Whether this means immersing them in the Standards for Mathematical Practice…coaching them on discourse and accountable talk strategies…or helping develop life skills that will extend far beyond my time with them–I firmly believe that spending instructional minutes explicitly working on these skills will pay off BIG time.
A few years ago I started digging into the work of Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler because I knew what I believed–and wanted to understand the research behind it. I blogged about Carol Dweck last year…just click the image below if you missed that post about the need to nurture “productive struggle”. There’s a short video clip that is super powerful as well.
Growth Mindset and Productive Struggle
So over the years, I have started to formalize the work I do in my classroom related to this idea of “productive struggle” and “growth mindset”…and the beauty of teaching intermediate grade students is that they can LEARN about these ideas. I love to teach students about how their brains work–and the truth about how they learn. It has become more and more clear to me that I send messages to my students without doing so deliberately…the “hidden” curriculum.
If I insist on silence during work times, it shows I value working independently.
If I give time tests, it shows I value speed in math.
If I use wait time, it shows I value thinking and reflection.
If I teach students to work in groups, it shows I value collaboration.
So you can see, this “hidden” curriculum can be a GOOD thing–or a negative thing and we need to be more mindful of the message we are sending.
For that reason, I try VERY hard to be transparent with students. I try to explain WHY we do what we do. “I want you to work in pairs today because I think it’s important that you try to coach each other and push each other.” or “Today I’m going to give you a precision grade because it’s important to look over your work and check for accuracy and completeness.” or “Let’s study our mistakes on this problem because investigating errors helps us grow connections in our brains–research shows us this.” I really believe it helps build the culture in our classrooms–that it gives students ownership of the learning and helps cement my role as “facilitator”, not “boss”. I want them to know why I do what I do. It’s important.
This leads to very explicit instruction in some of these ideas early in the year that I then revisit all year long as routines and behaviors might start to break down a little.
What are some of these classroom “learning behaviors”?
We talk extensively about “helping” each other…how it’s ok to offer help and also ok to “give it a try” on our own–as long as we are respectful about how we do it. We also talk about the different ways to OFFER assistance without being a “boss” or taking over. We want a climate where students know how to manage help!
Also, I talk about how our brains grow and learn and how important it is to make mistakes, to recognize the feedback of others, and to be willing to tackle challenging tasks. I purposely put students in positions to practice this…with collaborative activities, challenging math problems, and more. I want to establish a culture where it’s acceptable and ENCOURAGED to say, “I don’t understand,” or “Can you please help?” or “Let’s try something different.” The real world is NOT fill-in-the-blank, is it?
I explicitly teach the language of “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset”. We brainstorm the language associated it and post examples that I leave up all year. One of my favorite things is when a student recognizes these behaviors–perhaps in a book we are reading–and says something like, “Hey! Elise is really using a fixed mindset in this part.” The discussions we have then are amazing.
I use discussion starters to keep us talking about writing about these behaviors…we make anchor charts…we take surveys…we assess our own behaviors…we set goals. We immerse ourselves in these “learning behaviors”.
Why? Because if students don’t have a true awareness of these behaviors, the fractions and verbs and summarizing and map skills just don’t matter as much if students are missing the other piece. We can continue to work ourselves through our textbooks and our curriculum documents. We can write learning targets on the board and do our assessments and fill out our spreadsheets and track our data.
We can continue to go skill by skill, day by day–or we can stop, help students understand how they learn, and create a climate where learning is exciting, meaningful, rigorous, and extends far beyond the objective on the board.