Thursday, August 28, 2014

Promoting Growth Minded Students

If you subscribe to my colleague’s (Leah Tuckman) blog, you may have seen her post on developing a math mindset. In fact this whole idea of mindset has become a huge hot topic with the start of school lingering. So I felt as though I would jump on the bandwagon this week with my own spin on the importance of this issue.

This week as many educators are preparing their classrooms, planning their curriculum, or meeting their students, I am reminded of the opportunity to develop and foster a growth mindset in the classroom. This idea comes out of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck’s research found that the majority of people exhibit either a fixed or growth mindset. The graphic below compares the two types of individuals. A person with a fixed mindset believes that “they are the way they are”. It does not mean they cannot achieve and perform well, but when faced with challenges they tend to step back, sticking with what they know, rather than risk potential failure. On the opposite end, those with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed, since the brain is like a muscle, and that can be trained. In order to do so, they challenge and push their thinking past a comfortable place, reflect on feedback in order to improve and stretch their brain further originally thought.

So how can we promote and introduce this idea within the classroom? What distinguishes a person with a growth mindset over a fixed mindset? I think one way to inspire and show students what a growth mindset encompasses would be to introduce them to apricot farmer Chris. Hopefully, like me, you will be inspired by his story. In terms of mindset, Chris is a prime example of someone who embraces challenges and persists in the face of setbacks. The prominence of the growth mindset surrounds him, for example when Chris asked his father, “What did you do differently with me than you would have any other kid?” his father answered, “Nothing”. How easy would it have been to step back in the face of challenges? Rather, Chris’ can do and will do attitude is an inspiration to us all.

When I was in the classroom, I strove to use picture books (no matter the age) to additionally support these bigger ideas. One book which promotes and explains growth mindset is Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, by JoAnn Deak, PhD. What I love about this book is that it talks about different kinds of learners, encourages making mistakes and challenges students to embrace hardships in learning. By doing this, it stretches our brains, ultimately increasing our confidence and knowledge.
Finally, Teach like a Champion author Doug Lemov’s “No Opt Out” strategy is one way teachers can develop and cultivate a growth mindset in the classroom. In actually, his entire book promotes the growth mindset, however this strategy stuck out to me as being an expectation teachers can present day one to their students. According to this strategy, students who fall back on the common response, “I don’t know” cannot opt out of answering a question. Rather, his approach offers four formats which begins with a student unable to answer the question and ends with that student giving the correct answer. This offers the “I don’t know” student the opportunity “to know” and gain confidence in the meantime. Some teachers have taken this strategy and made it their own. Lemov recently blogged about one teacher’s success in using and modifying the “No Opt Out” strategy in their classroom. Check out his post to learn more.

With the school year approaching, educators are in a unique position to establish expectations from the start. Why not use the ideas and research of Carol Dweck to establish and cultivate your students as growth mindset focused? It is yet another way we can continue to promote success for our students.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Upping the Ante this School Year

There is something different in the air. It is that time of year, when educators glance at their calendar and have a slight panic attack, “How are we already more half way through August?!?!” A new school year is creeping closer. Regardless of our innate desire to hang onto summer, the thought of lessons and teaching cannot help but invade our thoughts.

Many blogs and websites have already jumped into the new school year feet first, by providing resources and information on how teachers can use last year’s reflections to prepare and adjust their teaching for the upcoming school year. Below are a few helpful articles and multi-media videos to lessen the overwhelming feelings of classroom preparation, class list details and lesson planning overload.

The Teaching Channel recently partnered with to create a set of three videos focused on strengthening classroom instructional plans to the common core. This resource is separated into three videos (Strengthening Lessons for the Common Core, Peer Review in Action – Math and Peer Review in Action - ELA ) all created with the goal of aiding teachers in evaluating their lessons through a common core lens using the EQuIP rubric.  In addition to the video resources, this site provides the EQuIP Rubric for educators to assess their existing lessons. This tool could be a great activity to bring to a PLC or Common Planning Time to reflect and think about enhance teaching practice in correlation to the implementation of the 2011 Massachusetts Frameworks.

Another resource I came across was an article written by Lauren Davis, Senior Editor of Eye On Education, called “5 Things Every Teacher Should be Doing
to Meet the Common Core State Standards”
. What I appreciate about this article is the emphasis and reminder that educators are not scrapping what do, but rather enhancing their current practice with the Common Core shifts in mind. In this article, Davis examines and provides ideas on five different “shifts” in instruction for teachers to keep in the forefront through their instructional plans.

As you trudge through August, take it as an opportunity to set goals. Remember that the shift to the 2011 Massachusetts Frameworks is not negating all the wonderful instructional plans of the past. Rather a new year, with a stronger emphasis on the frameworks, offers new opportunities to challenge yourselves as educators.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I was going to post a blog filled with literary jargon and resources on the 2011 Massachusetts Frameworks (don’t worry, that blog will be posted soon!) this week. However, this morning I watched a video and instantly felt the need to share this video featured on the Teaching Channel. The video takes us into a 9/10th grade history lesson where the class objective was to connect the Declaration of Independence to the American Identity. There are many aspects of this lesson that stood out to me. The first was the emphasis of the “hook”. I spoke about this last week using pictures of the recent Drake album. However, this week Jason David and Emma Katznelson caught my, and the classes attention by reading a break up note at the beginning of class. The note was filled with personal details about how the person “needed space” and was ready to “be on their own”. Kids were captivated, embarrassed and on the edge of their seat, only to laugh when they realized who the letter was written by.

Another part of this video worth noting was the different roles the students took on throughout the lesson. Students participated in conversations with one another, they spent time journaling and reflecting on the essential question presented and shared out their responses with the class. As we head into a new school year, I am inspired by this video and the creativity which teachers encompass to provide an active educational classroom environment where students feel comfortable taking an active role in their learning. I hope that you take a few minutes and enjoy this video as much as I have.

* Just for clarification, the picture at the top is a note I once found (and hung onto) from my time teaching 3rd grade. I always appreciated the politeness of this one student. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I Thought this was a Literacy Blog?!

Depending on your musical interests, this album cover may or may not be one that you recognize. It is the latest album from musician Drake. So what does this have to do with literacy? Teachers are constantly looking for a “hook”… something to engage and catch their students’ attention. Drake’s latest album cover “Nothing was the Same” could be this hook. It is not about Drake or his music, but rather the artist behind the cover. This is who I want you to get to know. His name is Kadir Nelson.

If I mentioned picture books, you suddenly may recognize his work. Nelson has illustrated numerous beautiful books written about African Americans and important historical contexts. Titles such as Henry’s Freedom Box and Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln contain his breathtaking illustrations.

Nelson’s talents to do not end there. He has also written and illustrated numerous books, including three books worth mentioning: We are the Ship: The Storyof Negro League Baseball, Nelson Mandela and Heart and Soul: The Story ofAmerica and African Americans. These three of these books offer opportunities for teachers to implement as either a mentor text in earlier grades, or for close reading in middle and even earlier high school classrooms. The books are arranged in short “chapters” which focus on specific moments and movements in time.  What is additionally beneficial is the ability to pair these texts with other picture books or informational passages focused on the same topic. One particular example, would be reading the section of Heart and Soul to learn about boxing legend Joe Louis. Then teachers could pair this section of the text with Matt de la Peña book, A Nation’s Hope, potentially even utilizing multimedia resources such as his epic fight against German Max Schmeling.

If in your classroom, African American history is a topic of instruction and conversation, I encourage you to think about Kadir Nelson. His books open the door for discussion, whether it is his pictures that catch your attention or these information captured inside his books. Either way, you can utilize his pop culture ties to really “catch” the attention of your students.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Promoting Collaboration and Conversation in the Classroom

This week I have had the opportunity of working with the literacy team and educators from Massachusetts focused on reviewing the final round of MCUs. As always, this exciting and invigorating work has made me think about the upcoming school year. A topic of discussion throughout our week together was how to build a collaborative classroom rooted in conversation. There are many different protocols that can be used throughout the year, which teachers can incorporate early on to increase educational conversations students have with each other. There are dozens of different methods that can be used at different times to ignite conversation in the classroom. If this attached list seems overwhelming, take a closer look at three highlighted protocols below.

The first (and one of my favorites) is the jigsaw. The jigsaw promotes shared learning in the classroom, allowing students to become experts on a topic, with the ultimate goal of then sharing their new knowledge with their peers.  Additionally, if a topic has multiple resources, the jigsaw is an effective strategy to share information in a time effective way. Click on the link to see the jigsaw in action in a primary grade. This method is effective for students at any grade level and can be set up in a variety of ways.  For example, students may form small groups where each student reads a different article, becoming the “expert” on that topic. In other situations, students reading similar articles may read, and then meet as “experts” to discuss their new learning, ultimately bringing their information back to their original group. Regardless of how it is used, the teacher’s role is to step back and facilitate as students take over the role as teacher. This powerful technique increases the interaction of students with each other in the classroom.

Team - Pair – Solo
Team – Pair – Solo is a collaborative comprehension strategy implemented when introducing a complex or new content topic. In this activity students work on a problem, or begin a discussion around a new topic as a team, then move into a conversation with a partner, and then finally tackle the problem or article independently. This method is a great scaffolding tool where the students gradually gain more responsibility to take on the new information independently. By gradually releasing them, students have more information and build confidence as they grapple with a new task.

The Gallery Walk can be a reflective, independent activity formatted in a variety of ways for a range of reasons. One effective use of the Gallery Walk is to display student responses to literature. A teacher can then select any number of student responses to “exhibit” and have students comment, question and wonder about using post-its as they walk around the room. Ultimately, the teacher uses these ideas and thoughts to bring back and build a larger classroom discussion. A gallery walk can also be an interactive way for students to engage in pictures, problems and other sources of text. Teachers post these around the room, and students walk around observing and thinking about what they are experiencing, guided by an overarching question.  Whether the Gallery Walk is reflective or interactive, it provides students time to think and gather their thoughts or activate background knowledge before coming back to the larger group.

Many of these protocols can build a lively, collaborative classroom filled with educational conversation. Once the method has been introduced and practiced, teachers can implement and use them throughout the year to stimulate conversations in the classroom.