Monthly Archives: June 2014

Mindset of Teaching and Learning

Post by Liza Levenson
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I recently completed a great book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. I found the book very interesting and learned a lot from it. One of Dweck’s findings about praising students echoed that which I had read about in Daniel Pink’s Drive last year. Dweck and Pink’s work informs a great deal of how I assess students’ work and provide feedback to them and you.
Before reading Drive and Mindset, I thought that all praise was helpful, beneficial and motivating. Dweck reveals that this is not the case; she provides a few examples of how sometimes we may praise students with the best intentions and it may end up being more stressful than helpful to students. I have excerpted part of the book, as quoted on growingleaders.comClick here to read more about a specific example from Dweck’s research.
Some fourth grade parents at St. Andrew’s have commented on how thrilled they are at students’ engagement in games and fun activities in class without the possibility of a “prize” for winning. For me this move away from prizes was a paradigm shift, and in the past I gave out pencils, candy and all sorts of things I considered to be motivators to students. When I (skeptically) embraced the idea of encouraging students to do their best for the work’s sake or for the fun of it, I was delighted to see how positively my students responded. Though it took a while for some students to come around to the idea of playing without a prize for the winner, the children no longer expect them. The fact that we are able to play games in class, at break and recess, and in PE without students expecting something in return makes these times a more fun and worthwhile experience for all. It also promotes students playing for fun! I observe more good sportsmanship and students encouraging one another than ever before. It also helped develop each student’s intrinsic motivation for the activity.
I notice daily how supporting students to challenge themselves by stretching their minds beyond what they thought possible pays dividends for them in the long run. When school began in the fall, I regularly heard students say things like “I can’t,” or “I don’t know how to.” Now, I more often hear students saying, “I’m not ready to hear the answer, I’m still working on it,” or “I want to get a clue, but that’s it.” It’s been an incredibly rewarding and exciting change in our classroom so far, and I look forward to students continuing to take risks and step out of their comfort zones with the “prize” being pride in their own hard work and effort.

Assessment: One Size Does Not Fit All

Posted by Glenn Whitman
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I truly appreciate when like-minded educators who think differently and deeply about teaching and learning share research and new ideas with me that are percolating in the educational jet stream. But sometimes, it only takes a picture, or in this case, a comic to remind us of teaching that inspires student learning and teaching that stifles student learning. There a few hot button issues looming as large in educational discussions than assessments. It was why I collaborated with Dr. Mariale Hardiman who leads the Neuroeducation Initiative at Johns Hopkins University to write, “Assessment and the Learning Brain: What the Research Says.” I am only sorry that we had not discovered this comic to include in our piece. I hope you will enjoy it. Special thanks to Lawrence Smith of The St. Paul’s School for sharing this comic.

The Key to Success: Grit

Posted By Amy Helms
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You do not have to be an education researcher to know that there is much more to success in school and life than a high IQ. We all know talented individuals who procrastinate until the eleventh hour, or who flame out under pressure. New research is proving what common sense has long told us: noncognitive skills, including effort, diligence, and perseverance, are an important determiner of our children’s futures.
You do not have to be an education researcher to know that there is much more to success in school and life than a high IQ. We all know talented individuals who procrastinate until the eleventh hour, or who flame out under pressure. New research is proving what common sense has long told us: noncognitive skills, including effort, diligence, and perseverance, are an important determiner of our children’s futures.
In recent weeks, fifth graders at St. Andrew’s have been feeling the pressure! Students have been required to take on added responsibility for a few long-term projects. Maybe your fifth grader struggled to interview 20 people for their science project, or was frustrated by drawing graphs for the math project. How did they react to these obstacles? Were they able to bounce back from setbacks? In the coming weeks, we will be focusing on how to build students’ perseverance and effort. In class meetings, we will lead students through a series of conversations on developing resilience and grit.
Psychology researcher, Angela Lee Duckworth, defines grit as passion and commitment to a long-term goal. Her six minute TED Talk is worth a look. Duckworth contends that teaching children that challenges can be an opportunity for growth can help children build grit. In fifth grade, we will talk about developing a toolkit of strategies to use when feeling overwhelmed. Students can try taking a break, talking themselves through it, or trying to approach the problem in a different way.
This weekend, talk to your children about strategies you use when you face setbacks in your life, and how you have seen them persevere in the face of setbacks in the past? Let’s help our fifth graders “get gritty”!

Summer Reading

Post By Glenn Whitman
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Like their students, St. Andrew’s teachers look forward to their long summer break. It is an opportunity to recharge and to take time to read some good books, take some long walks, and make some new friends (advice my rabbi use to give me each summer). But St. Andrew’s teachers, like so many teachers across the United States, also recognize that the summer is an opportune time to grow one’s professional practice, to reflect on the previous year, and to prepare for the new one.
What distinguishes St. Andrew’s teachers is their collective growth mindset. They are rarely satisfied with doing it the way they did five years ago or even one year ago. They embrace the 10% challenge put forth to them each year: “What ten-percent of your instructional practice or work with each student will you change this year?” As a result, preschool through twelfth grade teachers are continually exploring ways to become better teachers, coaches, and advisors. For St. Andrew’s teachers, and so many teachers across the United States, professional development is a professional responsibility and the summer is THE prime time for such growth.
I am continually amazed and the quality of workshops, both on-site and virtual, that are available to teachers and school leaders over the summer. Graduate work and recertification are also a part of so many teachers summer time. But workshop fees, and travel costs, make it prohibitive for a growing number of teachers to avail themselves of such professional development opportunities.
Fortunately, professional development is not limited to attending workshops or one’s geographic location. Ask any St. Andrew’s teacher, “What is on their summer reading list?” and they will provide you a list that I often think requires a year-long sabbatical to complete as opposed to the summer months. But the book, be it in paper, hardback or a digital format, remains an inexpensive way for individual teaches, or better yet, groups of teachers, to disrupt their thinking about teaching, learning, leading and a career in education.
So what are you reading, or what is your school community reading? Fortunately, if you are stuck or paralyzed by the number of choices available, there has emerged a growing “industry” of well-read teachers who share their reviews with the larger educational community. So I encourage you to explore what Jonathan Martin and Jill Gough suggest, or have their colleagues reading, as well as what options St. Andrew’s teachers are considering (See “Related Files”).
The one point, or area of research, that I would like you to consider when it comes to summer reading centers on choice. Educators know that choice enhances student engagement. Choice allows students to pursue their passions. The same should apply to summer reading for adults. We are all at different places in our professional journeys. While I certainly recognize the value of one common book, I also know that their will be greater by-in from your teachers when they can choose the direction of their summer reading (I would also say the same for those students who are facing their own summer reading requirements). So embrace choice and, as Jill Gough said, “Share to learn.”
Summer reading can also be just a start. Many schools use their summer reading to launch year-long study groups or Professional Learning Communities (PLC) around a pedagogical practice or school issue. Many schools also use summer reading for community building. So consider every employee, faculty and staff, in your summer reading selections and invite them, as well as parents, to read, reflect, and review when the new school year begins.
So what does summer reading for teachers mean for students? It means students will return for the new school year with teachers who have spent part of their summer making themselves better at what they do. It means that students will see their teachers as role models for having a growth mindset. And it means that students will have teachers informed by fresh thinking of what exceptional teaching, learning, and leading might look like.
As your students head in different directions this summer, with Alice’s Cooper’s 1972 song, “Schools Out” playing in the background, hats off to teachers who not only recognize the summer as an opportunity to refresh and reenergize but to also deepen their professional toolkits through the power of a book. All students deserve such teachers.