Menu

What the Twilight Zone and Radishes Have to Do with Teaching

A great story compels us to curiosity by the questions it raises. On the other hand, curiosity compels us to question when we’re not privy to the full story. Good teaching embraces curiosity.

This brief video clip is from a recent presentation and is part of our Fueling Learning workshop.

Insights from a Second Grader…and a Hamster

During a classroom observation, one of the second-grade students reminded me that curiosity is worth pursuing, even when it’s not on the schedule.

This brief video clip is from a recent presentation and is part of our Fueling Learning workshop.

Current Trends and Issues in Education – Q&A Part 2

Here are a few more responses to questions on current trends and issues in education, including educators in faith-based learning environments cultivating growth mindset, the connection between personalization of learning and growth mindset, and the effects of social media and students’ belief about their intelligence.

Do you see a unique position that educators in a faith-based learning environment have in cultivating a growth mindset in students?

There is a definite command in Scripture to be growing. Peter writes “if these things” — faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, and more — are in us and are growing they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Christ. To remain effective in service, students need to understand growth is essential; it is critical that we foster a lifelong learning mindset in them.

I strongly believe Christians are called, in part, to redeem the world through their work. The command to be salt and light should inform the quality of our work. If we are not growing in ability, knowledge, and understanding, we will eventually become ineffective.

What connection do you see between personalization of learning and development of a growth mindset?

First, there is a connection between motivation and mindset: autonomy (I have some say in how I learn), community (I sense I am part of a team, learning together), and competence (What I need to be successful is available to me). A learning culture of all three fosters intrinsic motivation. A student can approach a task by asking either, “How fast can I complete this assignment?” or “Am I completing this assignment for the purpose of learning?” Personalization from a growth mindset guards against simply mastering tasks in lieu of learning.

Personalization requires that a teacher help each student find meaning in new material. Connecting students’ past experiences with new material will enable them to find value in it. Give students time to find these connections, and don’t make assumptions you know what their experiences are. Teachers can create a community experience to establish a reference point for the new material, but they should always ask students to think of additional examples from their experience.

By personalizing learning, teachers can guide student mindset toward growth.

How do you see the effects of social media intersecting with mindset and students’ beliefs about themselves and their intelligence?

A student’s mindset and beliefs about himself has a lot to do with how he interprets social media. He may respond to a friend’s training schedule: If he can do it, I can do it. vs I’ll never be as good as him. Also, if all a student reads are success stories, it is more likely he will feel inadequate (I could never do that), and is nudged toward a fixed mindset. It takes maturity and an ability to think beyond a social media post.

[Next month – Q&A Part 3 of 3 addresses the teacher and growth mindset cultivation, the direction of research, and a professional development recommendation.]

Do you have an education-related question? Just Ask!

Current Trends and Issues in Education – Q&A Part 1

As part of her graduate class requirement, a teacher asked my perspective on current trends and issues in education. She asked some very thoughtful questions—here are the first three of nine:

What practices do you think are important for teachers, administrators and other interested professionals in staying current with research and trends in mindset and brain sciences?

Read books, and read widely. While journals tend to be laser-focused, books cover a wide range of disciplines. I read books by neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and sometimes business leaders, especially when they cover a topic like coaching. The perspective they share is rich and can be applied to mentoring teachers.

You will want to read books that relate to your focus. Because my curriculum work may require knowing about the teenage brain just as well as the preschool brain, I need as expansive an understanding as possible.

Also, try to attend at least one conference each year. I enjoy attending the Learning & the Brain conference primarily to know who to follow. I want to know which scientists are doing work in areas related to the fields I think are important for education. This is where I attended sessions by John Medina, Tony Wagner, and Howard Gardner. Experiencing them in person offers a different perspective of their work.

Beliefs about intelligence seem to be domain-specific—where a person can hold a fixed mindset with regard to his ability in one subject area yet hold a growth mindset in another. What do you think is at the root of that phenomenon?

We believe different things about ourselves depending on context and whether we can or cannot be successful. Here are four key sentences to a summary of growth mindset I recently read:

  1.   I can change my intelligence and ability through effort
  2.   I can succeed
  3.   I belong in this learning community
  4.   This work has value and purpose for me

Pride may convince us we don’t belong in a learning community because those around us know so much more and it appears to come easily for them. Our mindset becomes fixed. When actually, it could be easy to belong if we are willing to act like someone seeking knowledge as opposed to someone who possesses it. The opposite can also be true; we can walk into a room with all the expertise we need, but if we perceive others to know more, our sense of belonging is challenged.

Research shows kids ask fewer and fewer questions as they get older. Why is that? It is not that they become less curious about the world, but it is possible that they perceive asking questions creates an appearance of not belonging to an all-knowing community.

Our response to how we perceive ourselves in relation to others is key. Mindset is heavily influenced by context and is not necessarily a stable trait.

How do regional differences influence mindset and motivation?

Regional differences that may influence have to do with interaction. For example, having grown up in the Northeast and living in the Southeast, I notice humor is used differently. In the North, humor is used as an icebreaker and can create an immediate bond with a stranger. In the South, if humor is used that early in an interaction, it is perceived as too familiar and therefore rude.

Differences in interaction exist, but I don’t see mindset and motivation being directly impacted. However, it does influence where a parent or teacher may both intentionally and unintentionally emphasize a fixed mindset. Values—what is important and profitable—differ in various regions of the country (e.g., math and science may be valued more in areas of the Northwest than elsewhere), and may influence the messages we send to our kids and to our students.

4 Benefits of a Vertical Alignment Initiative

Curriculum review, a process often referred to as “vertical alignment,” involves a thorough examination of topics and skills being taught. It is both a discovery and school improvement process with each discipline, such as science or language arts, being reviewed from beginning to end. Teachers from each division and discipline, as well as members of a school’s leadership team, engage in conversations about the strengths of the current program and make improvements where repetition or interruptions are noted. Basically, curriculum review establishes the “what” and “when” of a school’s instructional program.

Schools that engage in this process gain four significant benefits:

  1. Balance. Students learn about a wider variety of topics. For example, if teachers in several grade levels teach about mammals but none of them teach about magnets, a science program will be imbalanced. Curriculum review reveals and corrects such issues.
  2. Flow. Skills build on previously learned skills. Skill instruction from grade to grade must be structured so that consistent skill development can occur. For example, if two-digit multiplication is taught in one grade level, but then not addressed or further developed in the next grade level, students may not be prepared to apply the skill in more advanced classes.
  3. Achievement. Research indicates a strong correlation between schools that engage regularly in curriculum review and student achievement. A more reflective learning community produces more robust learning.
  4. Communication. Teachers gain deeper understandings of how their material fits into a student’s development, and this fosters better communication between grade levels and disciplines. It also helps ensure accuracy in what a school communicates about its curriculum.

We’ve been honored to lead this process in schools, and to witness the dramatic advancements and curriculum developments that arise from it. Many discovered improvements can be implemented immediately; others require strategic program and/or professional development. However, the process always results in improvement.

When was the last time your school or organization engaged in this process?

Can we help get the conversation started?

Increasing Learning By Minding Mindset

The story of “The Little Engine That Could” illustrates the ideas of belief, effort, achievement, and confidence. If we connect these ideas, we notice the following relationships: belief influences effort; effort influences achievement; achievement influences confidence.

This video clip explains how these relationships influence student learning and behavior.

For a succinct summary of the research findings regarding mindset, it’s tough to beat this quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

The complete “Increasing Learning by Minding Mindset” is available via ACSI’s Nexus portal, http://my.acsi.org.

15 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Educational Consultant

Ideas evolve daily. Some live briefly, some lay dormant, but others grow. They become a vision: This is what [my students, my school, my business, my world] would look like as a result of this idea. Soon, strategy becomes critical for moving ideology to practicality, and eventually, measurable objectives are developed to measure evidence of vision fulfillment.

Every school has a vision statement that is constantly challenged by political, scientific, donor, curricular influencers and more. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to help align strategies and objectives for a missional integrity that flourish under scrutiny and testing. Working with a qualified, effective individual is critical. Here are 15 questions to ask before hiring an educational consultant:

  1. Does the consultant show genuine interest in your school’s vision?
  2. Does the consultant have expertise in an area you perceive as needing attention?
  3. What certification, experience, and other valid indicators of expertise does the consultant possess?
  4. Is the consultant up-to-date on research related to the topic being addressed?
  5. Does the consultant’s approach and/or program help your school better align its mission and practices?
  6. Does the consultant’s approach and/or program increase the intentionality with which teachers make instructional decisions?
  7. Is the consultant multi-disciplinary in his/her research and development? Is the approach/program constructed on a sufficient base of diverse but related fields?
  8. Does the consultant hold and promote a holistic view of the learner? Does he/she view the learner as more than empty vessels to be filled?
  9. Does the consultant plan to follow up and does he/she welcome after-event inquiries and requests?
  10. Does the consultant use methods and tools that he/she encourages teachers to utilize?
  11. Does the consultant’s approach/program benefit teachers and students in all desired grade levels and disciplines?
  12. Does the consultant’s approach/program help teachers learn why and not just what to do?
  13. Does the consultant’s approach/program have enough practical application, not just head knowledge, for teachers?
  14. Does the consultant’s approach/program help teachers understand how to foster learning more effectively? Are solutions offered and not just problems identified?
  15. Has the consultant pursued and been granted graduate credit status through an accredited institution for his/her program?

The consultation process is a relationship; vision focuses the effort and willingness fosters development and growth. Make an informed decision to be sure your ideas—your vision—will thrive and flourish.