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Talking to Students About Intelligence
Research shows that a critical intervention for improving motivation, is explicitly teaching a growth mindset - we can grow our intelligence through effective effort. Use this graphic in classrooms to communicate a growth mindset and have conversations with students about how they can grow the neurons in their brains.
Just Tell Me What To Do
One of the most frustrating classroom experiences occurs when students disengage from learning because they're scared to be wrong. As a teacher, I met many students who wanted someone to just give them the answer and now with my own children, I see it again. In many schools, students will sit and wait for the answer, whether that answer comes from another student or from the teacher. And if that answer doesn't come, many are unwilling to look for one themselves. Students often feel that the quest is only for the "right" answer, and they are more willing to wait and copy it down than to risk the possibility of putting in the work only to find out that it was wrong. Unfortunately, this perspective oftentimes generates surface learning, not deep learning. It can interfere with a student's entire notion of what learning is, causing them to think that school is a place to complete work, rather than grow one's mind.
"One thing you need to know is that they are really chatty," said the teacher's email. I'd been invited to do a demonstration lesson in a 5th grade class. Previously, I had asked the teacher about the logistics of her classroom (SMART board? yes. Popsicle sticks? yes. Rows or paired seating? chatty.).
"OK," I thought, "I guess I need to teach them my strategies." I went through my mental rolodex of classroom management acronyms, picked one and made a poster.
While teaching in California, I had a unique teaching assignment: Honors English 9 and Reading 10. So my school day went from thinking about how to hold "high-achieving" students to a high level of challenge in an honors environment to actually doing the same thing for "underachieving" students in a remedial environment. I loved the challenge and experience of watching non-readers become successful readers, writers and speakers while also pushing the higher performing students to stretch themselves to reach greater heights.
If students are struggling, we want them to remain motivated, try harder, and stick with it. But what about the saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result"? If a student has tried to learn something, didn't succeed, tried the same thing again and again, and never felt progress, is he likely to think that trying yet again will yield results? And is that motivating or demotivating?