Student Achievement Opinion

Shifting the Mindset, a Conversation for the New School Year

By Starr Sackstein — August 01, 2014 3 min read
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It’s time for an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s important. It’s not about sex or drugs, it’s about learning. It’s about an important belief system that’s about to be challenged.

For years, our system has been the way it is... students attend school compulsory until they’re 18, their classes and curriculum are planned and grades, the pointless point system that determines passage through the years. Let’s not forget obedience and compliance because for far too long a student’s ability to follow directions has been the single best indicator of success within this system.

But this year, it’s going to be different. Learning will not be contingent upon a letter system or random point values or how much or how little “work” a student decides to do. It won’t be calculated by how much homework or hoops students jump through. This year, learning will be determined by what students know and can do based on the Common Core Standards. Students will learn to reflect and self-assess to be able to talk about what they know and can do based on these standards.

“What does that mean?” students might ask.

“It means we are going to shift the conversation away from ‘what did I get?’ to ‘what have I mastered?’ or ‘what do I need to work on?’ It means all roads and conversations will lead to students being better, more self-aware learners; knowing strengths and challenges and fearlessly pushing forward to achieve personal bests.”

You might be reading this right now and inwardly agreeing or outwardly disagreeing because you’re satisfied with the status quo. Nothing wrong with marking kids down for turning work in late. Nothing wrong with students failing if they don’t come to class. Doesn’t matter if they are meeting standards if they don’t do the work as assigned.

Change is challenging, not just for the kids, but for us too. Parents may not get it either, but that’s okay, you’ll educate them too, preemptively and throughout the process. You’ll send letters home. You’ll make yourself available. You’ll blog and try to get them on social media. Although they all might push back, hopefully you’ll persevere, much in the same way you hope your students do when they don’t get it right away.

You’ll model this growth mindset.

Learning and achievement needs to be at the forefront of all educational dialogues and not just among the educators. The student voices must be heard in this discussion because it is for them that we are making this change.

“So how do you start this conversation?” you might ask.

We start it, by asking students what they think learning looks like. And when they answer doing all their work and getting As, push back and ask another question. “What do you get from doing all the work?” “What does it mean to get an A?”

Although developing a strong work ethic is valuable and we want to instill that in them too, it doesn’t define learning. You may ask them, “how many of you are afraid to fail?” If any raise their hands, ask “what does failure mean?” It is essential that we develop a learning space where failure is positive as it is a catalyst for growth and change. When one takes a risk and doesn’t succeed, that doesn’t make him/her a failure, it means they need to try another way.

After the initial questions are posed, break the class up into smaller groups to discuss the ideas that arose. See where the individual conversations take them and then bring it back to the whole class. Let them ask the questions. After all voices have been heard, end class with the opportunity to write about what they learned. What fears they have about the up-coming year? How best we can help them transcend those fears. This will be their first reflection and while they write, so should you.

If time permits, ask them to read their reflections and you share yours. Make a space in the classroom where they can be hung to remind students throughout the year. Let this be the beginning of a very important discussion that doesn’t and won’t end in one day, but will be challenged all year long.

What steps will you take this year to shift the mindset for learning?

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.