Archive for October, 2010

Learning to Learn

October 25th, 2010
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In my last post, I wrote about a Lanikai elementary school teacher who won awards for her dissertation on teaching writing skills to fourth graders. After comparing different approaches, she concluded that students achieved better results when they were instructed to compare examples of good and bad writing. As it turns out, her findings mirror other research being done into learning and study habits -- not just for kids, but adults too.

This is especially important nowadays since so many "older" job seekers must learn new skills to compete in the market place. Whether they go back to school or do it on their own, it comes down to studying. But they might be going about it the wrong way if they're still using old school techniques. A recent New York Times article (link below) says total immersion and concentrated focus on one subject at a time isn't as effective as mixing things up, or changing the study location to stimulate the memory process. It also says that asking students to compare things on their own leads to better retention because the person is putting what they learn into practice -- which is what our Lanikai teacher said in her dissertation.

In my own career moves over the years, I've had to go to classes to get my real estate license and securities trading license. After being out of school for so many years, I was worried about having to pass tests. I suspect the fear of failing exams keeps many adults from returning to college or changing occupations. However, if teachers and students employed these new findings in the classroom, perhaps we'd see better success from grade school through adult education programs (and less anxiety as well).

If you blinked and missed seeing my last post headline in the Star-Advertiser front page blog box, here's the link to "Paging Dr. Write" column. The S-A box only shows the last 10 posts, so if someone posts a bunch of separate short blog entries, the other bloggers get elbowed out. However, you can subscribe to RSS feeds or click on the "View All Blogs" link at the bottom of the box to catch up on posts by non-staff writers. Also, if the comments are "turned off" on my posts it's because I've been getting upwards of 50 to 70 spam-bot "comments" each day, which I have to manually flag and delete. But you can always email me directly with your thoughts and feedback!

From the NY Times, "Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits" ... interesting article.

For daily viewing times of Career Changers TV on OC16 and info on the current show, please visit our site and check out videos from past episodes on our YouTube Channel. Mahalo!

Paging Dr. Write

October 22nd, 2010
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Which statement is true: a.) Hawaii's public schools are doing a good job of teaching our children. b.) Hawaii's public schools are in bad shape.

This past week, I spoke to an inspired teacher and a disillusioned parent who gave me reasons to say both statements are valid. It depends where your kids go to school, and perhaps more importantly, who their teachers are. It also depends largely on the parents' expectations and involvement. I don't have children, but if I did, I'd want to send them to Lanikai Elementary Public Charter School, where we taped Dr. April Gardner Taylor for a future CCTV segment about Argosy University's School of Education.

Dr. Taylor has been teaching for 18 years, mostly working with fifth and sixth grade students. However, to earn her doctorate from Argosy, she did her dissertation on teaching writing skills to fourth graders. Her award-winning study involved several teachers and classes from schools on the Windward side, comparing different approaches to writing instruction. In a nutshell, she found that children learned more when they were presented with examples of "good" and "bad" writing, then asked to figure out why one was better than the other.

Rather than just making them memorize grammar "rules," they were asked to think through the process of putting words together. When April -- er, Dr. Taylor -- explained that learning to write well is really about learning to think, my head was bobbing up and down. This is what I tell everyone about what I learned from my journalism courses in college. It wasn't grammar or punctuation, which I'm still not very good at. The most important thing I got out of writing for the college paper was it taught me how to ask questions and find answers.

The reason she wants her students to call her Dr. Taylor is that she feels they give her more respect when she tells them that she's like a medical doctor. She "prescribes" homework for them, diagnoses their writing mistakes and helps them get better at it. Yet the doctor title represents more than that. It demonstrates her personal commitment to being the best teacher she can be. She wanted to learn more herself, so she could do a better job of teaching kids the skills they will need to get ahead in life.

And boy, do they need it! Her dissertation quotes statistics that say over a third of college students feel they are deficient in writing skills. In the work force, the number is closer to forty percent who admit to feeling "incompetent" when it comes to writing. As someone who gets a lot of emails from people in all walks of life, I can vouch for those numbers. When I used to write for the old Star-Bulletin, I got emails from teachers on the subject of drug testing in schools that made me wonder how THEY  graduated from high school.

Which brings me back to the disillusioned parent I mentioned earlier. She had moved here from the Mainland about a year ago, and decided to leave Hawaii because she had concerns about our public school system based on what she saw first-hand. Her children also encountered the "haole" problem that sometimes comes with being an outsider or new kid.

But at the Lanikai elementary school, I got to see the good side of public education. Dr. Taylor's classroom was festooned with student art work and posters that incorporated sports analogies, plus other fun stuff to make points about effective writing. The kids we saw looked happy to be there. She was excited about being there, and said she couldn't imagine doing anything else that would be as rewarding. If only the parent who was leaving Hawaii had gotten to send her children to a school like that one...

Being a public school teacher is a demanding job, especially in places where students and parents don't give them much respect or support. In Japan, children bow to their teachers from day one and educators are venerated. In Finland, which is ranked as the world's top education system, they have three teachers per class -- one to instruct, while two work one-on-one with students. In the U.S., most of our teachers come from the bottom third class ranking of college graduates. In Finland, they come from the top 10 percent and have advanced degrees. Yet in much of America, being educated or having advanced degrees is now sneered at as being "elitist." No wonder this country has been heading in the wrong direction for the past few years. Our priorities are seriously screwed up, folks.

So if you encounter devoted, passionate educators like April Gardner Taylor -- "Dr. Write" in my book -- give them your thanks and a hug... because children may be the future, but it's teachers who will determine whether it will be a bleak or bright future we will have.

*****

A little off topic, but related to the subject of writing is this interesting book review about the origins of print publishing. Did you know Gutenberg died broke and disappointed, despite inventing the movable-type printing press?

And you still have another week to watch this month's Halloween episode of Career Changers TV, which features an interesting mix of creative people doing some pretty neat things. For daily viewing times and links to our YouTube Channel videos, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV.

Posted in Career Changers TV, Inspiration | Comments Off

Ageism at Work (and Play)

October 18th, 2010
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Getting old stinks. I'm 54 and that's ancient for screenwriters in the movie biz. Someone once said that Hollywood is the only place where experience is considered a negative. But I'm starting to think it's not just the entertainment industry that looks askance at middle-aged people. While age discrimination is supposed to be illegal, it seems fairly obvious that many companies are shunning older job applicants.

The New York Times ran this depressing headline not long ago: "For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again" ... sigh. Yet at the same time, many senior citizens have no choice but to keep working after seeing their pension funds and investments go down the tubes at the end of the Bush era when the Dow sunk below the 8,000 mark.

Another article in U.S. News & World Report likens the attitude towards older workers as being similar to how women were viewed 40 years ago. Back then, females weren't considered to be physically or mentally up to the challenges of jobs typically done by men. Now it's gray-haired folks who face that kind of discrimination... but isn't there a certain amount of truth to old-age stereotypes?

Take me, for example. I can do basic computer and social media stuff. However, I'm not into texting, don't know how to send photos with my cell phone (and don't care to) and have given up on following new music/fashion/youth trends for the most part. On the other hand, I've probably read more and seen or done a lot more things than my younger screenwriting competition, who primarily seem to get their life "experience" from mediocre TV shows and comic book movies they watch. Snarky dialogue is in; thoughtful conversation is an idiom of the past.

What distresses me most though, is much of this Youth worship stems from aging Baby Boomers themselves, who put such a high premium on maintaining the illusion of a Never Never Land where none of us grow old -- in spirit at least, if not in body. Signs of denial are all over Facebook: the pages and pages of photos taken during high school, college or post-college days when nearly everyone played in a band or hung out with one. A college friend of mine, who was in one of the first all-girl punk rock groups in the 70s just played a reunion gig in NYC. I jokingly noted on her Facebook page that it sounded like it could be a funny sit-com premise: aging punk rock girl band goes on tour -- sponsored by Centrum Silver, Depends, and AARP. Her band mates were not amused. (She later sent me a link to a real group named "Grumpy Old Punks," which does songs in that vein.)

To make matters worse, you have shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance that suggest younger is better when it comes to talent search competitions. Really? How in the world can a 16-year-old sing about meaningful relationships and what it's like to REALLY suffer or struggle, when parents have been sheltering them all their lives? Yes, they may have the vocal chops or lithe bodies that perform amazing athletic stunts. But when I listen to an old Solomon Burke blues number or watch Clapton and Bonnie Raitt on stage, those performers can convey more emotion with a single small gesture than the most talented teenager using every inch of their body or lungs.

And while I'm on my Grumpy Old Writer rant, I have one more thing to add: I love Ellen DeGeneres because she's done so much for gay rights simply by being honest about herself and showing straight people that gays aren't a threat to hetero society. Plus, she's funny without being mean or scatological. But she's gotten sucked into the Youth worship cult too, and regularly brings on stage precocious kids that she or her staff "discovered" on YouTube videos. They sing! They dance! They're so darn cute! Fine... except she's also cashing in on them by launching her own record label to promote these kiddie entertainers. Meanwhile, I know of many musicians and artists, who are talented and have worked a lot harder for their entire lives, and they will never get a shot on Ellen's show because they're "too old." That's a shame too, because young people are missing out on some great stories about life and enduring when times get tough. Instead, you'll see those same kids crying on TV when they get cut from American Idol, saying their life is over at the age of 19 because they haven't become famous yet.

As I told one of my more "mature" friends the other day, I'm grateful to be getting old. It sure beats the alternative.

Today's relevant links:

NY Times article on older workers struggling to find jobs.

U.S. News & World Report piece on the Senior Movement... um, no, not the Depends kind.

Grumpy Old Punks website and Facebook. One of their songs is called, "Anarchy in the Prostrate." Ouch.

If you haven't seen the latest Halloween edition of Career Changers TV on OC16, please visit our website for daily viewing times! We also have a special deal for employers to post job listings on Hawaii Jobs On Demand... enter promo code "CareerChangersTV10" and get 10 percent off the fee!

Why Creativity Matters

October 13th, 2010
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Shortly after I hit "publish" on my last post about the lack of creativity in this year's political ads, new campaign commercials rolled out... and all I can say is the only thing worse than boring advertising is negative advertising. In the short term, nasty ads might score points. But in the end, it only drags everyone down. It's a lose-lose situation.

That's why I think it's important to question the lack of imagination in our candidates these days. In fact, a recent Newsweek article says there is tangible evidence of a "creativity crisis" in this country based on declining scores in tests designed to measure that quality. Those tests showed a strong correlation between creativity in children and their future achievements. Kids who came up with more good ideas went on to become inventors, entrepreneurs, artists and successful leaders. These "dreamers" become game-changers who make a real difference. They have a vision of the world that is positive, not cynical and mean-spirited. It's the difference between having a can-do and no-can attitude towards life.

The Torrance tests have been tracking results for over 50 years. Up until 1990, creativity scores were going up... and have been inching downward ever since. The decline has been most significant in kindergarten to sixth grade children. So what happened? The authors of the article point to TV, video games and the education system itself: creativity isn't being nurtured in classrooms as part of the curriculum. Could that be a result of the increased emphasis being placed on standardized testing? Even countries like China are now shifting to "problem-based" learning approaches, the article says.

On our current Career Changers TV show we have a segment about inventor Dr. Rob Yonover. At the end, he talks briefly about his plans to create a TV series for kids that would encourage them to use nothing but their brains, a pencil and piece of paper to solve problems. No computers, no cell phones or electronic games around to distract them. Make them use their imagination. I think it's a great idea -- but will advertisers sponsor a TV program that encourages parents and children to ween themselves off our insatiable media appetite?

And that's the paradox: there's great educational stuff on the internet and TV -- information and ideas that can spur creativity and imaginative solutions to problems we're faced with. But at the same time, it's so easy to get distracted by trivia and time-wasters, or negative online arguments that just take us in circles... like the current rash of negative campaign ads that fail to inspire voters to choose a candidate based on their ideas and plans. Where's the beef or soy-based alternative?

I was going to write about effective advertising such as the clever use of factoids on AMC's Mad Men series, but that will have to wait until another post. (They're also running commercials that are made to look like brainstorming sessions at a 60s ad agency -- the Mad Men milieu -- that fooled me into hitting the rewind button on my DVR remote.) Creative ads and TV commercials make you stop, look and listen. But when I saw Djou's "scary" Hanabusa Halloween-theme negative commercial, I just wanted to laugh and ask if he had hired Mufi's ad team. And we know how well going negative worked out for him, right?

Here's the link to the Newsweek piece on "The Creativity Crisis" and the sidebar on "Forget Brainstorming" which suggests ways to boost the creative process. Every parent, business manager and entrepreneur should read those articles... politicians too.

To find daily show times for our show or view segments on our YouTube Channel, please visit www.CareerChangers.tv!

Help Wanted: Creative Thinkers

October 11th, 2010
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Maybe it's just me, but do the political ads and commercials this year seem really, um... boring? Don't we want to see signs of intelligence and creativity in leaders, whether it's in the business world or government? Instead, we're getting the same old promises of "change" from both sides packaged in patronizing tones as if the candidates were talking to kindergarten kids: Rise and shine, Hawaii...what, is nap time over?

You'd also think the candidates could show more variety in their ad campaigns. But the current dictum is to stay on point and keep on message, ad nauseam. Which is perhaps one reason so many people are turned off and apathetic about elections. Neither party is providing a product that generates much excitement or interest. With so much at stake for our future, it shouldn't be that way.

There's no excuse for the lack of creativity in government and politics. All one has to do is look at the private sector -- or even sports -- for examples of how effective leaders are nurturing and harnessing the power of innovative thinking in their day-to-day operations. I've been clipping articles and bookmarking web pages that have a common theme: the first step to finding better ideas is simply making the effort to be around creative people. The "lone genius" is really a myth. Good ideas come from collaboration. It's about bringing together small groups in an environment that welcomes divergent views and isn't afraid of "failure." Successful inventors, business leaders and artists recognize that sometimes you have to fail repeatedly before you find the answer you're looking for.

Yet when was the last time you heard of a great idea coming from an elected official or bureaucrat? Recently a national magazine published a list of who they considered to be the most creative people in the world... and none of them were in government. Politicians are so fearful of appearing to be too radical or "different" that they govern to the center in such a way that mediocrity is the best we can hope for. Real change requires a certain amount of risk -- and that scares the heck out of most people.

But government leaders can take cues from sports on how to manage risk and reward. I happened to be skimming topics on a local sports message board and came across a post on Boise State football coach Chris Petersen. Anyone who follows college football knows about the incredible success that school has had over the past few years. Although they're extremely disciplined, they also have a knack for pulling off trick plays and doing the unexpected. In the article, Petersen talks about how he became part of an eclectic group of eight creative and innovative leaders in Boise known as "The Gang."

At first he resisted the notion that spit-balling ideas with non-football types would help him as a coach. Then it hit him like a blindside tackle that adding "wrinkles" to their routine could make them a better team. Here's the link to the USA Today article.

And here's another good interview that appeared in Wired magazine about "Where Ideas Come From"...

I wish our new mayor and the next governor would read these pieces and form their own think tanks of people who do NOT come from government, politics or insider groups. Bring in artists, inventors, innovators who have demonstrated an ability to come up with imaginative solutions to both small and big problems.

In my next post, I'll continue the discussion and talk about creative advertising -- and why I love the Mad Men television series so much. Meanwhile, check out our current Career Changers TV show on OC16, which just happens to feature creative thinkers and local inventors. Here's our website link for daily viewing times, and you can also check out our YouTube Channel link on that page as well.

Got thoughts on encouraging creativity in the workplace and government environment? Post your comments below!