Tuesday, March 25, 2014

GRIT- why it is essential for kids to learn and how you can teach it

Angela Lee Duckworth uses "grit" to describe the quality that predicts success in school and life despite other differences, such as IQ.  In this TED talk she describes how grit is an important factor in why some kids struggle despite high IQ and other positive factors, and why others who are less talented reach high levels of success in the classroom and later in life.

Grit has become a buzzword in education and many schools are jumping on the bandwagon to teach it to their students.  But how do you teach it?  Can you teach it?  I would argue that you can teach it.  And that we MUST teach it for students and kids to be successful.  

Grit is about having a growth mindset.  Growth mindset is the belief that one's abilities can be developed over time with hard work.  A fixed mindset, conversely, is the belief that one's abilities are fixed and won't change over time.  For kids this translates into, "I can do this if I keep trying." vs. "I am just not good at this so I might as well give up."

The most important message my parents ever gave me as a child was, "You can do anything you decide to do."  As a little kid I just believed them.  Whenever I was successful at something, it was because I tried hard.  When I was unsuccessful it was only because I didn't try hard enough.  I still believe this today.  Unfortunately, not all parents give their children this message because they don't believe it themselves.

Which is why educators must teach students this important lesson- if you try hard enough, you will be successful.  Good teachers have a ton of grit.  If good teachers didn't have a growth mindset they wouldn't believe that all their students can achieve success or that they could develop the skills necessary to teach struggling students.  Good teachers are the perfect role models for teaching grit.

The big question is HOW to teach grit.  How can you teach a mindset?  Here are my recommendations of what I have found works in the classroom (but are perfectly applicable to parenting as well):

  1. Tell your students, "I know you can do this- keep trying!"
  2. Teach them that mistakes are how you learn.  
  3. Point out your own mistakes and tell them what you learned.  
  4. Tell them stories about how you struggled and were successful.  Be honest.
  5. Give your kids opportunities to try again and again. As long as they want to try, you will give them the chance to shine.
  6. Teach them about how the brain works.  Tell them how to grow their brain through practice, repetition, failing and trying again.
  7. Read books about characters and people who never give up despite the greatest odds.  
  8. Give your kids real time feedback on their work and teach them to correct mistakes.  Tell them what they do well and what is the one bit sized thing they could do to make it a little better.
  9. Celebrate growth over achievement.  It is not how high your score is, it is how much you improve.
  10. Encourage their passions.  Passion is what keeps us going when it get really tough.  Passion is what drives us when we want to quit.
Please share your ideas in the comments section below.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Talk Less, Say More

""Whah, wha, whaaa, wha whaa."

That's teachers sound like when we talk too much to our students.  If you have ever watched a Charlie Brown cartoon, you know the voice all the adults have when they talk.  Yep, that's what kids hear.

Sometimes I catch myself blathering on about bad behavior or how to solve a math problem and I look out at a sea of blank faces.  Or worse the tops of heads as they bend over to chew on their shoe laces.  I don't know why shoe laces taste so good to 7 years olds, but they do.  They taste twice as good when the teacher is talking too much.

So over the years I have adapted a few simple, easy fixes to Mr. A's diarrhea of the mouth.  Here they are in no particular order.  If you have any great ideas, please share them in the comments!

1) Don't talk so damn much.

Think through what you are going to say, reduce it to a short simple sentence. Instead of "I wish you kids would sit down and pay attention!  If you don't ...blah, blah, blah!"  Try, "Sit down and look at this word."  Say what to do.  Wait for it to happen.  When we go on and on, kids get bored and stop listening.  Who wouldn't.

2) Use non-verbals.

Never speak when a non-verbal will do.  Don't tell a kid to sit down, point at the chair until they do sit down. Instead of saying raise your hand, actually raise your hand when you want the students to raise their hand.  Point where you want them to look.  Use sign language.  Anything you can do to reduce the number of words you are using a day will make your job easier, help kids to meet expectations, and students will listen more when you do talk.  Here is link to several more gems of non-verbal classroom management. These are a goldmine people.  One of the best teacher trainings I ever attended. ENVoY.

3) Say things once.

I learned during my Shakespeare class in college, that the bard would often say the same thing three times- once nice flowery, once more simply and then just come out and say it in plain words.  That way every audience member would get the point.  (Even if they were undereducated.)   In the classroom, if you say things more than once, they students learn they don't need to listen the first time, because you will say it over and over.  Give your directions once, and expect kids to listen.  Better yet write it on the board.  (See Visual Exit Directions in the link above.)  Once you have state what you want done, say "go".  If someone comes up and asks you what to do, say, "Ask a friend who was listening."  or better yet, point to your directions on the board.  

4) Use interesting words.

I teach mostly Spanish speaking kids.  About half of the English speakers have pretty low vocabularies too. Kids tune in to novelty.  "Today I want you all to read ridiculously well!"  "Mr. A, what does ridiculously mean?"  BOOM, I have them hooked.  And they learned a new word.  Double bonus!

Please feel free to leave you best tip or idea in the comments.  I am always on the look out for new tools for my classroom tool box!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why kids don't need iPads

Maybe I am on old man, but it freaks me out to see a two year old with an iPad in their hands.  I see it when parents bring their little ones to school. I see it in stores and when I am visiting relatives.  2-5 year old's holding hand held devices, like iPads, lost in their own little world.  It almost freaks me out as much as all the adults I see staring at their phones all the time.  It is depressing to see people out for dinner looking at their phones instead of talking to each other.

So when I see a two or three year old tapping away on a pad, I get a little weirded out. I mean, shouldn't they be playing, or running or reading a book?  Shouldn't they be bugging their parents or irritating their siblings?

I have seen several posts lately about why iPad/handheld devices are good for kids, most notably this by Hipmombrarian


Her children, both on handheld devices, learning and laughing.

Her points sound reasonable, but are wrong. Lets take them one by one and I will tell you why.

1) Because banning things never, ever, ever works. 
Remember when your parents wouldn't let you watch rated R movies so you just went to your friends’ houses to watch them? I think I’d rather have my kids using technology and handheld devices with me beside them. Where I can engage with them, answer questions, and limit content if I have concerns.
Yes it does.  Kids can't smoke, drive cars or take drugs other than sugar.  Most kids can't look at porn, unless they have an iPad.  This is a defeatist attitude from someone who doesn't want to tell her kids "no".
2) Problem solving.
When my kids get really frustrated with not being able to do something, they don’t just quit. My oldest likes to draw. We often times draw together, using books or other tools to guide us. One day she could not figure out how to draw a cat and I couldn’t either.  Without even asking us she got her iPad, went to youtube, looked up tutorials on drawing cats and taught herself with the guidance of the tutorials. She is seven. She draws amazing cats now.
Kids learned problem solving before iPads and youtube.  It was called "figuring it out for yourself".  I learned how to draw cats by looking at cats.  Now when my kid is ten and wants to know how to draw a cat in the style of Gauguin, I will happily tell her to look it up on youtube.  But I'd rather she draw cats in her own style instead of copying others.   
3) Technology Skills
Let’s be honest here. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t have access to technology until their later years. (It is called the digital divide). America is already falling behind in technology skills, making us less employable and harder to train.
No adults alive today had an iPad, many did not grow up with a computer.  We "figured it out" for ourselves but frankly, it wasn't that hard.  iPads are even easier than a PC.  I call complete bullshit on this one.
4) Expectations in school
I spend a lot of time in classrooms as part of my job. If you really think we should ban handheld devices for children under 12, I hope you have spent some time in classrooms recently. Classrooms of the 21st century engage students in a variety of ways bridging technology and interactive teaching. I once witnessed a third grade  class making posters about specific animals, a task many of us are familiar with. But their posters had QR codes embedded on them that would jump to a GLOG (graphics blog) they had created about each animal. Mostly, from handheld devices.
Again I call bullshit.  No one needs QR codes to do a research project on animals.  Kids are expected to learn all the same stuff we were expected to learn.  I am a teacher and kids don't need early iPad education to learn about how to poke a screen to open an app.  They figure it out in about 2 minutes.  If they don't know, the nerdy kid who can't climb trees or throw a ball will teach them.  You know why?  He had an iPad when he was 2.
5) Interest
There are children out there who are motivated by technology. They are future coders. Future designers. Future engineers. I want my own kids to see everything technology has to offer. I made their Valentine’s Cards light up, because I want their minds to light up with the topics it introduces. They learn to code on Scratch, they practice Spanish on their own devices, and the possibilities are just beginning for them.
You can make Valentine cards with construction paper, scissors and glue.  Think Grandma wants an e-card?   No way.  She want a messed up kid made card.  If your kids are not interested in making stuff with glitter, glue, string and paper, step back and evaluate.  Why are they not interested?
6) Because I care about their brains.
There is a positive link to video games and brain development, that doesn’t get any attention! Yes, it is only one part of the brain and there are many other parts that also need to be developed, but creative thinking and problem solving in a virtual world is something I believe will be beneficial in my children’s future.
Really? Video games are good for your brain?  My three year old has plenty of time to "develop" her video game part of her brain.  Super Mario didn't make my friends super brainiacs. Mostly it just wasted their time and made their thumbs hurt. This is a completely stupid reason to give your kid an iPad.
7) Girls.
I’m raising two ferocious girls. Two girls who are currently very unlikely to get a degree in computer science. I want my children to know they can enter any field they want to, even the tech field.  (12% of computer science degrees currently go to girls). 
If you want your girl to get a degree in computer science, iPads will surely do the trick.  What?  Ipads are great tools for learning, work and entertainment, but they are not going to help anyone become a computer scientist.  Netflix won't help either.  I would get your girly enrolled in some awesome STEM programs when they are young if you really want to get them on that track.
8) Balanced Life
I am 32 years old and still trying to figure out how to balance my technology life. When do I turn my phone off? When do I stop checking email? It is not only something I want to model for my children in my own practice, but it is something I also want them to experience on their own. We turn the iPad off when it is time to go to a basketball game. Or climbing. Or gymnastics. They don’t throw fits. They don’t cry for it. They understand that it is one part of their day.
Okay, I will give her this one.  Adults can model good technology behavior.  If you can model it and your kids can handle it, great.  Most adults CAN'T.  Go out to eat, or a bar, or the mall or a college campus and watch people stare at their phones.  Think a kid can do better?  I don't, not most kids anyway.  
9) Literacy
I’m a librarian. I live and sleep literacy. I’ve watched children learn to read with books, with ebooks, with apps, with flash cards, and with cereal boxes. I want my children exposed to any text they will pay attention to. Including when it comes through a handheld device. We know that handheld devices can help with learning,especially when parents are involved with the interaction of the device.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! A librarian?  You want kids to read apps?  What about books?  Every minute they are reading an app they are NOT read a book.  This one KILLS me.  I am a teacher.  I want kids to read books.  Weird huh?  You know why?  Books are AWESOME.  If we don't teach kids to value them, to treasure them, to read them over and over, then we will have lost a generation of readers.  Where the Wild Things Are.  Charlotte's Web.  Bridge to Terabithia. Tell me the app is better than the book.  Just try.
10) Reality. 
It is 2014. iPhones were introduced 7 years ago. Now, half of Americans own smartphones. We should probably embrace what is here and use it to our advantage, rather than fighting with reality.
Be involved in what your children are interested in. Learn with them. Stop reading “clickbait” articles about technology and instead explore it yourself for awhile. Don’t let your own fears about something foreign to you limit the opportunities you give your child.
I am not fighting reality, I am trying to protect childhood.  Making mud pies, coloring (with Crayons), reading REAL books, being bored, making crap.  Just because you can give your child something doesn't mean you should.  Just because they are interested in something doesn't justify allowing them to use their precious childhood being sucked into a screen. 
Bottom Line:  I will not give my kid a device that will hold her back from doing kid stuff like swinging and singing and pretending. It is bad for her.  It is bad for your kids too.

A Little About Me

I am a teacher at a high performing charter school in Texas that serves low income students K-4.  In have taught for 14 years in public and charter schools.  This experience has taught me a few things about schools, kids, teachers and parents.  In the last few years I have become a parent myself and now I am wondering about what type of schools and classrooms my kids will be part of when they go to school.  This blog will be about what I have learned as a teacher, what I am struggling with in the classroom and my views on current events in education.  If you have read this far, thank you.  Please post comments and continue the conversation!