Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Most Important Ingredient for Change in Education Part 2

The  Most Important Ingredient for Change in Education Part 2

In this post I discuss the facets of Dweck’s Mindset Theory as I explain it to my middle schoolers and share some resources that you can use to introduce it in your classroom!  You may want to read Part 1 explains the theory and rational  before you move on to Part 2. 

The facets of Mindset, according to Dweck’s theory are as follows: 

Intelligence and talent remain pretty much the same VS Intelligence and talent can be grown and developed

Challenges are to be avoided VS Challenges should be sought out

Effort is fruitless VS Effort is necessary for mastery

Criticism is ignored VS Criticism is used for improvement

Success of others is viewed as a threat VS Success of others are used as role models

You can see Dweck explaining her theory here.  

In my middle school classroom I follow up the lesson in Part 1 with the explanation below as students self assess each of the facets, analyze their “fail” that they discussed with the class,  and discover their strengths and weaknesses. 

Intelligence and talent remain pretty much the same VS Intelligence and talent can be grown and developed

How many of you have ever said “I am just not a math person” or “I am just horrible with directions”?  Those are examples of fixed mindset thinking where it is believed that your intelligence and talent remain pretty much the same throughout your lifetime.  If you don’t think you can change, you won’t and you really won’t ever be a “math person” or “good with directions”.  If you believe that you can grow and develop then you are more likely to reach your goals.  Oh, and those of you who still don’t think you can change you talent or intelligence, brain science has proved you wrong!  Researchers tell us that the synapses, the connections in our brain that help us to think better, grow throughout our lifetime.  The more do and learn, the more connections you make and the smarter you become.  So that means you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Challenges are to be avoided VS Challenges should be sought out

In high school I had a friend who told me that he was amazing at basketball and couldn’t wait for me to see him play.  I finally came to see him play in his community.  Instead of the regulation height hoops, these looked like the ones you would see at an elementary school.  I though that was strange, especially since he was 6’3!  It was even stranger when his opponents that he was playing with really did look like they were in elementary school!  I covered my eyes out of embarrassment for him when he dunked on one of the fifth graders and cheered himself on.  Clearly he didn’t have much of a challenge against these opponents. 

On the other hand, World Class soccer player, Mia Hamm did just the opposite.  She played with the older boys in her neighborhood and that helped her to become the star she is today.  Sometimes coaches have their players “play up” by going up to the next division to help them advance their game.  What does that have to do with school?  In high school you can “play up” by  taking  challenges in school like honors and advanced placement classes.  You can choose a more challenging science project instead of an easier one.  You can challenge yourself go for all A’s instead of being satisfied with C’s.

Effort is fruitless VS Effort is necessary for mastery

Let me know when you know this famous athlete.  When in the 9th grade, he was cut from the freshmen basketball team.  After that, he worked hard to make it on the team and eventually become an NBA player, probably the best ever.  He also tried his hand at baseball and dabbled as an actor.  In case you still don’t know, a lot of you are wearing his shoes.  Many people think that Michael Jordan could probably skip every practice and just show up at the games because, well, he is Michael Jordan!  Actually, Jordan had the reputation for being first in training sessions and last one out---his hard work is what MADE him the Michael Jordan we now today and not the reject from the freshman team. 

Scientists have a term for this illusion.  It is called the Floating Duck Syndrome and was coined by researchers at Harvard.  Imagine if you will, a duck floating on a lake.  It seems to float so peacefully and naturally on the water, but what we don’t see is all of the work that goes on underneath.  The duck is actually moving his flippers vigorously just to stay above water (readers miss seeing me make a fool of myself by moving my arms in a modified breast stroke).   So, what in the world does a duck have to do with school?  That’s right, that smart kid who just seems to know all of the answers does a lot of work to stay above the water, I mean stay at the head of the class.  You can be the “smart kid” too, if you are willing to do the work.

Criticism is ignored VS Criticism is used for improvement

Does this situation sound familiar?  You work hard on an essay in Language Arts class, get it back with a bunch of red, purple, or green words on it with a big C- (or worse!) on it, and toss it in the garbage.  Well, you just missed out on a valuable opportunity to learn.  Your teacher didn’t write on your paper to make you feel bad, but to help you improve.  Kind of like what Dad did when he pointed out the A-, he wanted me to improve to be the best I could be.  The students who have an 99% and want to know why they got that one question wrong, have the right idea.  Always listen closely when a teacher goes over a test so you understand how to do better next time. 

Success of others is viewed as a threat VS Success of others are used as role models

Ok, how many of you are secret “haters”?  Don’t look at me all crazy!  I know that some of you secretly get jealous when a friend does better than you on a test or makes the team while you got cut.  Some of you aren’t all that secret about it either, shouting our “Nerd!” or trying to sabotage someone.  Instead of focusing your energy on jealousy, focus it on your improvement.  Really look to the success of others to see what you can learn.  It is said that you learn a lot from mistakes, but you can also learn a lot from successes.  Make them your secret role models.  I have many people that I consider role models, from our principal, to other teachers, and of course my parents.  Surround yourself with positive role models.  You are who you hang out with—your momma is right!

Resources for teaching your students about Mindset

Larry Ferlazzo has an extensive list of resources on the internet for teaching students about Mindset here.  I highly recommend that you read his blog! Go there immediately!  
You can see the powerpoint that I use with this explanation here!

In the next post I will discuss the importance of teachers having a Growth Mindset and why it is an important leverage point for educational change. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Most Important Ingredient for Change in Education Part 1

The Most Important Ingredient for Change in Education Part 1

At the start of the new year people are filled with hope of something better and resolve to make changes.  It takes more than mere hope to make a life altering change though.  All improvement, in life and in the classroom, begins first with your state of mind…

I read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset The New Psychology of Success in 2009 and her main points have stuck with me ever since---and changed the way I approach my teaching.  She argues that people have either one of two mindsets that can help you reach your fullest potential or keep you stuck where you are.  A “Fixed Mindset” is the belief that intelligence and talent is fixed, or unchanging---we are just born with it. A “Growh Mindset” is the belief that you can grow your intelligence and improve your talents. 

In her book, Dweck blends brain science with stories of familiar heroes that are examples of what she calls a Growth Mindset as well as infamous characters who exemplify the Fixed Mindset.  Her work applies to sports, the workplace, family life, and of course education.  I highly recommend that you read her book.  What follows is my explanation of Mindset Theory that I give to my middle school students at the beginning of the school year.  I call it “Learn How to Fail!” and it is in big bold letters on the board the very first day of school---and I reboot the lesson in various iterations each quarter or so.  The 

Yes, most teachers tell you how to be successful in their class the first day, not me!  I am going to teach you how to fail!  We all have moments where things don’t go our way and we fail to achieve what we wanted and sometimes even have “epic fail” (video game term to draw them in) moments.  It is the way that we respond to failure that determines how successful we become.  A famous psychologist, Carol Dweck, studied responses to failure,  and determined that there are two ways to approach it, or two different mindsets  One way will help you reach your fullest potential and the other will hold you back no matter how smart or talented you are.  Wouldn’t it be good to know which one you are?  That is what we are going to find out today.  The good news:  Just as it is easy to change your mind, you can change your mindset to be more successful.

I share two stories of my “fails” from my childhood.  One, from when I was in 5th grade.  I was so excited to show my Dad my report card—All A’s and 1 A-.  My sister’s report card consisted of B’c and C’s.  My plan was to have her go first and then shock my Dad with my amazing grades---but as you know, this is a fail moment and it did not go that way.  “Wow, look at how much you improved in Math.  From a D to a C!”  he tells my sister.  I go next.   Can you guess what he said to me?  “What is the minus for?”   That made me so mad!

The other was in high school…I was walking down the hall with one of the cutest basketball players in school and couldn’t help looking into his big green eyes.  For some reason my school had these railings that came up to about here (up to my stomach).  And here I was walking, looking up into those dreamy green eyes.  Can you see where this is going?  You guessed it!  Not only did I hit right into the railing, but I gave out a big “Ahhh” as I hit it, in the middle of the crowded hallway.  My friend was extremely polite and he didn’t even laugh like everyone else did.  He just switched sides with me, allowing me to look back into his eyes.  The whole time I was thinking about those stupid railings!  So what if handicapped kids might need them, didn’t they know who I was walking down the hall with!?!

I give the class time to think of their own “fails” and  they write them down before we share them with the class.  This serves several purposes.  One, it gets them reflecting and we return to these moments to analyze their response to failure.  Two, they introduce themselves to the class.  Three, it gives me an informal assessment of their writing and speaking skills.  AND four, these are often very funny and it gives us a positive bonding experience as a class.

Next up…
In the next installment I go through the different facets of Growth versus Fixed Mindset and how I explain them to my middle schoolers, plus share some resources! 

The infographic below from Dewck’s website summarizes them nicely.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Having the Strength to Confront Your Weaknesses

Happy New Year!  
In this inaugural post I introduce myself, contemplate an important idea in education---strengths and weaknesses, and thank an influential mentor. 

It is common for people to avoid the unpleasant, and what can be more unpleasant than the sight of our own glaring flaws?  It is much more comfortable to avoid them altogether.  To reach our fullest potential though, we must find the strength to stare down our weakness, learn from it, take action, and improve. We are all capable of growth and development, but first we have to find the strength to confront our weaknesses.  As I reflect on my fifteen year career as an educator I think back to that first challenging year and the person who helped my find my strength. 

When I first wanted to become a teacher, I imagined being a first grade teacher---teaching kids how to read was always my biggest passion.  As a result, in college I selected courses and based by projects and field experiences on primary education.  So it was with a bit of culture shock that I started my first year of teaching in middle school.  The sixth graders with facial hair really threw me!  Class management was extremely difficult. 

My principal at the time had several mottos that he said over and over to the large group of new teachers that year.  One was “It wouldn’t be your first year of teaching without tears” and the other, “If you can manage to keep all the students in their seats and not kill each other by the end of the year, you have done your job.”  The first was true on many occasions that year and the other wasn’t too far off…  Something was not clicking, I was acting the way I thought a middle school teacher should act, but the kids were not responding. 

In the spring, I chaperoned the end of the year trip.  Something happened there.  I wasn’t trying to be a “middle school teacher”, I was myself, relaxed and enjoying being with the kids.   That is when it all clicked.  The relationships built that day and my new found comfort with middle-schoolers transferred over to my class management. 

The class behavior improved dramatically during that last quarter.  Before the class trip I was seriously considering transferring to elementary school, now I liked the challenge of middle school and I was finally feeling I was shocked when my grade level assistant principal, Ms. Phillips, gave me an N-Needs Improvement, for classroom management.  Didn’t she see how much I improved from the beginning of the year!?! 

That summer I read every book on class management that I could get my hands on, wrote down ideas and insights, and planned my new approach.  I created a list of Class Procedures A-Z with every single class situation covered.  A-What do during the announcements, B- Begin class by coming to class on time and begin the Do Now, C…

Ms. Phillips came to observe me on the first day of school, first period.  Instead of thinking that she is out to get me, I focused on the class and my plan.  She had one of those poker faces, so I nervously awaited her evaluation.  Before my meeting with her, we had a faculty meeting to debrief the first day of school.  The assistant principal took the podium and talked about how she saw that some classes were unruly in the hall and suggested that they line up outside the class, like Ms. Garrido does with her students.  There was a lot of down time at the beginning of class, she said, so she suggested that they have their students complete a task as soon as they enter, like Ms. Garrido does.  This went on for several more “suggestions” and each time she said my name, I was in disbelief---but couldn’t resist smiling a little inside.

Fast forward to the end of that second year in Ms. Phillip’s office…
She told me that she could not think of one negative thing in the classroom, that she could see me being “Teacher of the Year” one day.  The one thing she did want to see improve—that I get more involved in the school.

I went on to a new school that opened up in the district the following year and Ms. Phillips went on to a different school as well and I haven’t seen her since that day. I am grateful to Ms. Phillips for believing that I can do better and holding me to a higher standard.  With her words as inspiration I took on the role as team leader that next year, my third as a teacher.  The following year I became the head of the Reading Department, in 2009 I was named “Teacher of the Year” and a few years later became the Literacy Coach for the entire school.  This year I will take on a district position and work with several schools to improve literacy.  I tried to contact Ms. Phillips to thank her, but have not been successful.  In case you are reading this, Ms. Phillips, thank you for seeing my potential, pushing me to work harder to achieve things that I never even thought to try.  I hope I can do the same for the students and teachers that I work with.