offend them in ways that will lead them to quit. Failure to do so ends the game and leave the offender alone, which is powerful punishment for not attending to the others’ wishes and needs. 

The most fundamental social skill is the ability to get into other people’s minds, to see the world from their point of view. Children practice this skill continuously in their social unstructured play.

3. It promotes Self regulation amongst children

In unstructured play, children also learn how to control their impulses and follow rules.

All play – even the wildest-looking varieties – has rules prescribed and negotiated by the members. In the play-fight you cannot kick, bite, scratch, or really hurt the other person; and if you are the larger and stronger of the two, you must take special care to protect the other from harm. Purpose of play-fight is not to win at any cost, but to prolong the play by keeping the other happy.

In socio-dramatic play – the kind of imaginary play exemplified by young children’s games of “ driving a bus” or pretending to be superheroes or running a house – the primary rule is that you must stay in character. If you are the pet dog, you must bark instead of talk and you move around on all fours no matter how uncomfortable that might be. If you are policeman, you must be rigid and harsh, howsoever you may feel really.  In these roles, the children learn the art of controlling impulses and behaving in accordance with social expectations.


Unstructured play, in the good old days, was highly in vogue when joint families used to stay together. Even though we did not stay in joint family, the families we lived in our town were so close that we practically knew every child in our neighborhood. We did not even know that most of the traits developed in us were through the unstructured play we engaged with our playmates. Thank God, we lived in good old days. But our children are not so lucky. They therefore need our help.

Peter Gray is a rare psychologist who has studied the role of PLAY in developing our character traits. He is also author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (Basic Books, 2013). This blog has been written by using the ideas of his book. For more details, read his book. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

How to use free career advice available on internet and books?

Many believe that one can always get some useful career advice by listening to the story of an achiever.

They argue that we get tips and ideas to succeed by hearing their stories. By knowing how achievers negotiated their hurdles we find how to negotiate our hurdle, by listening to their responses to difficult situations we learn to respond innovatively, or after hearing the ideas of how they energised themselves after failure we can also use the same methods to buck ourself up after failing. But is this assumption really true? Can we really adopt career ideas and suggestions of others achievers directly?

Let us understand how we use health advice in our lives.

How do we use health advice of others 

In order to use someone's health advice effectively, I have to 'incorporate' the advice in my daily routine. I cannot adopt an idea as it is, I have to adapt it for my situation. For this, I have two choices.
  • First choice is creating an intellectual framework. For instance, to use the advice of weight control, I must create a framework of "Weight control", the framework of 'cause and effect'. What causes weight increase and what causes weight loss. The framework consists of basic info like noting down the calorie impact of each food, estimating the calories we burn during the day, predicting the calorie intake by eating our normal food. Then i need to understand my own habits: both of consuming food and burning calories.  Understand my current weight scenario. ( if i am not overweight by too much kg, i can use less drastic regimes). Only after creating a framework like this, i can use an advice of a celebrity who reduced her weight by 20 kg in two months.  
  • Second choice is based on Similarity: similarity of background. For instance, to copy the food habit of a celebrity, I must find a person who is more similar to me. If i am consuming South Indian type of food, i must get the advise from a South Indian. If i stay in Mumbai, I must copy the exercise habits of Mumbai-based resident, because i cannot do normal exercises at 6 pm! This is copy-paste method, except that you have to take care in the copying the right person ! 
Both methods have pros and cons.As you would realise, intellectual framework Method forces you to take more cognitive effort, but it can also help you incorporate advice of many celebrities easily. The Similarity Method requires less cognitive effort,  but you must spend more effort on finding the right person who is similar to your background. 

Take care while using similarity method (Copy-paste) for your career advice

Many individuals prefer to use the second choice, because it takes lesser cognitive effort.

But they ignore the essential rule of finding the right person. For instance, finding any south Indian person in Mumbai will not help, you must find such a person who has also lost his weight successfully. That is difficult. Finding a person with more similar background increases the chances of using the advice successfully , but it is also increases the difficulty in finding such a person. For instance, finding a person who has similar habits like you ( such as having desk bound job, because you work on computers) is not easy. 

Without finding the right person, however, most of the people use the wrong learnings from other successful achievers.  And that is why, despite so much of health advice on controlling weight, you will find so many individuals struggle to control their weight. Despite so much of health advice on stress control to control BP, you will find so many individuals suffering from high BP at low age. Despite so much of health advice on controlling a simple ailment like cold and headache, you will find so many individuals suffering from cold and headaches.

Similarly, there is plenty of career advice on internet.The same is true while using career advice of celebrity achievers. When you hear the stories of these achievers, and hear their ideas and struggles, you can use them by using either of the two methods of adapting it: Either create a Career framework to find which advice is appropriate for you or Use Similarity method to find the right achiever who resembles with your background and situation.

You will find that students use Similarity Method, when they chose the profession of their parents or close relatives. When a child in the family of actors want to be in entertainment profession, he can easily chose Similarity method of getting ready-made career advice. Being in the family, they find it easier to get the right customised career advice for their career. No need to find any other celebrity or an outsider. That is why it is easy to chose and succeed a discipline/profession which is followed by your father, uncle, grandfather or cousins !

Another option of using Similarity method of seeking career advice is to find a role model in your chosen work-path. That is why entrepreneurs find mentors who are successful entrepreneurs or Angel investors. Or find a role model of a Professor if you want to pursue a work-path of a Professor. Or find a role model of a researcher, if you want to pursue research. In technical language, this is called finding a Mentor. Mentoring is very helpful if mentor is found in the same work-path . This is how one can use the interviews of successful achievers. 

How to use generic advice of achievers 

But how to use career advice of other achievers, who are in not in your domain, or from your background, but who have achieved something in a very different arena?

There is a plenty of career advice available in the net, in the books, in the heads of achievers. It is a very good idea to use this advice. But most of it is not for you. How to separate wheat from chaff?

One simplest way is to find answers to some specific questions. For instance, nested goals is often common in every person's life. If you therefore meet celebrities, ask a question " How did your goals kept on changing".

Second way is to ask questions about the important values of compass setting. Values such as 'Process is more important than Result' determine the course of life more than any other value. This value determines if you dream 'big' without thinking of the consequences of 'failing' in realising the dream. This value also determines the extent of 'ethics' that you may want to sacrifice to achieve your goals.


But what you want is the specific customised advice that will be applicable to your career, the advice that will be applicable to you, given your family and parental background, advice that you will be able to incorporate in your daily work practices, advice that suits your specific work path. In short, what you require is a 'Customised career advice'. Tips and ideas of career advice look good on the surface, but are not useful to most of us. 

We all search internet to discover a success formula that can help us surmount all our career difficulties. If there is one success formula you must use, it should be either developing your own career framework by using generic framework like Enlight.  Only your career framework can help you sort out good career advice from bad !