As I’ve spent time this week trying to take care of some blogging technical difficulties, my thoughts have turned to re-reflect on why I do what I do here. So I wanted to share the introduction that I’ll be sharing with new blog subscribers:
“Are you the teacher that’s always asking questions? Constantly searching out better ways to reach your students? Daily taking risks in your learning alongside your young learners? If you’re here, probably.
My hope is that through reading and sharing and reflecting as a global professional learning community, we can in turn bring our students closer to a more personalized and meaningful education. I hope you’ll drop us a comment from time to time so that we can learn together — sharing what has (and has not) worked for you and your students.
I want to finish this little introduction by sharing a powerful video that reminds me that we don’t even know how far our students will go, if only we’re willing to help them ask questions, search out better ways, and take risks.
You get the journey and you get the stress. At the end, you’re a different person. But both elements are part of the deal.
There are plenty of journeys that are stress-free. They take you where you expect, with little in the way of surprise or disappointment.”
I sit here at my computer and nod and think, “Preach the growth-mindset goodness!” But when it’s your child tearing up because that math problem doesn’t make sense (yet), how in the world do we help them appreciate that the stress of a confusing math problem can actually be positive because it means she’s working toward growth as a mathematician? That that discomfort in learning is actually a good sign?
I’m learning so much about stress through Dr. Stuart Shanker’s book, Self-Reg. Something that I’m learning to stop doing is responding with exasperation in such moments. Just because we’ve extolled the virtues of a growth-mindset and positive stress in the past does not mean that the distressed child before us is currently able to recall such principles at that moment.
I’ve also learned that simply telling the child to take a few deep breaths may not be at all productive either. What’s most important is teaching them to regulate their own emotions. As Shanker states:
“[when] the child is so overwrought or angry that nothing that you say or do seems to help…this happens not because a child’s “braking mechanism” is defective and certainly not because she isn’t “trying hard enough” but because she is so aroused that she can’t register what she or we are saying or doing.”
So in that moment, instead of trying to remind the child of the joys of the growth and the learning, we need to help her “focus on the three R’s of emotional regulation: Recognize. Reduce. Restore. Recognize the signs of escalating stress. Reduce the stress. Restore energy.”
I know I can sometimes take for granted my grown-up ability to regulate stress. This means I need to do a better job of viewing practices and principles through the lens of developmental context.
The point is, yes, teach growth mindset and model the virtues of discomfort for progress. But also teach kids to recognize when their stress levels have become excessive, and to discover personal coping mechanisms to help restore them to healthy energy levels.
Only then will our young learners be able to choose and embrace journeys of stress and change, rather than only choosing the risk-free routes.
“How We Express Ourselves” was always a tricky PYP unit theme for me. I struggled finding ways to help our students weave it in a transdisciplinary manner, and it almost always just came back to the obvious art.
But similar to how my view of the PYP key concepts has broadened over time, so too is my view of this theme. I have come to better understand that expressing ourselves is a basic human need that is woven into all we do. I’ve also found that authentic self-expression, which engenders passion and joy, is more readily found when we embrace imperfection, cultivate a growth mindset, and are given opportunities to own our learning.
With that in mind, here are a few resources that might help you invite your students into a How We Express Ourselves Inquiry. Don’t forget about the provocation questions at the end (and add a few of your own if you’re so inclined)!
“The Big Orange Splot” by Daniel Pinkwater has been a lifetime favorite of mine. Read with your students about what happens when a bird drops a bucket of paint on Mr. Plumbean’s house that used to be just like every other house on his neat street.
I love the mysterious whimsy of Annabelle’s box of yarn that never runs out, and how she uses it to transforms her surroundings.
What does it mean to express ourselves?
Why do we feel the need to express ourselves?
How is general expression different from self-expression?
How can one person’s self-expression help someone else see the world differently?
How does the way we choose to express ourselves impact our lives? How does it impact the lives of others around us?
What is the connection between self-expression and individuality?
What is the connection between self-expression and perspective?
What does the growth mindset have to do with self-expression?
How can self-expression sometimes be unexpected?
Why is perfectionism the enemy of self-expression?
Edutopia recently shared Sal Khan’s story and vision in establishing Khan Academy. What stands out most to me was his goal for Khan Academy to help “Bring [us] closer to this model of true personalization where every student is on their own learning path and feels fully engaged.”
Khan Academy can indeed be such a tool for this personalization goal. But it certainly cannot and does not stand alone in such a lofty pursuit. Fortunately for us all, teachers are globally and daily sharing their aha moments and best practices. Here are additional ideas, largely thanks to my PLN’s incredible willingness to share their learning journeys, for helping students get on “their own learning path.”
1. Allow them to plan their day. As teachers Taryn Bond-Clegg and Aviva Dunsiger have illustrated, this can be done with older and younger students:
2. Do whatever it takes to find out how they really feel. I believe it’s mainly fear that holds us back from uncovering student voice — because what if they say they hate our subjects? What if it invites conflict? What if it takes too much time?
Indeed, when I read posts from Pernille Ripp like her recent “When Reading is Trash or Magic” that shares how she seeks for students’ honest feedback, I wonder how on earth I would respond to some of their bold answers. However, the truth that she and others who do the same have taught me is this:
Only when we uncover students’ true feelings can we help them develop shifts in mindset.
Only when they recognize that they can express what they truly feel — without fear of teacher disapproval or backlash — will they be willing to let their guard down enough to give things a shot.
And only when they see that we are willing to work with them wherever they are will they be able to embark on their own learning path.
3. Help them break down required learning outcomes to tackle them on their terms. Again, Taryn Bond-Clegg shares a fabulous example of this in her post above. Rather than just presenting students with a list of objectives, she helps them break things down into a gradual increase of independence. I have yet to find a better way to negotiate the existence of required learning outcomes with student ownership over their learning.
4. Explicitly teach AND model the growth mindset. And it’s not enough to settle on simple platitudes of, “you can do anything if you just try.” It takes being authentic and vulnerable with them. As Jo Boaler recently shared in season 3 episode 1 of #IMOOC (32:10):
“One of the problems kids have is they look at their math teacher and they think, ‘Oh, that’s what being a math person is; you know everything, you never make mistakes, you’re totally sure of everything.’ That’s a terrible image to give kids. So one of the reasons teachers don’t try some of those more open creative tasks is because they don’t know what will happen. They don’t know what kids are going to do.”
Katie Martin adds, “[We must] have conversations with kids about making mistakes — and not just a fake make-mistake — but when you’re actually taking a risk, where you have the possibility of something not working out, [that’s] really powerful.”
5. Explicitly teach AND model metacognition. Visible thinking routines are especially useful on this front because it brings that thinking to the surface. I loved having the opportunity to work with teachers at my old school last year during which we applied visible thinking routinesto bring their thoughts on inquiry to the whiteboard for group dissection. Students must learn their processes to bring their thinking to the surface in order to more fully take the reins over their learning.
6. Provide choice in how they organize their thinking. Melanie Meehan recently shared an excellent example of how we sometimes get caught in the pitfall of believing all the students need to use the same graphic organizer to gather their thoughts. Here’s her example of several writing graphic organizers:
7. Provide choice in how they express/assess their thinking. Seesaw, notebooks, vlogs, portfolios, word clouds, Storybird, Prezi, sketchnotes… the list goes on and on. The point is that we need to get out of the mindset that all the students need to have the same presentation in order for it to be valid.
8. Create a rich and diverse culture of reading. I loved watching Colby Sharp’s vlog touring his classroom library — quite aside from the sheer volume, I was impressed at his clear efforts to reach all his students’ reading needs. Obviously, this culture goes beyond just the presence of books — my short list for additional inspiration includes Nerdy Book Club, Pernille Ripp’s blog, and LibraryGirl.
9. Give them autonomy over self-regulatory basics. This includes bathroom use and snacks. I wrote some time ago about why and how we need to abolish “Can I Go to the Bathroom?” and it’s just as relevant as ever now. I also appreciated Aviva Dunsiger’s classroom tour when she showed where and why she has a designated spot for her kindergartners to “eat when they feel hungry.” After all, how can we expect them to be on their own learning path if they are distracted by waiting to take care of their personal basic needs?
10. Prioritize the pursuit ofmeaning. Time and time again, through my own practice and through the many wonderful teachers in my PLN, meaning is the way we get out of “the game of school.” If it doesn’t personally matter to them, nothing we do will matter in the longterm. See my story of “Digging Deeper in a Poetry Unit” on Edutopia for a personal example.
I look forward to continuing to learn and discover ways we can truly help our students own and personalize their learning. Thank you to all the teachers out there who have and continue to share their learning journeys!
One of my favorite parts of family vacations is that we are ALL together ALL the time (incidentally, by the end of the week, that also becomes one of my least favorite parts, but we don’t need to focus on that…)
It is delightful to watch my kids play together and to learn more about the ways they are learning through play.
Here are a few lessons they have taught me about play that I can apply to the classroom when I return.
1. Sometimes, they really do need ALL those toys. In my tendency to get overwhelmed by clutter, I’m often tempted to go into edict-issuing mode. Only one bin of toys may be played with at a time! If a new toy is desired, the first bin must be cleaned up first! But over time, I’ve come to realize that when I make it solely about my preferences, I can stand in the way of valuable tinkering, connecting, and, well, learning. See photos below.
2. Sometimes, they DON’T. When we recently babysat another 3 year old, I thought about getting out the bin of play food/utensils, but I got distracted. By the time she left, I discovered that the preschoolers exercised resourcefulness by using the loose parts box that was out. I loved how this gave them the opportunity to think creatively and use their imaginations.
3. The richness of play lies in its foundation of connection and relationships. In The Importance of Being Little, Erika Christakis writes, “Indeed, playing games and laughing together are far more educational than drilling kids on their ABCs on the way to daycare.” The most meaningful moments with my kids are when my daughter and I try to “out-pun” one another, or when my son and I chant and act out “Peel, bananas, peel, peel bananas,” or when my baby and I play peek-a-boo. I believe this is all because these moments are all about each of those kids — finding ways to surprise and delight and engage them — rather than about me and my agenda.
4. Interaction through play is where we can “gain confidence” in our children’s learning. I recently came across an advertisement for a kindergarten preparatory program that included this parent endorsement: “I am so confident in my child now and know that he is 100% ready for kindergarten.” Far from providing buy-in, I found this to be a heartbreaking statement.
Of course, I, too, was once enveloped by the kindergarten readiness frenzy, so I understand the way it can blind us from the very learning taking place before our eyes. I also understand the worries of being a working parent and not being present for that learning as often as we’d like. However, I’ve found that if we treasure any opportunities we get to play with our children, we will grow in our confidence in their capacity to learn and grow.
5. Time for play is an investment we’ll regret. It isn’t always fun to be chastised that I’ve put the wrong car in a “garage,” or that I’m using the wrong kind of voice, or, heaven forbid, that I’ve assumed the wrong pretend name. But ultimately, these prove to be our best moments filled with learning, love, and invitations to remember what matters most.
What lessons has play taught you? How can we apply it to the classroom?
My 3 year-old asked to play a round of “Go Fish.” Apart from his tendency to ask if I have any sharks every time — whether he has any sharks himself or not — he has gotten the general idea of the game by this point.
As we started to acquire matching sets, I deliberately modeled 1 to 1 correspondence as I counted out my sets (ie, “Onnnnnnnnne” [while laying out the first card], “Twwwwwwwooo” [while laying out the second], etc).
And with probably excessive satisfaction, I watched as he reciprocated 1-1 counting with his own sets.
While starting to count one of his subsequent sets, I noticed that he missed the correspondence of naming “One” while simultaneously laying out the first card. And of course, as 1 to 1 correspondence requires us to understand that we can only count one number per object, I was ready to jump in to supply correction.
But, in that brief moment, sensing he was still working things out, I decided to bite my tongue and hold back. And I observed his quiet thinking: “Oh…wait, no…Onnnne” [while firmly laying out that first card again].
He’s already recognizing 1-1 correspondence for himself, thank you very much!
And I realized that I almost missed the whole thing with premature intervention — and more importantly, that he almost missed the opportunity to let his thinking catch up with his hands.
Sometimes, we just need time. I am reminded of this by the many teachers in my PLN who are choosing to slow down as they start the school year, allowing their students to settle into all the new routines, absorb all the new concepts, and build all the new relationships.
Real learning — the kind that students carry with them and treasure in the longterm — is a vulnerable process. If we are to help our students get to a place where they are truly willing to put themselves out there, take risks, make mistakes, and try again, we need to take an active role in cultivating a classroom of trust.
It’s with that in mind that I share this week’s provocation on friendship.
Resource #1: Gymnastics student’s repeated efforts, via harleykyan
Resource #2: “Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton