Winters can be tough. The weather is cold and dark. The days are short. Our moods can often mirror what we see outside. I know I have been feeling like I am in a funk and I want to get out of it! My students have been in a funk too. They haven’t seemed as happy and have been bickering with each other, which I have never seen. I knew something needed to change, for all of us.
So I decided to add something new to our routine to help improve their Math Fact memorization and to re-spark some interest in their studies. My school bought a subscription to Rocket Math and I read over the teacher instructions to devise a strategy to introduce this new program successfully. While reading, I got super excited about the program and blurted out to my students that we would be starting something new with Math Facts soon. And they got excited too!
They were all set to go: routines had been established, goals had been set and pencils had been sharpened. When the one minute test was done not a single student had passed. As soon as I discovered this I knew I needed to frame what I said next the right way or my students would give up on Rocket Math because it was “too hard” for them.
Luckily I had been reading “Mindset” by Carol Dweck at this time so I had some lines to fall back on. I said something like, “I know this is hard for you right now, but if you continue to practice hard and take this seriously every day you will be able to pass!” Every single time we practice we talk about how practice and hard work are essential to getting closer to our goals. I think it is because of this that my students are still loving Rocket Math and give it great effort every day.
One young man in my class is struggling to make it to the next level on his Rocket Math tests, he has taken the same test 4 times but not once has he said, “I can’t do this” or “I am not smart enough for this.” Instead he asked to stay after school to get in some extra practice with me. I don’t think this would have happened if we had been talking about how easy it was to do simple addition (we are talking +1 here), or if I had told them something like, “better luck next time.” Since we embraced the fact that to get better you have to work hard, he wanted to put in the work in order to get better. I loved this moment.
I’m telling this story because if you are a teacher, a parent, grandparent, care provider, if you work on a team or you are working toward a personal goal of any sort, you know how important it is to always be on your game. One slip up and you could have even more hard work in front of you as you try to remedy the bad habits or attitudes that have sprouted up like little weeds.
But it is hard work to always think in terms of growth and even harder to monitor everything you say and do; including the way you compliment/correct your students, children, grandchildren, team members or yourself. So this blog is a reminder to you (and me!) that even in the dreary, dull winter we have to remember that even well-intended routines can get dull. Everyone, especially kids, can forget the reasons they are doing whatever it is you have asked them to do. Failure in any form is hard to accept if we don’t welcome challenges into our lives and teach others to welcome them too.
So as the days get a little longer, and the air a little warmer try to remember to praise the effort a student makes, not make a judgement about how smart they are. A judging comment, even a positive one like “Wow! You passed that test, you are so smart!” can create a self concept that is impossible to always live up to. The next time they don’t pass or do as well on a test they could think they are no longer “smart” and that is not something you want them to go on thinking. If a child gives you a picture they colored don’t comment on the talent level with, “you are so good at drawing.” try something like, “I see you used a lot of blue, tell me about that.” or “It looks like you really thought this out, I see a great level of detail on the snail’s shell.”
This seems easy but it takes mindfulness. It is so easy to praise things in a way that makes people internalize them as fixed traits. I am so guilty of this and really needed a reminder that my observations can shape self concepts for years to come. I want to make sure my students love learning for learning, not for the grades. I want to make sure my students feel valued in the classroom for the real things they bring to it, like their perseverance and humility. I needed this reminder and know there are others out there that probably need it too.
Until next time,
I love you more than math facts and routines,