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!
Jonathan So recently had the brilliant idea to share his “top 5 defining teaching moments.” I love the opportunity to reflect, so I’d like to share mine as well. Obviously, I have much less experience — only 4 years of teaching, and 3 years into my longterm leave to raise our little ones — but even in that short time, I have become acquainted with certain people, practices, and ideologies that have thoroughly and beautifully challenged my thinking.
#1: Edna Sackson’s WhatEdSaid: The first clear “defining moment” was coming across Edna Sackson’s blog. With eloquent simplicity, especially in her “10 ways posts” she helped me identify practices that were actually standing in the way of learning, including, but not limited to “playing guess what’s in my head,” talking too much, and focusing on control. She also helped me better understand what student ownership, inquiry, and “flattened” classroom walls look like. Just goes to show that even oceans apart, we can make a profound impact on one another as teachers!
#2: Brene Brown & Daring Greatly: I read this book in 2013 and can honestly say that it changed me, both as a teacher and as a person. I recognized that I was harboring all kinds of shame stories, scarcity mindsets (“not enough”), and vulnerability armor. And once I learned to recognize and dismantle these in myself through vulnerability, self-compassion, and imperfection, I started to recognize them in my own students. I immediately printed (with color ink, mind — you know a teacher means business to have something printed in color) and posted in my classroom her leadership manifesto and engaged feedback checklist, sharing with my students my journey toward greater authenticity and vulnerability.
#3: Learning the principle of modeling: Once I really started getting the hang of that vulnerability stuff, I was able to better understand what real, authentic modeling looks like and can do for student learning/relationships. Not only did I learn cultivate the more vulnerable sides of my own learning (such as creativity), but together with my students, we were able to attain a richness and depth in our writing, reading, math, and in everything else that I had not yet witnessed.
#4: When a parent shared with me years later the impact of poetry on her son. I had heard other teachers share the gratification of having an old student or their parents come back to share thanks at some point down the road. But when I experienced it, it was much more than a sense of gratification — it was unshakable evidence that when we make meaning the priority, it has longterm significance. This parent shared that her son had been so moved by our 5th grade analysis of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou that he had performed a recitation of it in high school. So it was with great joy last spring when I had the opportunity to attend his school’s Poetry Out Loud competition to watch him perform it in person.
#5: Recognizing the value of my voice as a classroom-less teacher. I started blogging shortly after being put on unexpected bedrest. For the first long while, I struggled believing that any educator would really want to read reflections from a teacher that wasn’t actually in the classroom. I even had trouble telling people “I am a teacher” in present tense, because, stripped of my classroom and precious students, I felt like an impostor.
But ever since an epiphany a year ago that helped me better organize my blogging efforts, I have been able to more clearly see my contributions, and to better accept and love my current role (especially as a #TeacherMom with my current, very small students). And this is why, when teachers share ways my words are actually influencing their classrooms/students, I am profoundly grateful because it reminds me that we can reach students in more than one way:
“I filter them with a mindset that wall-space is valuable real estate; tenants had better pull their weight.” Doing the book-a-day grid! https://t.co/HE2IKIDY9e
In the course of my blogging/PLN-growing, I have learned about so many other practices that also have the potential to be “defining moments,” but many of them will have to wait for full impact until I’m back in the classroom. So meanwhile, I will keep learning, blogging, and sharing (repeat) in the hopes that my thinking will become more refined and able to bring those practices to light for future students!
I hated science as a kid. I got tangled up in all the instructions. I could never seem to keep all the “-osis” lingo straight. My biology course was the worst grade I received in college (though I still blame that on my husband since that was the semester we met…). Most of all, I just found most of it to be, dare I say it, boring.
Then, I became a fifth grade teacher. Our science curriculum included chemical/physical changes, geological changes in earth’s surface, genetics/adaptation, magnetism, and static/current electricity.
And for the first time, I LOVED it.
I geeked out over our chemistry experiments.
I discovered just how unique the geology of our state is and told my students that geologists all over the globe are jealous.
I played with our magnet sets.
I found myself fascinated by the survival traits and adaptations of animals everywhere I went — actually paying attention to those little plaques at zoos and aquariums.
I started thinking about lightning and static-y socks in terms of electrons.
The very thought of my students missing out on the wonder of it all was more than I could stand. So I shared that wonder every chance I could; but I also told them it wasn’t always that way for me. Why?
Because I wanted them to understand that love of learning is intentional. I wanted them to see what a shift in mindset looks like. And I wanted to let them know that if they found the subject matter dull, we could uncover the wonder together — because I’d been there, too.
Ultimately, helping our students connect with curricula is as much a matter of vulnerable relationship-building than anything else. We need to help them see us in our honest learning journeys if we are to show them how to navigate theirs.
It’s now been over three years since I’ve been in the classroom. Three years. And while I miss being in the classroom, I can honestly say that thanks to the many incredible teachers in my PLN, not a day has passed that I haven’t learned more about how to return to the classroom a better teacher.
A powerful example came recently when I read this thought-provoking post from my friend Abe (@Arbay38). One of his comments perfectly articulated one of my fears of shifting toward more student voice, choice and ownership:
The rest of his post greatly assuaged this fear, but I’ve continued to reflect on this question over the past couple of weeks. But then, he shared something else on Twitter — something so profound, that I think I can finally put this fear completely to rest:
This child has reminded me once and for all that the bottom line is doing what’s best for kids. Withholding opportunities for autonomy now for fear of future constraints is like refusing to build the ship for fear of future rough waters.
Isn’t the possibility that they may not experience this kind of autonomy in future classrooms all the more reason to help them cultivate it now? To help them reflect now why it matters, and how they’ll respond to its absence in the future?
Our students deserve the very best we can offer right now. And as we regularly ask them to choose courage over fear through risk-taking and the growth mindset, we can be the first to model that back: choosing courage over fear.
Think having students self-grade and reflect is fluff?
Over the course of a 15 year study, John Hattie analyzed over 800 meta-studies to identify effects that have the strongest impact on learning (and he is constantly updating this list through continued studies). Self reported grades is almost at the top of the list of over 150 effects.
It beat out motivation. It beat out home environment. It even beat out “decreasing disruptive behavior.”
The truth is, students know a lot more about their own learning process than we so often give them credit for.
Which brings me to the issue at hand: When a student claims he/she “sucks at ___.”
When I hear that claim, I hear a student that has become convinced that their personal rate of learning is inferior to classmates. That because their progress has not looked identical to their peers, it must mean they are defective. That their learning is fixed, hopeless, and beyond theirs or anyone else’s reach.
Now, discouragement is normal for all learners from time to time. But when said discouragement is also rooted in learning that feels irrelevant or imposed, we’ve got problems.
Enter student ownership.
Any time we empower students with tools to take their learning in their own hands, we are giving them ownership.
Self-assessments are one such powerful tool.
Michael BondClegg recently wrote about giving students the opportunity to write their own report card comments, encouraging teachers to help students identify “ways in which learners can identify their strengths and areas for growth” and “plans for improving.”
This may seem trivial, but really, it turns the whole “I suck at” model on its head.
When a teacher fills out the comments, it perpetuates the whole “this is out of my hands” notion.
When a student is encouraged to fill out those comments in this way, it places the learning back in the students’ hands.
A student in diagnostics mode is student on her way toward a stronger growth mindset.