Category Archives: Education

Learning to grow…

I am participating in a twitter book study on Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.  The first chat spurred some reflection and thinking on the idea of growth mindset.  By the time the students arrive to my classroom (ninth grade), many of their mindsets are fixed and I must do something about it.

My students must learn to grow.  Too many of them get to high school thinking things like “I’m not good at math” or “English is easy for me.” Both of these opinions must be changed for true growth to occur.  A student who thinks they are not good at something will give up immediately, leaning on the crutch that they just aren’t able to improve.  The other student assumes they will find success simply based on prior experience with the subject.
But how do we take the two extremes and teach them to grow?  I believe this is a multifaceted process.  It begins with me.  I must maintain a growth mindset for myself and others and it must be obviously present in my classroom.  The kids must see failure as an opportunity for learning, and I must model it.  I need to open myself up to my students, swallow my pride and let them know that I fail, I get up, and I try again.  I must share that I am always learning, changing, and growing with them and that learning never ends.
We as teachers must encourage growth at every level by giving meaningful feedback on student work, not necessarily grades.  Too many students see a grade (letters or numbers) as an endpoint instead of an opportunity for learning. There is no ceiling, the possibilities are endless when we take a risk and try something new.
Moving students from a fixed to a growth mindset is not easy work, but it is essential. Young minds must be opened to the realm of possibilities before them. There is no time to rest on our laurels or hide behind our fears – believe in every kid, they are all amazing!

feedback…the ultimate learning tool

“Students can learn without grades, but cannot learn without feedback.” – Rick Wormeli

Over this past school year, I started to uncover the value of feedback over grades.  The truth is, feedback is everywhere in our lives if we would just look around. It is essential for our growth and improvement, but too many times it is missing or at the very best lacking in our classrooms.

There are many ways for everyone in the learning community to garner feedback. Teachers provide it for students and vice-versa.  Students give feedback to each other, and there is much to be said for teaching kids how to self evaluate and improve their learning on their own.

The book I am currently reading, Role Reversal by Mark Barnes, has wonderful information and insight on this topic.  I find myself agreeing with so much of what he says about feedback and grading.  Grades are competitive in nature, but feedback elicits growth.  Isn’t that what we are looking for?  Student growth and learning must be at the heart of what we do.  Barnes recommends using the SE2R method which is as follows:

Summarize and Explain what the student has done according to the guidelines or standards
Redirect the student to previous learning, additional information, or further practice
Resubmit tell the student how to resubmit the work for further evaluation and feedback
Feedback should fuel the fire to learn, unlike grades which in my opinion most times stop the process cold.  Once there is a letter or number on the paper, a student figures that the learning about the concept has stopped, no matter how high or low the grade.
Improving feedback in my classroom is a goal of mine for next year. I incorporate a standards based grading system in my classroom that eliminates the grading of formative assessments.  Rather than a grade, students are simply given feedback to improve.   I gave many less grades last year and my students definitely benefited from it.  I would like to use the SE2R method from the book to improve my skills and in turn be a better model for my students!  Hopefully they will start to give better feedback to me, each other, and to themselves.
Learn On!

Respect and caring

When I started teaching, no one told me how important relationships are.  We were encouraged to separate ourselves from the students and make sure that they knew I was the teacher and they were my subordinates…
Thank goodness I have learned and completely disregarded this advice over the years, I just wish I had done it sooner!  Students must be respected as the individuals they are.  They are learners just as everyone in the school community must be.  We can learn so much from them if we are willing as teachers to take a step back, swallow our pride, and admit that we don’t know everything.
Students and teachers must get to know each other quickly and respectfully.  I had a student in my summer bridge program start acting up last week, but the first thing I did was show him respect.  I introduced myself, and let him know that I wanted to make this program the best experience possible for him.  Then I asked him how I could help.  He was dumbstruck…and wouldn’t you know?  The behavior improved.  Kids need somebody to care about them, and I care.  Will his behavior be great all school year?  Most likely not, but now that I have a relationship with him, we have a mutual respect.
Mutual respect goes a long way in the classroom.  It is understanding that we all have bad days, teachers and students alike.  It is helping everyone through those bad days and lifting them up on the good days.  It is developing a learning community in the classroom rather than a teacher-centered lecture hall.  It is making all feel home so we can take risks, fail, try again, and succeed.
I always have my students fill out an end of the year evaluation of sorts, and my favorite comment of all time came this past year.  
“I liked the people in this class because they made it fun, but I also liked you because it seemed like you were always working with us instead of against us like some teachers.”
Pull up your sleeves and I will do the same…we are in this together!

getting started

I finally made it! After putting off starting this blog for a few months I felt I could ignore it no longer.  I am not only getting started with my blog this week, but also getting started with a new group of students tomorrow morning. I run the bridge program our high school offers to the incoming freshman class and I couldn’t be more excited to greet 275 members of the class of 2017 as they enter our doors tomorrow morning!

With this excitement comes a heavy load of responsibility.  I have thought long and hard about what I should say to them to make that first impression just right.  Here are a few ideas that I have come up with:

  • High school will be what you make of it, period.  Make it awesome!
  • Keep an open mind, learning is everywhere.
  • Your teachers, administrators and classmates are here to challenge your thinking and help you grow.  They need you to challenge them as well, we are in this together!
  • Pursue what you are passionate about.  Then share it and we will all learn.
  • Connect with someone new, relationships are key.
If on the first day I can let the kids know that I care and I am in this with them, I will feel successful.  Relationships take time, but there is no time like the present to get started.  We begin this journey working together in the spirit of growth and improvement.
If you are wondering about the blog title, I am usually one of those teachers that is seen as thinking “outside the box.”  Many times the easy answer is not the best one for our students, and I refuse to give them anything less than my best each day.  Sometimes, when there is a fork in the road you have to grab a spoon!