Having a Growth Mindset

My staff started off the year with a discussion about growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.  We watched the following Ted Talk and discussed what it means to actually believe that “some people are born smart.”

This shift in thinking and shift in our language is much harder than it may seem.  Often times teachers or parents tell a child “good job, you’re really good at that.”  This sends the message that you’re either good at something or bad at it.  On the flip side, a growth mindset message would say “good job, you worked really hard.”  It’s about the effort, the work, the motivation, not “you’re smart.”

This is deep stuff!  It’s engrained in our society, adults everywhere tell children and each other things like “I’m not a math person.”  Man… I think that and say it all the time.  Well really it’s not that I can’t do math, it’s that I don’t enjoy it and it doesn’t come as easy for me as other skills or subjects.  Somewhere along the way all these messages are getting jumbled up.

I had a real conversation today with a student in my class who doesn’t think he can draw.  This particular child loves to finish first, at everything.  He just kept repeating “I can’t draw, I’m not good at it.”  I sat down with him and asked, “does drawing come a little harder for you than other things?”  Just because it’s harder doesn’t mean we can’t do it.  I told him that running is hard for me.  I have to really work and exercise and eat right in order to run long distances.  I’d much rather dance, do kickboxing, or cycling.  It doesn’t mean I CAN’T run, it just takes a little more effort.  I have to concentrate just like he has to concentrate and work a little harder to draw.  I’m not sure he liked my response, or the fact that he needed to try his drawing again 🙂  But it’s possible that he’s never had a conversation like that before.

As a teacher, our responsibility list seems never ending.  I want to move this to the top of my list.  It’s real!  I’ve caught myself sending the wrong message.  I want to work on my ability to convey this message to my students, build it into our classroom community intentionally.  As my understanding of this topic deepens, I’ll be sure to share!  Please feel free to comment with your own thoughts, ideas or suggestions!

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An Evolutionary, Democratic Learning Community

Isn’t that a lovely title?  Inspiring?  I can’t take credit for it, it’s the title of chapter seven in Peter H. Johnston’s book Choice Words.  I LOVED this chapter!  It’s a little hard to think about school since in the past ten school days, we have only had two school days.  So this post will be more theoretical, more pedagogy than practice.

It is brought up in the chapter that American and British students “even when they work in groups, they rarely work as a group, sharing ideas and working toward a common goal ( Tsuchida and Lewis 1996, cintied in Rogoff and Toma 1997).”

kids arguing

Any American college student who has had a group project is saying “duh” right now.  We are taught to complete assignments, be responsible, be hard working, and don’t be the one group member that the rest of the group is having to carry through the course.  Sharing ideas takes too much time and time is something we don’t have enough of.  As a teacher of seven year olds, I am currently questioning what I know/do not know when it comes to teaching kids to work together.  How am I to cultivate that environment?  It’s what is expected of professionals in the workplace, where do we learn that?  Shouldn’t it be easier for seven year olds to work together since they haven’t had too much life experience that has made them think they know all the answers or jaded them towards sharing knowledge with others?  Somehow…it’s not.

Johnston begins to answer my big questions by saying it’s all in what we say to kids and how we say it.  It all comes down to calling on looking at something from someone else’s perspective.  Kids can be quick to interrupt, not listen, or not think it’s important to listen to their peers.  (As can some adults we know…)  It’s our role, as teachers, to use words like “we” and “how do you think he/she feels about that?”  If we are all working toward a common goal we should be respectful of each other, and really pay attention to what someone is saying, and take their feelings into account.  Johnston goes further to point out that if we can’t imagine someone else’s perspective (or that there even is another perspective) then you can’t imagine how something might have been written differently or the other side of an argument or that someone’s voice is being left out!  Critical literacy!  We all want critical citizens right?  We don’t want everyone with one viewpoint and one belief, that’s not democracy.

Phew, heavy…

How do you see this playing out in your classrooms?  Is this relevant?  Do we care?  Is curriculum more important?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Worth Listening To

It’s very exciting to be in a profession where I can constantly learn new things and grow as a professional.  At least I have to look at it that way because the alternative is way too overwhelming. 🙂

I recently read a quote from Peter Johnson’s book Choice Words that has really stuck with me.  He said, “students are experienced thinkers who have something to say that is worth listening to.”  I can’t get away from that idea!  I’m tempted to go plaster it everywhere around my school and see what the reaction would be.  I think my students buy into that idea, partially.

Reflecting on my classroom, I think my students are thinking one of three things during most parts of the day:

1.  I need help, please just tell me what I’m supposed to do.

hands2.  I have something really important to say and I need you to listen now.

yell3.  I am really excited about this topic and I want to learn more about it on my own.

researchI left out the category, no one is paying attention to me and I think I’ll throw this eraser now.naughty

The major category that I feel is missing is kids listening and valuing what each other has to say.  In order to move towards this fourth and enlightening category I think I’m going to have to do some serious modeling of how I value and listen to what each child has to say and how I can learn from them.

I also need to explicitely work on silence in the classroom.  With such small children sometimes silence is so unwelcomed/ignored that I feel like I’m loosing their attention.  I know that if I were more purposeful and diligent with the use of silence that the power could be found!

I so desperately want my students to see themselves as valuable and that their knowledge is important.  So much of the time is hammering in objectives and mastering strategies that the bigger picture starts to get muffled.  This isn’t something to write down in a lesson plan or put into the gradebook database.  Instead it is a mindshift for me, the teacher, and for my students.  Practice, that’s a good starting place.

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identitycrisis copy_860It’s so interesting to ask seven-year olds what they think of themselves.  Sometimes they are spot on with the image they portray and other times they say something totally unexpected.  Some kids are over-confident while others are really hard on themselves.  It’s pretty much like a tiny adult talking 🙂

I know that my words and actions can be very powerful in a child’s identity.  When trying to correct behaviors in the classroom I often say things like “we are respectful” or “we have kind hearts” to try to get kids to associate themselves with those attributes.  This week I have been struck by the idea of asking children questions about their behaviors and how they are associated with their identity.  When a child pushes another kid I might ask “Are you the kind of kid that pushes other kids?”  Or I might ask if they are the kind of kid that does things to hurt someone’s feelings.  Immediately they always say no.  More than once or twice kids have blushed when I have asked them a question about their behavior.

It’s all about giving kids the opportunity to make a choice.  To choose to be someone who hurts someone’s feeling or to choose to be kind.  I want children to own their actions and take them on as part of their identity.  I plan on sticking this out for the next couple of weeks to see the effects.  I’ve had to really train myself to stop and pose a question instead of just saying “stop pushing.”  I’ll be interested to see if this method changes or influences how some of my students think of themselves!

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Putting It Just So

After reading the first two chapters from the book Choice Words, How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, by Peter H. Johnston I had to stop and think for a long time about my word choice in the classroom.  I was overwhelmed with a flood of thoughts and reflections on my daily interactions with my students.

To start with the positive, I noticed a lot of things I already do.  In my class we talk a lot about what went well when we are done with a project or an activity.  We also reflect on what we would do differently next time.  Sometimes we record our thinking in a journal or chart it all together as a class.  I have noticed that students are often wanting to turn the focus onto the bad behaviors.  They want to talk about what kids were doing to bother them throughout the group experience.  By noticing this turn in classroom conversation I see a big flashing arrow pointing towards what I need to work on!

I also know that I am guilty of using the phrase “good readers.”  By using this, Johnston points out, “it leaves open the question of who the bad readers are and how can you tell.”  I point this out because I think it links back to our class reflection on projects or group work.  There is a lot of room to look for and talk about bad group members or bad classroom workers because we are focusing so much on what a good group member or a good worker looks like.  There is an obvious good-bad continuum at play in my classroom.  We are all group members.  By knowing that we are all workers, learners, readers, writers, and scientists, we can focus on how we treat each other and our environment instead of highlighting who is good and who is bad.

Another word choice goal I want to set for my self is my words used during behavior management during work time.  I am guilty of threatening punishment when a child isn’t doing their work.  “If I look over and see you talking again, you are going to get your clip moved down.”  I am forcing the child to read or write out of fear of punishment.  I want to tweak my language to get students to see themselves as people who respect and care about the other children in the room and see themselves as people who can solve problems in the classroom.  Which of course these are the ideals I want to instil in my students.  These are some of the reasons I became a teacher and I love what I get to do everyday.

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Linking Texts Part One

In second grade, my team has been integrating social studies into our reading curriculum.  We originally discovered a text called Our Children Can Soar by Michelle Cook and thought it would make a great text for a paideia seminar during our history unit in social studies.  If you haven’t seen this book, you should check it out.  The pictures are amazing and it really creates an important image of how one’s actions can set up history for someone else to change the world!


The text links famous African Americans and in the end it points to the fact that their actions have changed history.  It starts with the lines “our ancestors faught” and continues to credit George Washington Carver, Jesse Owens, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Marin Luther King Jr and ends with Barack Obama.  So we have set about learning the stories of all of these people.  We have read books, listened to songs, watched videos, and looked at websites about most of these people.

While doing this we have been working on many skills!  We’ve been making timelines, comparing multiple texts on the same topic, picking out and using nonfiction text features, and figuring out the meaning of new words in a text.  The boys and girls are starting to pick up on the fact that each of these people were the first African American to do something BIG!

They haven’t seen the book Our Children Can Soar yet and next week we are going to use it as a seminar text.  I think the kids are going to FLIP!  I can hear them now saying “we know about him/her!”  During the seminar we are going to explore the idea of other people creating opportunities for us to succeed and what it means to be a person that changes history.  After the seminar I will post to let ya’ll know how it went!

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Top 5 Things To Look Forward To

Top 5 Things That I’m Implementing This Quarter During Second Grade Literacy

1.  . Using Biography Texts of African American Figures that Lead to a Paidea Seminar on Our Children Can Soar!

man-i-sure-ebr3qoWe will be reading about all kinds of historical figures including George Washington Carver, Jesse Owens, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Rubie Bridges, and Barack Obama.  While reading these we will be working on creating timelines, seeing how people affect histroy, figuring out unknown words in a text, using text features, and comparing and contrasting texts on the same topic.  As the culminating event we will read the book Our Children Can Soar and have a seminar discussing how all of the people we have read about has made a historical impact that leads to other events in history.

2.  Doing a Famous Artists Integration Unit


We will be reading about a famous artist from each continent.  We will make a timeline including all of the artists and their major accomplishments, we will make replicas of some of the art while learning the importance and impact the artists’ art has had on their cultures.

3.  Sharing Our Research With Local Historians


Students will choose their own historical figure to research.  We will share our reports with local historians at the NC History Museum.  Hopefully they can give us a few pointers on being real historians!

4.  We Will Use List Writing To Write About Solids and Liquids


We have to spice up our unit on solids and liquids and “writing like a scientist.”  So maybe we will make top 5 lists about the best solids and liquids.  Or the top 5 things you have to know about solids and liquids.  We’ll see about this one…

5.  Integrating Some Critical Literacy in a Paidea Seminar on The Sandwich Swap


We will read the book The Sandwich Shop and learn a little about compassion and culture through the sharing of hummus and pb&j in the lunch room.  We will talk about the way we view the world and what we think of people that are different than ourselves.  We may even eat a little hummus ourselves…

It makes me excited to have exciting things planned on the horizon!  It’s always challenging to try new things but worth the work.

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