A Year of Expansion

I can’t think of a better word than ‘expansion’ to sum up this year

That’s not just because of my waistline. My whole world has expanded. It’s been a year of expanding my ideas about teaching, my pedagogy, my network. I feel energised at the end of it, having achieved so much, and with so much to think about and look forward to in 2013.

Here are some of the ideas I’ve been toying with:

Introverts in the Education Setting

In March I read Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’.  While it’s not a book written specifically for teachers, there are many implications for the classroom. The book takes aim at some of the most common practices in education, and explains how some of what we do, such as our emphasis on cooperative group work and brainstorming, is counter productive for introverted people. A lot of it made sense, and it made me wonder how much my classroom set up may alienate my more introverted students. I started to become more flexible in the options I provided for my students, setting up areas where they could work alone if they chose, and allowing more opportunities for students to opt for either individual or group work.

Here is Susan Cain’s TED talk about Quiet.

And here is a fascinating article from The New Yorker about Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Work.

Mindset

In May, I read Mindset by Carol Dweck. 

Like Quiet, this was written for a general audience but had some significant implications for the classroom. Dweck’s research revealed that our belief  about intelligence and learning has a drastic affect on our achievement and that the way we praise students can actually be harmful. I blogged about it here.

Reflecting on Learning

Providing time for student reflection has always seemed like a good, but slightly idealistic notion to me. Where would we find the time in our busy, busy days? I decided to get serious about it after being privileged enough to attend a workshop by Dr Alec Couros at Macquarie University earlier this year. His workshop was about digital literacy rather than reflecting on learning, but he showed some great examples of reflections his students had made using various ICT applications. This inspired another blog post and some opportunities for my students to publish their own reflections. Here was our first attempt.

Individual Goal Setting

This year I tried to put my students firmly in the driver’s seat for their learning. For each area of learning I managed to build in time for students to self evaluate against criteria and to choose a goal for improvement. Then, at regular intervals throughout the year, reflect on how they were progressing towards those goals and set new ones. I was very happy with how this worked. My small cluster of gifted students remained challenged rather than coasting along, and my students with learning difficulties were able to have a strong sense that they were progressing and achieving. Celebration of milestones on each individual’s learning journey became far more important than comparing and competing with each other.

Connected Learning

Not only did I start this blog, and make a belated attempts at a class blog, I also gave each student their own blog and participated in projects including Quadblogging,as well as directly connecting with some classes I had met through Twitter. My student’s writing improved as soon as they were given their own blogs or asked to comment publicly on other blogs. They understood that because it was public, what they wrote had to make sense, and they paid greater attention to proofreading and editing their work. They would spontaneously ask friends to check their comments and ask me to check that their spelling and punctuation was correct. They were motivated to write, with even my most reluctant writers eager to work on their private blogs and comment on their friend’s blogs. The social aspect  of  it,  the fact they had a real audience, and the chance to work on the computers all seemed to be highly motivating factors. Unfortunately, in Term 4, the blogging dropped off. I didn’t keep up this blog at all, and barely maintained my class blog. I hope to do better with that next year.

Twitter

I suppose I could also call this year the year of Twitter. I’d been lurking on Twitter before 2012, but this year I started to participate. I learned a lot, met great educators from Australia and overseas and became part of an amazing network of like-minded educators. These educators not only inspire me and challenge me through the constant exposure to new ideas, but have also been  a great support. #Ozprimschchat on Thursday nights and #Teacherwellbeingchat on Sunday nights in particular, have been a source of friendship, ideas and advice.

Here is a post I wrote earlier  with advice for teachers starting out on Twitter.

Looking ahead to 2013

There are so many things I want to think about and try in 2013. A lot of them are ideas I’ve had exposure to through Twitter, so thanks again to my wonderful PLN.

Homework

I definitely want to reform what we do with homework. This year I started experimenting with some different formats, allowing more choice and opportunities for students to develop their interests. I’ve ordered a copy of ‘Reforming Homework’ by Horsley and Walker to read over the summer holidays. The book reviews current research literature about homework and proposes what the authors claim is a better model. It will be interesting to read what they have to say.

Project Based Learning

I really want my students to be engaged in learning that is authentic, and puts them in the driver’s seat. One of my challenges for 2013 will be to try to introduce PBL into Year 2.

Reward and Merit System

The nice thing about being the student welfare coordinator for my school is that it gives me an excuse to review our merit system and the opportunity to introduce some changes. Like many schools, we have a token reward system for positive behaviours which feeds into a merit system – 10 tokens = a merit card, 10 merits = a bronze award, then a silver, then a gold award. I used to swear by it but I question it more and more. Another book on my holiday reading list is ‘Punished by Rewards’ by Alfie Kohn.I hope he has some good suggestions.

Daily 5

I really like the look of this model for running a literacy session. It has all the elements I like: choice, goal setting, reflection, independence. It fosters reading and writing for pleasure as well as reading and writing to complete set activities, and I want to know more. I’ve downloaded the book - another one for my holiday reading list.

Leadership

I want to do a better job as a school leader. Much of my time the last two years has been taken up with management issues, rather than educational leadership and developing the team I look after. I directly supervise 8 people, but also support a lot of other teachers in various roles. I also have a full-time teaching load, and at times, I think I neglect my team, hoping that no news is good news, because I feel buried under the management and classroom teaching roles. Next year I want to focus more on the welfare of my team, helping them to build their capacity not only as classroom teachers and also as leaders. I guess I’ll be reading more about team leadership over the summer holidays as well

 

 

 

Creating a Learning Culture

Praise is a powerful motivator, but according to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset and professor of psychology at Stanton University, if we give the wrong type of praise, we can discourage our students from learning and set many on the path to becoming non-learners.

I read her book last school holidays (after discovering it through my Twitter PLN of course) and have spent the last few days preparing a presentation about her research for my colleagues when we return to school for Term 3, on Monday. The results of her research are startling, with enormous implications for teaching and learning.

Dweck’s study has revealed why some people go on to achieve and succeed, but others opt out, drop out or simply coast along, never really fulfilling their potential. She asks the question,

How can we ensure our students remain learners?

It comes down to what she calls ‘mindsets’.

There are two: Fixed and Growth.

People with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is finite. We are born with a finite quantity of intelligence (or ability in any field – sport, music etc) and that’s it. That’s your quota for life. You either have it or you don’t.

People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence, and all abilities, can be developed over time.

Those with a fixed mindset usually become non-learners whereas those with a growth mindset become lifelong learners.

Which mindset is correct – is intelligence fixed, or can it be developed?

According to Dweck, most scientists now believe  that while we are all born with certain genetic endowments, intelligence can be developed.

Even the man who invented the IQ test, Alfred Binet,  believed that intelligence can be grown.

‘With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally to become more intelligent that we were before’ – Binet

Scientists also talk today of  neuroplasticity, which  refers to the brain’s ability to reorganise itself based on experiences.

Would you like that concept explained? Here’s a video.

The important thing though, is not so much the nature versus nurture debate, but the attitude we take towards our learning.

It’s what we believe that matters.

Problems with the Fixed Mindset

Effort is seen as a bad thing. 

I often see this in students, particularly some of the apparently more capable students. Students who have been praised all their life for being clever, or doing things easily (“Wow, you solved that quickly, you must be really clever!”) start to associate effort with ability. They start to think that If it comes quickly and easily then they must be good at the subject, but if they have to work at it,  they mustn’t be all that smart. They may have been clever enough for less challenging work, but not  enough for any work that requires an effort.

And if they’re not all that smart, then what is the point of trying? They’ll never be any good at it anyway.

In a growth mindset, however, effort is seen as the key to learning. Students with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed, so they don’t view effort as a sign they are not clever, instead they view it as the path to learning.

Mistakes are evidence of failure

A person with a fixed mindset views a mistake as evidence that they are not smart or clever. They will avoid situations where they are likely to fail, stay in their comfort zone, and attempt to make excuses or hide their mistakes.

Students with a growth mindset view mistakes as an opportunity to learn new things. They will analyse their mistakes to work out what went wrong, and use this knowledge to go on to greater learning.

How can we encourage the growth mindset?

Dweck discovered that the way we praise students can have a powerful impact on their learning, and can encourage either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

Students praised for being clever and talented start to develop fixed mindsets. Students praised for effort develop growth mindsets.

She explains the powerful effect of praise on student learning in this video:

So there you have it. Praise is very powerful.

What not to praise:

  • Intelligence: “Wow, you must be really smart!”
  • Speed/Ease: “You did that so quickly/easily. Clever girl.”

What to praise:

  • Effort: “You must have tried really hard.”
  • Challenges: “Well done, you’ve chosen a really tricky problem. You’ll learn a lot from that.”
  • Strategies: “You used a good strategy to solve that problem.”
  • Choices: “The adjective you used here is very effective.”

Learning about the Mindsets has had a powerful impact on my teaching. I still catch myself from time to time praising intelligence and cleverness, but more and more I’m praising the effort that my students put in. By the simple act of changing my language, I’m  promoting values such as persistence, effort and embracing challenges. I want to develop a learning culture in my school and classroom where all students are engaged, experience that joy of learning and go on to become lifelong learners.

For more information about Mindset, I highly recommend you read Carol Dweck’s book.

You can also visit my delicious stack where I’ve collated several websites and resources about Mindset that I find useful.

Finally, here’s a great info graphic by artist Nigel Holmes which I found on this website. It summarises the key differences between the mindsets.

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