When we share stories with one another we become bound together in powerful ways. Stories provide hope: they have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and challenge us to change our thinking. Stories matter. Stories are powerful. Each month, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction partners with the RPS equity specialists and American Indian Liaison to share the stories of those in our own backyard who are often silenced.
All of us have those days where we wished we could press rewind and start over. But there is no rewind button. We just have to keep on keeping on and hope that whatever has crept into our day to sour it dissipates as soon as possible. I would like to share a recent experience I had with my dog, Walda. (Did you really think I would write a blog post without mentioning her?)
While this girl is no longer considered a puppy (she turned 3 on April 2nd), she does possess an endearing puppy-like quality. Man, this girl has done so much for me. She’s licked my face, rested her head in my lap, brought me her tug toy to play with, you know, all the typical doggie-companion stuff. But just a few days ago, I realized what she has done for me in the vein of personal/spiritual growth.
I’m an introvert so I don’t speak openly much about what is bothering me. If at any point you and I have had a discussion where I’ve shared a piece of myself with you, I love you and I’ve watched how you react to myself and others. Well, this girl here is super friendly to everyone she meets (I’m pretty sure she’s an extrovert), so I’ve shared many things with her. She’s always super happy when I come home and it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been gone--5 minutes or 5 days--when I walk through that door, it’s always a reunion for the ages.
Now, back to what she taught me a few days ago. I came home and, just like clockwork, she got all sorts of excited: zoomies, pet my belly, here’s my tennis ball, tippy-tappy with her big-girl paws, circle-circle-circle.
And I walked right past her without acknowledging her because I was in my own head commiserating with my own thoughts. She came in the room, jumped up on the bed, laid down, and let out a big sigh. A mirror. I saw my reflection in that moment. I didn’t like what I saw. I had to own it because even though she had nothing to do with what I was dealing with, I still made her pay for it. I felt awful.
I asked Dr. Cecil White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased) one time why it seems we suffer so much from historical trauma.
He looked at me and said, “We have forgotten how to use our natural medicines.”
Great. Now, here comes a discussion on roots and herbs. And, because I hold much respect and admiration for this Elder, I need to listen to what he is going to say.
He must have sensed what I was thinking, because he then said, “Our laughter and tears, we have forgotten how to use our laughter and tears.”
I know I always feel good after a laugh or a cry. But why? Our tears release cortisol. If that doesn’t come out during a good cry, it stays in the body and can cause all sorts of negative effects. Cecil was a very wise man. He never carried himself as if he were a walking library. He was a relatable guy. I am forever grateful to have spent time with him and I appreciate his words and lessons.
His brother, Albert White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased), was also well known for his Lakota language and culture revitalization work on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. In this video, he talks about the importance of forgiveness and what can happen if you hold onto anger.
This post brought to you by Dawn Bjoraker, American Indian Liaison for the Rochester Public Schools
Feel free to contact Bjoraker at 507.328.4236 or to connect with her via email
Working for educational equity is not a job for the faint of heart. It demands a sense of urgency, perseverance, empathy, humor, and,most importantly, an endless supply of humility. We can never know ALL there is to know about ALL the delicate cultural nuances that make the people around us who they are. But, we can strive to approach one another with a genuine sense of curiosity that is rooted in love and be willing to admit when we’ve made mistakes.
It is with this in mind that I write today. Recently, I was schooled on the term “codeswitching” and I want to share my new understanding as it relates to what Dr. Sharroky Hollie calls, VABBing.
First of all, for any of you readers who may not be familiar with the term VABBing, it is: “the validation and affirmation of indigenous (home) culture and language for the purpose of building and bridging the student to success in the culture of academia and in mainstream society” (Hollie 13).
When I first learned about VABBing, I could easily get my head around the validation and affirmation part, but I struggled with the notion of building and bridging. The idea that I should try to teach students to fit into the mainstream went against so much that I believed in. However, the more I read and the more I practiced VABBing, the more I realized building and bridging isn’t at all about forcing students to assimilate. It’s about giving our students the tools they need to be culturally dexterous. It’s about honoring and loving our students for who they are, first and foremost, while giving them the tools they need to navigate a complex, and often inequitable, human system. It’s about opening up the playing field so they can draw on their strengths while practicing the skills necessary for success beyond the classroom walls. I thought that this was what it meant to “codeswitch.”
It was with this understanding that I went forth into the world fielding questions about situational appropriateness and codeswitching, mistakenly assuming they meant the same thing. I had read Dr. Hollie’s book, studied the binder, wrestled with my own ideas about building and bridging, but never did I realize that I was misusing the term codeswitching. Today, I wanted to share a document that Dr. Hollie recently shared with me that clarifies the difference between VABBing and codeswitching:
Before reading this, the negative connotations behind the term “codeswitching” had never really registered with me; I had simply been using it as a synonym for cultural dexterity. But, because I strive to examine the moments when my implicit bias or a deficit mindset creeps in, I have been working to change my language.
Once again, I reiterate that this work is not easy. It takes time and openness to make change. It is my hope that all of us can feel supported as reflective practitioners as we walk along this road together.
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
What is visual literacy?
Visual literacy is reading, viewing, and thinking about images. Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward describe the importance of visual literacy:
This past fall I was book shopping with my son. He is a child that I have struggled with to get him engaged in books and to fall in love with reading. While we were checking out different books, he gravitated toward the graphic novels. He ended up choosing the graphic novel, Mighty Jack by, Ben Hatke. As we were driving home he starting reading his book and he was telling me about some of the things that he was noticing with the text. Then he set his book down and said, “Mom, now I can visualize!” He then told me about how his third-grade teacher was reading the book, Poppy, to his class. He said that they had been working on visualization. He confessed to me that he was having a hard time with visualizing and he explained that reading books like Mighty Jack helps him to visualize and better understand what was happening in the story. I never would have imagined that allowing my son to read a graphic novel would help him to develop a deeper understanding of the literature standards that he was working on in his classroom.
Why are graphic novels great?
What constitutes a graphic novel?
In the primary grades, we don’t hesitate to use illustrated texts and picture books with our students. I also know many intermediate grade teachers that use picture books as mentor texts, when teaching literature and writing standards. Graphic novels can also be used for teaching, practicing and reinforcing literacy standards and strategies. We know that a graphic novel is a narrative told using pictures and words. Students need to examine the pictures, as well as read the text to get the full understanding of the story. Graphic novels also contain the same key components of traditional novels. For example, they follow similar plot structures and are meant to be read as a full-length story.
What skills can students develop while reading graphic novels?
Many literacy skills are developed when reading graphic novels. Some of these skills include understanding sequence of events; understanding character traits, motivations, and feelings; making inferences; building vocabulary; and understanding story elements. Most importantly, graphic novels can remove barriers for students who struggle with dyslexia, who are English Language Learners and other readers who are achieving below grade level. Visual cues through illustrations and various text (bold, italics, different fonts) allow another way for readers to explore for context clues. “Moving beyond words supports the specific learning needs of some students and builds a new set of skills in all readers.” (Sarah Knutson, “How Graphic Novels Help Students Develop Critical Skills” Room 241, A Blog By Concordia University-Portland)
As educators, we all share the same goal of wanting all of our students to develop a life-long love of reading. Graphic novels are an example of one format of text that can be utilized to remove barriers for readers and help to bring them the joy of becoming deeply engaged in a story.
This post brought to you by Nicole Voss, Reading Specialist at Franklin Elementary & Lincoln K-8
Feel free to connect with Nicole via email or phone
The Truth about Graphic Novels
How Graphic Novels Help Students Develop Critical Skills
Reluctant Reader or Visual Reader? Making the Case for Visual Literacy
From Striving to Thriving How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers By, Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward
I recently had the opportunity to travel to UCLA to hear Dr. Brene’ Brown speak. She spoke of vulnerability, shame and hurt, but she also spoke about living fully, loving more, being courageous and daring greatly, which by the way is also the name of one of her bestselling books.
As I was listening to her speak, one of the things that was on my mind was the immense pressure and joy that come from working in education. When I returned to Minnesota I spent some time looking into what she has to say about being an educator. I found a speech online that she delivered at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in 2017. In this speech she talks about the power that we, as educators, have to effect the outcomes for our students as well as the power that we have to effect outcomes for ourselves.
A few questions you may want to consider as you are watching:
I am cutting my writing of this blog short in order to allow time to watch the video. Think of it as a treat to yourself. It just may be exactly what you need.
This post brought to you by Ann Miller, K-8 Math Specialist
Sitting on my roof the other day taking a break from trying to remove the four-foot snow drift that had accumulated there, I just had to wonder, will this winter ever end? I know many people share this sentiment as social media has exploded with pictures, memes, stories, and posts about personal experiences with what I now refer to as Snowmageddon 2019. Attached is my favorite viral YouTube video from people documenting the attempt by apartment dwellers in Rochester, Minnesota to get out of the complex parking garage and lot.
Watching it for the first time, I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. The struggle is real. But I also know, as a lifelong Minnesotan, “this too shall pass” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It doesn’t feel like it now, but we know summer will eventually arrive and we will sit by the lake and swap winter survival stories and laugh. We can do this because living in Minnesota, we have to be resilient to survive. This is an important trait for our children to develop as well. So important in fact that it is one of the six traits listed on the Rochester Public Schools Graduate Profile.
Resiliency can be defined as a set of attributes that provides people with the strength and fortitude to confront the overwhelming obstacles they are bound to face in life. (ASDC-Richard Sagor)
Essentially the question becomes; what is it that students need to be able to build this trait? Author Richard Sagor uses the acronym CBUPO (the feelings of Competence, Belonging, Usefulness, Potency, and Optimism. To really help students to construct these feelings, we need to look beyond occasional feel-good assemblies and smiley faced stickers on a well-done paper. As educators, we need to provide well planned educational experiences throughout our daily routines and content areas that enable all students to experience these feelings. Let’s take a closer look at each of these feelings.
For more insight on how to cultivate resilience, you will want to watch the following TEDx Courtland talk given by Greg Eells, Executive Director of Counseling and Psychology Services at the University of Pennsylvania.
Final parting thoughts: Resilience is something that can be taught. When contemplating whether an event is good or bad, remember to take on the attitude of the Chinese farmer in Greg Eells’ story, “We’ll see, who knows what tomorrow will bring.” And finally advice from a Minnesotan, it is easier getting on the roof than off the roof. Stay warm my friends!
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
One of my husband’s all-time favorite movies is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This is an iconic movie from the 1980s in which a teenager skips school for the day and the audience is treated to watching his escapades all around the city of Chicago. If you have never had the privilege of watching this movie, I highly recommend taking the time to do so. In this film, there is an economics teacher, played by Ben Stein, who delivers a hilariously painful lesson to a class of students. The clip is below for your reference.
Although hilarious, it is also a painful reminder to me of some of the less than fantastic teaching I myself have delivered to students. Lessons that were all me, and no them. My voice and only my voice. The expectation that students were learning just because I was teaching. While I’d like to believe that at no point I was EVER as bad as the teacher in this clip, it always reminds me what students experience when a lesson is teacher driven.
Three components of student achievement in the Rochester Public Schools Graduate Profile are critical thinkers, skilled communicators, and effective collaborators. In teacher driven lessons, these components can be hard to come by. So how can we adapt our lessons to be a lot more of them, and lot less of us? Here are some ways to bring more student voice into the classroom.
Ask More Questions
There are many components to asking questions that will bring about a great deal of student talk. These are just a few of the ways that questions can transform a lesson.
1. Ask Authentic questions - Are we asking questions that simply “test” whether our students can produce an answer we already have in mind? Or are we asking questions meant to gain access to our students’ thinking or perspective? Ask students “authentic” questions where you as the teacher are truly curious how the student will respond. Typically these types of questions open-ended, and empower students to join their classmates in a line of inquiry in which the answer is not already known or owned by the teacher.
2. Play a little volleyball - Are you responding to every student comment, or are students responding to and interacting with their peers’ contributions to the conversation? Students are used to seeing their teachers as the experts in the room and are in the habit of trying to guess what the teacher wants in a response. Instead of responding yourself to student questions, volley the questions back and encourage them to evaluate, respond to, and extend their classmates’ contributions. Offering a range of sentence starters (“I heard my classmate say…”, “I agree because…”) on a poster or cheat-sheet can help students build this habit.
3. Try not to ask rhetorical questions – The same can be said for “yes/no” and “agree/disagree” questions. Students are often unmotivated to answer such questions for a couple of reasons; a) they know that we know the answers to the questions we ask so there is no reason to tell us what we already know, and b) they realize that we are in search of the one and only one correct response so there is a high probability that they may give the “wrong” answer.
4. Pose either/or questions - “Should we use additional or multiplication to solve this problem?” “Is a square or a rectangle a better base to support a structure?” “Would it be better to be a farmer in Minnesota or Wisconsin?” By posing questions that have no right or wrong answer but instead can be decided based on knowledge of the question, students are engaged in sharing what they know about a particular topic but may also have their thinking challenged by what another student knows and shares.
Turn Over the Learning
This can be a challenge because it involves letting go of always being in strict control over what is happening during a lesson. If this type of thinking challenges you, here are some baby steps to take towards making this happen.
1. Don’t Steal the Struggle - It can be uncomfortable to watch kids struggle, but they need time and silence to work through it. Resist the urge to talk students through every step of a problem and instead just observe. Letting kids think instead of rushing in to narrate or question builds anticipation around what’s going to be said next and increases participation as more kids are prepared to move into the conversation.
2. Move from the Front of the Classroom - Try occasionally sitting on the side of the classroom or in an absent student’s desk and say, “I need someone to go up and demonstrate ___ for us.” Because students are used to the person at the front facilitating the lesson, they are likely to talk for much longer than if you stay at the front and they’re in their seats answering you. You can even remain sitting among the class once the student is done demonstrating and ask follow up questions from other students instead of commenting on the students’ demo yourself.
3. Get Student Input – Take notice of moments when you summarize or review for students and instead practice making those moments a chance for kids to share: What’s the rule about this? Who can sum this section up for us? Who remembers the way to determine ___? Some teachers even turn these moments into interactive activities, where the whole class does a hand motion, body movement, sound, or chant to indicate that they’re summarizing an idea or reviewing directions before getting started.
Differ Your Discussion Formats
Small group discussion is a way for teachers can facilitate quick small group collaborative conversation during class and provide immediate opportunities for students to verbally process their learning. Here are two different small groups discussion strategies to try.
1. Idea interchange – Designate “idea interchange” locations around the room that kids will be able to break into groups of three to five students each. In each location, post a different question or discussion topic related to the lesson. Assign students to groups, and have the groups move around the room together to discuss each question, jotting down notes individually or as a group as they rotate. Set a time limit for each idea interchange location depending on the age of the students and the topic. Students can move through all the locations on the same day or over multiple days.
2. Revolving discussion - Students form two circles, with one inside the other—the students in the inner circle face a partner in the outer circle. Then, pose a question that is open-ended and requires critical thinking. Students spend one to three minutes (depending on topic and age) discussing the question with their partner. When you call time, students rotate so that they are facing a new partner, and they discuss the same question. At this point, depending on the complexity of the question and the age of the students, students can rotate to another partner and continue discussing the same question or be given a new question to discuss.
Whole class discussion is a great way to get everyone involved in one topic at one time. There are numerous different ways to conduct these kinds of interactions. Here are three to get you started.
1. Seminar - This discussion is designed to allow students the freedom to share ideas and questions with each other by discussing without raising their hands. In practice, when students are learning the strategy it is helpful to begin by having them raise their hands and transition over time to free discussion.
2. Summit - This discussion is designed to encourage collaboration and problem solving as students generate ideas and come to a consensus. Students are given an open-ended question or problem to solve. They share out ideas and, through critical discussion in a seminar format, decide together which ideas are best supported by evidence and agreed upon by the majority of their classmates. They then come to a consensus to present to the teacher. This strategy works best after students have some experience participating in the seminar format. If more scaffolding is needed, students can practice in smaller groups before working as an entire class.
3. Debate - This discussion is designed to have students use facts to support their opinions and engage in civil discourse with their peers. Before a debate, students are assigned a side to argue for, and they research both sides and gather facts to support their ideas. A debate can be structured so that students freely share their arguments and counterarguments and then ask questions, or it can be structured as a round robin, in which each member of the class is given two minutes to talk. Alternate between the two sides until everyone in the class has spoken. During their turn, students can choose to bring up their own point or provide a counterargument to the person who went before them.
These are the types of strategies that turn our students into critical thinkers, skilled communicators, and effective collaborators. By turning off our own voices, we raise up those of our students. By implementing these ideas into our teaching, we can save ourselves from being and our students from listening to the Ferris Bueller teachers of the world.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
Earlier this week, an article from EdWeek came across my desktop, titled “Learning Styles Aren’t a Reliable Way to Categorize Students, Study Says.” As someone who has lived in the world of education research, I giggled a little to myself and mumbled something along the lines of, File that in the ‘old news’ folder. Researchers have long suspected that grouping students into “learning styles” and tailoring our instruction to their particular strengths is not as effective as we once believed. I mused on how I used to survey my students and their parents to get an idea of how I should group my young learners into Gardner’s multiple intelligences and how I planned all sorts of learning activities so each group of students could shine in their particular “intelligence.” I smiled and felt a wave of nostalgia for early-career-Kim and prepared to move on to the next thing on my to do list for the day.
And then I had an AHA! moment: perhaps learning styles are not completely bogus, but more likely, we haven’t looked at them through a cultural lens.
When it comes to students like Fazia, how often do we ask ourselves why a particular student is a verbal learner?
Furthermore, critiques of a hyper-focus on learning styles point out that we tend to focus on what a student is good at and rarely push them to develop other skills. How do we, instead, intentionally teach students to practice those styles that are perhaps out of their comfort zone, but necessary for academic and real-world success? In the case of Fazia, what skills does she need to grow to be successful in settings where verbality isn’t appreciated, like in her second hour class?
As I wandered into the rabbit hole of research on this topic, I found so many articles and studies. (If you want to have a few cups of coffee and talk about it all, give me a call! This stuff is my jam!) But, then I came back to the foundations of the work we are doing with Dr. Hollie. He explains, “Notably, the teacher has to know what is cultural and what is not. Fortunately, research provides ample data…about the commonly accepted cultural behaviors of many underserved students” (103). The chart below helps illustrate those particular behaviors.**
The roots of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching (CLR) lie in the recognition and validation of our cultural behaviors and how they impact our learning and teaching. Sure, we are learning all sorts of protocols and skills so we can be intentional and proactive in our responsiveness. But, as Hollie states in the intro to his book, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning (2018), “CLR is not something you do but something that you have in all that you do.” CLR calls on us to recognize our students as cultural beings and to provide instructional strategies that meet those cultural needs.
Yet, we don’t stop there. This work recognizes the importance of teaching all students in all styles so they can practice modes of learning that may not be as comfortable for them, but that they will need to be successful in both the classroom and the world beyond the classroom walls. The power of this work lies in our intentionality and the moments when we see our students as bearers of cultures that may not be validated in traditional school culture. When we come up against those moments of struggles and can say to our students, “I see you and I honor you, and I care about you enough to give you the tools you need to be successful.”
And so, as we continue on our CLR journey, we continue to ask ourselves the following questions:
If you have any questions or want to talk more about how culture impacts students’ learning, give me call or email me!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
* This student is a fictionalized version of students we might see in our classrooms each day.
** I want to acknowledge that culture is much more fluid than this particular chart shows, and there is a mountain of research on various ways to consider this fluidity, but for our purposes here, it is helpful to consider cultural behavior in this simplified way.
As I am writing this, there is a new blanket of fresh snow on the ground. This can only mean one thing: winter is coming and with it, all the warm and fuzzy feelings I hold about the upcoming holidays are coming. I take time to reflect on what I am thankful for, make space to gather my enormous family, and look forward to the new year ahead.
As an educator I also feel the weight of the holidays and the responsibility I have to consider that others around me may not celebrate the same ways I do.
It's probably not a surprise to those who know me that I have always been interested in world cultures. I wanted to learn all the languages and travel all the places and meet all the people. That’s probably one of the reasons why I became a teacher. When I began my journey as an educator, I was ravenous for information about the different cultures of my students. I believed that if I knew all I could know about their home cultures, I could be the best teacher I could be for them.
However, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew! I don’t have to tell you how quickly I became overwhelmed and hopeless. I was convinced that I would offend someone if I said or did the wrong thing because I couldn’t possibly know it all. This fear led me to nervously gloss over questions students would ask or cobble together some half-truth from the bits of knowledge I had. The fear I had that I would be thought incompetent kept me from truly honoring the curiosity of my students. It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care--I was simply not equipped. That is, until I encountered the notion of cultural humility.
Cultural Humility is a philosophical approach that pushes us to continually challenge our own biases or previously held beliefs, knowing we can not possibly ever know all there is to know about cultures other than our own. It is different from the notion of Cultural Competency, which suggests that by studying a culture we can know all we need to know in order to provide support to our marginalized students. Cultural Humility rather calls on us to examine power imbalances and work to fix them while developing partnerships with those who can advocate for greater systemic change. In other words, it is about lifelong learning and being comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out!” It’s considering new understandings, not wallowing in the embarrassment of, “I never knew that,” and striving to rethink the old ways of doing things.
Cultural humility is a motivating force behind the work we are doing in Curriculum and Instruction here in RPS. We know that the myths we’ve been told are not accurate and we know our students--all of our students--deserve better. It is our desire to do better that guides us as we work closely with our American Indian Liaison, Dawn Bjoraker, and our American Indian Parent Committee to improve the way we teach about those who are Indigenous to this land. We have much work to do, but it is with a sense of cultural humility, that we move forward, striving to honor the experiences of our American Indian students and families.
As the snow continues to fall and Thanksgiving approaches, many may be wondering how to best approach the holiday with our students. Luckily, we have some wonderful resources available through our media specialists. I’ve included some links to check out. Also, below is a short video that highlights some ways we can begin to take a new look at the way we teach the upcoming holiday.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, but then don’t stop there--work with your students to find the answers. Ask questions, reach out to families, call on the expertise of others, and never stop learning!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Resources for Further Study:
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say “I am not good at math”. This is from students, parents, friends, and colleagues, many if not all, I believe to have normal to well above average intelligence. On the flip side, no one really freely admits, “ I can’t read, or comprehend text well.” Why is that? Why is it so easy to admit we don’t understand or like math? Don’t get me wrong, there are many people out there that love math and are making great strides in mathematical thinking. But for many of us, something went wrong and math is not our “thing”.
We have a name for this propensity for not liking math, it is called, "Math Phobia” and it is at epidemic proportions. Math phobia is actually defined in a medical dictionary as a feeling of tension, apprehension or fear about one’s ability to do math, which subsequently interferes with the performance thereof.
This phobia is present everywhere in our society and has prompted an entire industry of memes and graphic T-shirts that promote the idea that math is hard and scary. (Underlying message, so it’s ok not to be good at it or to even try.) When we believe something to be too difficult to master, this attitude stops us from focusing on the problem we are trying to solve.
So what went wrong, why do so many lack confidence in our math skills?
Research suggests that for many of us it was the way we were taught. Math was taught to most strictly through the study of arithmetic and computation. We were led to believe math was a list of rules and specific algorithms that could only be memorized and procedures done specific ways to get to the one correct answer. You were considered smart if you could compute quickly. Thinking about math this way is boring, stressful and/or unproductive. In his article, Why Do Students Fear Math, Pradeep Kumar states;
Another reason that many people feel they are not good at math is that they were lead to believe you are either born to be good at math or you were not. The truth is that we are not predestined to be good or bad at math, although the attitude that you are a math person or you are not continues to prevail. Stanford University Professor Jo Boaler says,
How does our own attitude about math affect how we teach math and more importantly, how does it impact our student's success rates?
Research suggests that parents and teachers with anxiety about algebra and equations transmit those feelings to their children and students, who then perform worse on math. Math anxiety has been recognized as an impediment to math achievement. As teachers, our attitude and confidence with math skills have a direct impact on our student's achievement rates in math.
In a recent study, Boaler and her fellow researchers recruited 40 5th-grade teachers from the Central Valley to take a 12-hour online math course she and her team created. The course, “How to Learn Math for Teachers,” covers perceptions about math, how anyone — with enough practice — can develop the brain skills to understand complex math problems, and how math is used in everyday life. The course also covers basic math concepts, such as number patterns and reasoning, and offers tips for teaching those concepts.
When commenting about the impact of the Stanford study, published in the journal Education Sciences, Jo Boaler said,
For our students to do well in math, many of us need to change our own attitudes and understanding of mathematical concepts and ideas.
Changing perceptions and skill sets is difficult. Where do we begin? The first step is to adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. If you have not read it already, I highly recommend you read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.d. This philosophy has been a game changer for many. (This one, in my opinion, is also worth a second look even if you have already read it).
About a decade later, Dweck’s Stanford University colleague Jo Boaler piggy-backed off these ideas and applied it to mathematics. Mathematical Mindsets was published in 2016 applying advanced neurological research to how students best learn mathematical concepts. This book sparked an international resurgence in mathematical best practices. This is a must read for any teacher of mathematics. In it, Jo Boaler explores the power of mistakes and struggle, the concept that there are creativity and beauty in mathematics, (A concept I did not get at any time during my math education), the importance of developing flexibility with numbers and how mathematics is a path to equity.
When I first read Mathematical Mindsets, the greatest take away for me was there are creativity and beauty in math. What?!?! As a recovering mathophob myself, I was led to believe math was all about speed and (this one is from my dad who would sit with me as I cried through my math homework) you only get the right answer if you have a sharp pencil. In the book, you are introduced to Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal (equivalent to the Nobel Prize for Mathematics). If you have not heard of her before, her amazing and tragic story is worth looking up. Born in Iran, Maryam was a mathematician at Stanford who studied hyperbolic surfaces and who had in 2016 produced what has been called the “theory of the decade”. Surprisingly, Mirzakhani described herself as a "slow" mathematician, saying that "you have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math." To solve problems, Mirzakhani would draw doodles on sheets of paper and write mathematical formulas around the drawings. Her daughter described her mother's work as "painting". In Mathematical Mindsets Maryam is quoted as saying:
For many of us, math was taught strictly through the study of arithmetic and computation. The reality is that mathematics is so much more than that. We need to make the study of mathematics more meaningful and engaging for the next generation. We need to take that leap of faith and believe that even as adults we have the ability to learn more about math concepts and with a growth mindset promote positive attitudes towards the discovery of math for ourselves and the future generations we serve. Be the teacher that promotes this T-shirt.
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
Best Way to Change Scores is to Change Teachers Attitudes
Challenging Myths About Learning
Jo Boaler Ted Talk: How you can be good at math and other surprising facts about learning.
(2008) Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, National Mathematics Advisory Panel (U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC).
St.Myers, Andrew; Carey, Bjorn (15 July 2017). "Maryam Mirzakhani, Stanford mathematician and Fields Medal winner, dies". Stanford News. Retrieved 17 July 2017
Jacobson, Howard (29 July 2017). "The world has lost a great artist in mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
The Llama Llama books are favorites in our house. I’m fairly certain we own every one ever written and have read each of them no less than a dozen times each. The other night my daughter and I were reading Llama Llama Mad At Mama. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, let me bring you up to speed. Llama and mama have to spend the day running a bunch of errands and Llama is not pleased with the plan. One of their errands is a trip to the grocery store. As mama is shopping, Llama is getting increasingly agitated until he escalates to the point where he totally loses control; Llama throws things, knocks things over, kicks his feet, yells and eventually begins to cry. When we reached this point in the book, I turned to my daughter and asked her how she thought Llama was feeling. She answered me then turned to me and said, “Mom, how do you think MAMA LLAMA was feeling here? I know Llama is very upset but mama must be too! I bet she is embarrassed by his choices. I think she also might be worried that something is really wrong with Llama. But I also know she is mad because look at her face! Poor Mama Llama!” WOW! This mama was incredibly proud! Like I said before, we have read this book at least a dozen times and this was the first time she keyed into how Mama Llama was feeling. Her reflection that night got me thinking about the power of using characters in literature to teach social-emotional learning.
Social-emotional learning is such a big topic in education right now that this month's entire edition of Educational Leadership is dedicated to this topic. Everyone is talking about the importance of teaching these kinds of lessons in school. Yet I know that as a classroom teacher, I would have been hard-pressed to add one more thing into the learning day! With so many expectations already on our proverbial plates, how can we do even one more thing? However, teaching social-emotional learning through literature doesn’t add a new expectation to teachers’ already jam-packed curriculum - it can easily be incorporated into reading routines already in place. Here are some ways to begin building in this type of learning with the system you already have set up.
Read It & Reap
When reading a book with students, take the time to make connections between what students read, their personal values, and the world around them. In the last decade or so there has been a shift away from doing this with kids. This happened greatly in part because of the increase in the weight being placed on standardized tests. Our goals for student learning became much more academic focused. “If a question wasn’t text dependent, then it wasn’t a good/necessary question. We stopped asking anything (or nearly anything) where the inference couldn’t be drawn directly from the text.” (N. Boyles) Certainly we need to dig deeply into the texts we read for academic reasons, however, go back to those same books you have previously read and revisit them. “This time, ask questions related to social-emotional problem solving to begin discussions that raise students awareness and encourage them to rethink their own responses to challenging situations.” (N. Boyles) Having these types of discussions may actually take you into the Common Core’s comprehension standards that are sometimes overlooked (author’s craft, purpose & point of view, use of illustrations) and deeper levels of Webb’s depth of knowledge system.
There are numerous aspects to social-emotional learning. Instead of trying to hit them all, be selective and target 4-5 over the course of the year. Here are 5 that have been identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning because each competency can be addressed through several related focus areas:
Notice the first two are centered on the individual and the final three address interaction among individuals. This progression makes complete sense; how can a student manage their relationships with others until they are able to identify and manage their own feelings and self-perceptions?
Use A New Lens
Many of the books we choose to read with students could target a multitude of the skills listed above all in one text. However, discussing all of them will likely overwhelm students (and likely you as well) and you may miss your intended target. Instead of using a text to discuss various SEL categories, select one skill so students are able to think deeply about specific issues. This can be done with many books - even books that weren’t specifically written with teaching SEL in mind. However, there are many authors out there who have written books around the different areas of SEL learning. Here are some lists that may help guide additional book selections:
25 Best Kids Books to Teach Social-Emotional Skills
50 Must Have Picture Books to Teach Social-Emotional Skills
Hearts and Minds: Picture Books That Strengthen Social-Emotional Learning
Social-Emotional Learning Diverse Book List for Grade PreK-8
As I reflect back on reading with my daughter the other night and her reaction to the text, it reaffirms for me how much children learn through books and the characters they meet there. Though Llama Llama is a favorite in our house (and my daughter has obviously connected with the characters and is learning a great deal about emotions) I recognize that it may not be the best fit for you and your students. Hopefully, though, you will be able to find other texts that you are already using, or perhaps a new one from a list, to try your hand at incorporating some intentional social-emotional learning within your classroom.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
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