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Like Your Life Depends On It

I was an average student in my formative years. In some courses I was below average. In others I was above average. But overall, I was average. It wasn’t that I hated school or anything; but nor did I particularly enjoy it. Honestly, back then I liked school more for what it offered me socially than anything else. But then, back in the 70s, kids could approach school that way and still end up doing pretty well for themselves later in life. That is not the case in today’s climate; nor is it the way I’m training my 12 year old to approach his education.

You see I don’t want my kids/grandkids to make the same mistakes I’ve made. Instead, I want them to understand while they are in in middle school, high school, and studying at the undergraduate level that how a person learns impacts every single aspect of life once they pass a certain point.

Some of you might think I’m stretching it a bit to say that. But, one of my favorite writers says it like this.

…there is a vast difference between simply thinking, and directing our thought consciously, systematically, and constructively. -C. Haanel

The days of being able to approach education casually have come and gone. In today’s classrooms, our kids need to know both how to learn and how to approach learning experiences. If they don’t, they are not going to be able to successfully navigate education through to completion of a baccalaureate degree—period.

Consider your responses to these three different situations.

  1. If an instructor asked you to do a critical analysis of a book they assigned you to read, how would you approach this assignment?
  1. If your supervisor asked you to do a comparative analysis of two different approaches to a solving a particular problem how would you begin that project?
  1. When you are faced with the need to change in order to move your life or career forward how to you handle such situations?

Now, number one is clearly about learning. But, did you recognize that items two and three are just a much about how you think and learn?

Prove It For Yourself

I never expect people to take my word for something just because I say it’s true. But, if you watch people long enough, you will see for yourself that people who are confident in their ability to think and learn are more flexible and therefore generally more comfortable with change. Keep watching and you’ll see that a person who is comfortable with change is able to change more quickly than those who are not comfortable with change. And most adults will attest to the fact that people who can embrace and engage in changing more quickly than the masses will benefit from their ability to do so.

If you continue observing and thinking about this you will probably notice that as humans, once we have gone through a few seasons of change successfully, we become even more confident in our ability to handle change. As our confidence in our ability to change increases we become more flexible and begin proactively looking for signs that we need to change so we are prepared beforehand. Being observant in this manner allows us to begin asking and answering questions is a manner that changes the way we navigate change and life in general. Then if we stick to this way of thinking, learning, and changing we begin analyzing our own behavior and tweaking it in a manner that allows us to tailor our approach to navigating change so that we can accomplish even more—faster.

For some of you reading this post, all of this may seem like a major stretch. But for those who are determined to learn, think, and grow in a manner that changes the game for you and those you love, you may be seeing how all of this connects through a new lens. Here’s the same information stated more overtly.

When you become skilled at thinking and learning in a game-changing way you can do the following:

  • Analyze and process information effectively and efficiently
  • Ask questions based on the gaps and opportunities identified while analyzing
  • Collect data points (important information) based on responses to the right questions
  • Forecast how things will unfold based on observations, analysis, asking the right questions, etc.

This isn’t some sort of science that only those who have studied the science of thought can understand. It’s really truly the way things work for anyone who cares to begin thinking, learning and living differently. You don’t need anyone’s permission to begin operating in this manner. You simply need to begin paying attention to what’s going on around you; and begin thinking and learning as if the quality of the life you live depends on how you think about what’s playing out in your life. -cd


Learning To Walk In Wisdom

Originally Posted September 2014

It’s been a busy few weeks, but we are now well into 7th grade. He’s had his first quizzes and exams. He has had his first football game. He appears to be doing well and to be enjoying himself. But I will say that after only 2.5 weeks of being back in school, he is uncharacteristically comfortable to have a lazy Saturday at home. He even passed on racing MX this weekend. This tells me many things.

  • His new schedule and commitments are stretching him.
  • He still needs his quiet time.

Neither of these things surprises me as my child is a lot like his parents. Quiet time calms the nerves. 🙂 He has taken on quite a bit of responsibility this year. He has played football before but it was a weekend league that was not connected to his school. This time around it’s at the middle-school level and his teammates, classmates, teachers, and coaches are all connected. When he was in 5th grade and played in a league only a handful of other players at school even knew he was on the team. Now, his classmates show up to the games and his coaches are also his teachers.


Right now, it looks like he’s enjoying all of this, even as he is managing himself so that he can rise to the occasion. The fact that he chose not to race this weekend, in order to rest and to keep from risking injury (his words) after getting dehydrated in Thursday’s game, tells me that he is committed to his teammates in a manner that demonstrates maturity and wisdom. Goodness knows we’ve been praying that he walk in wisdom. –cd

A New Year A New Person (7th Grade)

Originally Posted August 2014

For many of us, it’s time for our kids to return to school. If your household is anything like ours, you and your kids might have mixed feelings about this time of year. Our schools are now complex environments that can be very tough to navigate–especially once kids enter middle school or junior high school.

For all of the attention we give to the quality and/or adequacy of public education, there is little said regarding what plays out socially in our schools. While my husband and I feel well equipped to help our 12-yr old achieve academically; the social side of things is another world altogether.

We had a rough year last year. Our son nearly drowned in a school that was too big and culturally different from what he had experienced previously. In short, he was not ready for the social dynamic created by large numbers of kids and teachers with varying values, cultures, standards, and personalities. This caught my husband and I both off guard as we have always been in very diverse environments. Or have we?

As academics we have raised our sons in very open, accepting, globally-focused environments. Even when we lived in small towns we were surrounded by other academics who basically had the same general values. We had different religions, different beliefs, and different approaches to life, living, and raising our kids. BUT, what we all had in common was a respect for our differences and an open acceptance that allowed people to be who they chose to be–period. Unless someone was hurting someone else, we were fine with each individual being a unique package and contributing in his or her own unique way to our little community. Some were introverts, some extraverts. Some were dancers, some musicians. Some scholar/athletes, some just scholars. Many traveled, some chose not to travel. Some who worshipped a higher power, some who didn’t. But in the end, we all respected the rights of others to choose who and what they wanted to be/become.

Through a series of complicated circumstances, our son entered middle school in a community that operates a bit differently. He ran into stereotypes, overt racism, elitist behavior, entitlement, and a number of other things he’d never before seen in such concentrated doses. He struggled beyond belief to understand survival in an environment that at times played by rules he had never been exposed to and at other times appeared to have no rules in place until after the fact. He made many mistakes and regularly operated on the wrong assumptions. He imitated behavior he should have found disturbing. He watched behavior we wish he had reported. He fought back when he should have given in and gave in when we wished he had fought back. In the end, he learned many valuable lessons and finished the year a better person for all he experienced. We spent a good deal of the summer helping him understand the role of emotional intelligence in surviving socially and reinforcing what he believes personally as compared to what he saw play out in the classrooms and halls at school.


He’s excited to return to school. We all know this year will be better because we are different people than we were last year—to include the people he will reunite with in the halls and classrooms of his school. But even if he runs into the same circumstances this year and people who didn’t change over the summer, he knows what he’s walking into and he’s looking forward to navigating more successfully and maintaining his values independent of what he sees. He’s no longer a little boy. He’s a young man. He’s a young man with some experience under his belt, a renewed sense of self-respect, and an understanding of the need for street smarts in the halls of his suburban middle school. He’s a 7th grader. -cd

Bittersweet Chocolate

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the portion of Germany that was once (not so long ago) Communist East Germany. It was an awesome trip and my husband, son, and I had a wonderful time. We visited cathedrals and castles, ate schnitzel, rode the train through the countryside and shopped at malls that rivaled those we visit so regularly here in Indiana. When thinking back on the trip there is just one experience that comes to mind bringing with it mixed feelings.

One day of our trip was spent in the town of Halle to include a visit to the Halloren Schokoladenfabrik (chocolate factory). As stated on the English version of their website, The Halloren Schokoladenfabrik is the oldest producing chocolate factory in Germany; dating back to 1804.

Now, I will be the first to state that being given a personal tour of a chocolate factory would be on my list of things to do in any country. But not only is this particular factory open to the public for tours, it also houses a chocolate museum that, along with our tour guide, provided a thorough education for the 3 of us. To say that the history of the factory was interesting would be an egregious understatement. Here’s a quick list of some of the interesting facts we took away from the experience.

– Just because they will let you take a tour, you shouldn’t assume you can take photos of the actual factory – in the museum fine; but not in the factory.

– The factory’s main product is the Halloren Kugeln. This yummy treat comes in a wide variety of flavors and is shaped like the buttons found on the uniforms of the guild of salt workers.

– In 1933 the owner of the company had to change the name of the company from David Sonne to Mignon Schokoladenwerke. It was said that the name David was too Jewish for him to be allowed to… Later the name was changed to Halloren Schokoladenfabrik. Although I knew these things from a historical perspective, it was hard to hear this man’s particular story.

– Chocolate had to be sold in the “underground” during WWII.

As fascinating as these things were to me, none of them struck me in the same manner as the story/conversation that went along with the photo accompanying this post.

Bittersweet Chocolate

Bittersweet Chocolate

At first, I was having a good time with my son and wondering why the little girl mannequin had on crooked hair. Then our host/guide began sharing the story behind the display with the school children. You see the mannequins of the school children represented a program that was put into place to bring school-aged children into the factory. It was a formal program that included training and uniforms as shown here in the photo with my son and the mannequins. The program was designed to introduce the children selected to the chocolate factory and groom them to work there as adults.

As I look back, the tone and detail with which our host shared this story was filled with joy and wonder and pride in the rich history of the factory. But that day, while standing there taking photos of my child with the little mannequins of the communist children who were being groomed to work in the chocolate factory, the joy and wonder was lost on me. This was compounded by the fact that our host was speaking more directly to my son than me. While my son was being perfectly polite and listening to a unique history lesson I was sorting through the smiles and facts and reasoning my way through the story to come my own democracy-filtered conclusions.

As our host finished his story and I came simultaneously to the end of my reasoning we turned to face one another only to feel as if we were standing on opposite sides of the wall that had been torn down nearly 3 decades ago. He saw the mortified look on my face just as I saw the pride in his. It didn’t matter that we were both well-educated professionals who understood where the other was coming from. For a split second he was a German man who had grown up in Communist East Germany and I was an African-American woman who had grown up in a land where we’re taught that the sky is the limit. We both self corrected immediately but for the rest of the day our interactions were ever so slightly strained. Not enough for anyone else to notice. But we knew what had taken place.

Later in the day while heading to Hauptbanhopf Halle to catch the train back to Magdeburg we came upon a series of those iconic tall, plain, gray apartments so often associated by westerners with communism. Many of these communist apartment blocks have been torn down; but several were still standing in Halle and even with major refab they were still a stark reminder of how recently the wall had come down.

I regularly talk with parents who are trying to figure out how to communicate to their kids how fortunate they are to have the opportunities that they take so for granted. I am faced with the same challenges with my son. I know that one day I will share this story with him and show him the photo of him smiling as he sits with the factory-bound communist children/mannequins without knowing what they represent and how different their existence was from his. Maybe I’ll even order some Halloren Kugeln candies so that we can experience the sweet while discussing the bittersweet. -cd


Individualized Learning

You don’t often hear locus of control being addressed in discussions about learning and education. But, whether or not a learner has an internal or an external locus of control has a significant impact on both the effectiveness and efficiency of their learning.

Before I get too far into this topic, let’s begin by defining locus of control so you know exactly where I’m coming from on this.

While you can find this worded many different ways, if you look at it simply, a person with an internal locus of control approaches life as if their decisions and choices have led to their current state of being.

On the other hand, a person with an external locus of control believes that their state of being/living is the result of external forces such as other people, luck, or circumstances.

In short, it’s about the role a person believes their choices play in the creation of their lifestyle or situation. From the learning perspective, locus of control is about who is perceived as being in control of the learning experience.

Now that you know the difference between an external locus of control and an internal locus of control, consider this question:

Would your child learn better if everything taking place in the classroom was focused on meeting his or her individual learning needs?

It’s not a trick question. But it’s also not a question that most parents have ever considered. You don’t have to be an expert on learning to think there might be benefits to an individualized approach to learning, right? Yet, truly individualized learning is only going to happen for your child in one of two ways.

  • You hire a private tutor who teaches your child one-on-one.
  • You teach your child to individualize (or take control of) his or her own learning experiences.

Learning is a very personal experience that we need to teach our children to manage for themselves. My 12 year old is now in 7th grade and beginning to do this on his own. But, what he is doing now he has been learning to do since he was around 5 or 6 years old. It wasn’t hard to teach him what he needed to know to do this at all; but it was deliberate—extremely deliberate.

My husband and I taught (and continue to teach) him to operate in a manner that allows him to manage his own learning; independent of what is taking place in the classroom. Here are some suggestions to help your child take responsibility for his/her learning and operate with an internal locus of control.

  1. Even when they are very young be sure to hold your child accountable for their choices and actions. Help them to understand that the outcomes they experience in life are the results of their actions and decisions. Understanding this carries over to the classroom is very important for them.
  2. Encourage them to seek after what they need in order to succeed (information, assistance, and opportunities). So many learners walk out of classrooms knowing they don’t have what they need to successfully complete an assignment or study for an exam. But rather than pursue what they need they allow themselves to be intimidated or feel unworthy of the bit of extra attention they need for success.
  3. Be sure to let them know that missteps happen—but success is found when we recover from our missteps and continue to move forward.

Of course, these suggestions are just a starting point. But, used consistently, they are a great starting point that (once in place) will serve your child for a lifetime.

If you’d like to learn more and determine your locus of control follow this link to do so. Then consider how knowing your locus of control can help you help your child.


Do You Know The Six Levels Of Learning?

As a learner, there are few things I have found to be as valuable to me as the model I’m sharing in this article. I didn’t learn of this model until I had completed my undergraduate education. But as a learner, once I explored it thoroughly, I found it to be life changing. I know those are big words but I can’t back down on this. A thorough knowledge of this model changes everything for a learner—no matter their age or education level.

The name of the model is Bloom’s Taxonomy in honor of Benjamin Bloom the gentleman who led the original team of educators involved in the development of the model back in the late 1940s and 50s. Yes, this model has been around that long. It’s one of those things that has been around and known in some circles for decades and completely unheard of in other circles.

Around 2002 an updated version of the model was released but it’s still referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy. To keep things simple, let’s just call it The Six Levels of Thinking/Learning.

Level One – Memorization

The first level of learning is memorization and requires simply that learners remember and be able to recall or restate information. There is a certain amount of memorization required in all learning. Examples: sight words, vocabulary, and multiplication facts.

Level Two – Comprehension

Comprehension is the next level of learning and requires that learners take what they have memorized and put it into their own words. Young learners spend a lot of their time focusing on comprehension of reading material in elementary school. If you can accurately explain something in your own words then you are operating at the Comprehension level.

Level Three – Application

Once a learner has mastered the content at the Comprehension level, the next step is to ensure they are able to use that information to solve a problem or address a situation. Math is a good example of when the application of content becomes important. Learners have to memorize, comprehend, and then apply the information to be able to move forward in their math curriculum.

Many learners fail to study appropriately at the Comprehension level only to find that they are poorly prepared for a well-written exam written at the Application level.

Level Four – Analysis

The Analysis level is where things get really interesting. At this level learners have to break information down into related pieces and parts. This is the level where learners go from basic thinking to engaging in critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, this is also where some learners are left behind. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Learners who take an exam and feel like there were trick questions on the exam usually stopped studying at the Comprehension level of Application level when they should have prepared at the Analysis level. When you are asked by an instructor to compare and contrast two items you are operating at the Analysis level.

Level Five – Evaluation

Once a learner can take complex information and analyze it, the next step is to begin making decisions regarding the value or quality of whatever it is being explored. Until learners are able to analyze they will not be able to effectively engage in evaluation. Effective evaluation is not possible without thorough analysis taking place first.

Level Six – Creation

At the highest level of thinking and learning it’s all about creating something new by combining the information learned while studying at the previous levels of the model. Operating at this level literally requires you to take what you’ve learned and create something new. You may have guessed by now that this isn’t the easiest thing to achieve. In fact, it takes a significant amount of skill. But it’s extremely rewarding to operate at this level.


Now that you know each of the six levels, I’d like to point out a couple of important notes.

  1. Each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy subsumes previous levels. Meaning, in order for a learner to succeed at level four of the model they must first succeed at levels one, two, and three. So before a person can successfully analyze they should first understand that content at the memorization, comprehension, and application levels.
  1. Levels four, five, and six of the model are those all-important critical thinking skills we hear so much about. Learners (of all ages) need these skills to succeed in K -12, higher education AND in today’s workplace.

Seems simple enough right? It really isn’t complicated at all. But then some of the most powerful information out there is often simple in nature. If you approach anything you want to learn with these levels in mind and ask yourself at what level you need to operate in order to succeed—you will change your ability to learn even complex material. AND, being able to learn anything you want to learn effectively has the power to change your life. -cd



Tips For Engaging & Learning With Your Child

When was the last time you studied or learned something new? When was the last time you developed a new skill? If you have to think too hard about this then you might be making a mistake that will affect your kids for years to come. That’s right—if you’re not learning in front of your kids, you may be putting them at a disadvantage. They need to see us stretch and struggle and succeed and even fail (and then rebound of course). I know this may make those who aren’t “into” learning a bit sick at the stomach but if we want to do right by our kids they need to see us learn.

Many of our parents didn’t study and learn because they didn’t have to study and learn as adults. They could work, and live, and go about life in a different manner than we do because the world was significantly slower in the 80s, 90s, and even earlier in the 21st century. But, we can’t afford to raise our kids in the same manner we were raised. They need us to set an example, and engage them, and teach them that learning is fun and valuable and in this day and age, relatively constant.

If you feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the thought of engaging your child in this manner here are some tips to get you started. Pay particular attention to the suggestions with the asterisk(*). These suggestions feel so natural and fun that you and your kids may not feel like it’s a learning activity at all.

Tips For Engaging & Learning With Your Child

1. Use his/her favorite movies to introduce a new way of interacting/engaging.*

If your kids are anything like my boys and my grandson they watch the same movies over and over and over and… We literally have the favorites memorized by the time they move on to their next stage.

Once your kids enter school their movies are a great way to teach them to answer questions. The questions you ask might focus on their comprehension of the story being told. Or you can challenge them creatively and ask them to compose alternative plots and endings. Once you get started it gets easier as they join in and sometimes take over leading the conversations.

2. The morning commute is a great time to chat and talk about the social side of school.*

Too many of us have relinquished our valuable commute time to Radio Disney. Now, I have nothing against Radio Disney; but the time I spend in the car with my kids/grandkids is far too valuable for me to allow it to be filled with Disney’s version of Kidz Bop. Instead, I use that time to hang out with my boys and find out what they’re up to, what might be troubling them, and oftentimes what they are just plain thinking about.

School is not just academic. It’s also social and emotional. For some reason, my boys are often in a mood to share things I’d never get out of them if we weren’t in the car. They share openly and freely in a manner that blows my mind but seems very natural to them. I have actually had moments when I was scared they would realize how freely they are sharing and stop mid-sentence. But they never have–they just talk and share and go places emotionally they don’t otherwise go. I’m not giving this platinum-covered quality time away to anyone without a fight.

3. If you’re a fun-loving, silly family, (or even if you’re not) make up a goofy game.*

Games work! They facilitate engagement naturally because multi-player games are naturally interactive. (That sentence sounded better in my head–but I’m going to leave it be 🙂

When my youngest son needed to learn his multiplication facts we quickly ran into the same boredom, grumpiness, and tears that many parents encounter. BUT, my husband and I know that without those facts stored securely in his mind moving forward in math is problematic. So, Mr. Math (my husband) combined basketball and math facts into a game he and my son started playing each night in our entryway. I never thought we would get to the point at which our son would regularly request “playing” math facts. Don’t tell him I shared this, but over the summer I heard him ask his dad to play math facts, and he just entered 7th grade!! He’s known his math facts for years now. But he still loves playing that game with his dad.

4. Buy two copies of a book they want to read and read it with them (like a mini book club).

This might seem like a cheesy thing to do. But the bottom line is that our kids need for us to come to their level and walk the learning path with them. When my son is learning about Mesopotamia my husband and I dive in and learn with him. We put him in situations in which he teaches and leads us. Allowing him to teach us reinforces what he’s learning, puts him in the control seat, and let’s him see us vulnerable as learners.

I hope you find at least one of these suggestions interesting. But, if you don’t come up with your own ideas based on what your family dynamic and what your child enjoys doing. I guarantee that simply finding ways to engage (in any manner) will pay off and lead to more engaging opportunities. Experiment, have fun, and let your child see you learn. -cd