Me: Thanks for coming in today. I’m very proud of the effort you are making in physics. I admire your persistence; you stick with problems until they make sense. That’s an admirable trait.
The student smiles…
Me: So, how are you liking the way I run class? Do you like flipped instruction?
Student: I like it. I like the way you give us time to do our work. It gives me time to think. (I’m asynchronous during the week)
Me: I’m glad you like it. I know you get frustrated sometimes, but I am proud of the work you are doing – AND, you are managing a rigorous subject. Frustration is part of the learning process.
Student: Yea, some teachers make me mad – they give up on us too soon. We can learn this stuff. We just need time to learn it and need a little extra help. You don’t give up on us – you give us difficult work but you give us time to learn it and help us. Some teachers just get frustrated and then they say, “Ok, we’ll move a little slower.” That’s insulting. The videos you give us help; I can watch them again. And I like the online modules – they are frustrating but I get to do them over and over until I get it…
How do I respond to that? Holy moley… I swallowed a big knot in my throat and told her I was glad she liked my class and reminded her I would help her any time.
What I’ve learned in the last two weeks:
About Growth Mindset Language:
Students want to learn. They don’t want to be judged. I am amazed at how students feel judged in school. It has been relatively easy to change that attitude. When a student gets a paper and they make “100” they may feel “smart.” When they see a “50” they feel “dumb.” I told them early on that a grade was not a judgment, just an assessment of what they knew about the concept at the time.
I made a show and ask, “What if I gave you a test that no one could pass? Would that make you dumb? What if I gave a test and everyone made a 100? Does that prove you’re smart?” I simply TOLD them I would not judge them. If they made a grade that they didn’t like, I would allow them to study and prove their mastery with another assessment.
I praise their effort at every opportunity. I honor their mistakes. One IPC student made a foolish mistake counting electrons. I said, “Everyone makes a decision based on reasoning – what was the reasoning behind your answer? By validating their thinking, I honored their mistake. They explained their thinking and I was able to correct them without any embarrassment or loss of face.
Students need to understand the role of frustration in learning. I have had to explain over and over during these last two weeks that frustration and confusion always precede understanding when we are learning challenging material. Acknowledging their frustration and telling them that it is normal has made a huge difference with some students. Too many students feel that if they become frustrated it is a signal that they are not smart. They need to be told that it is normal. They need to know it will be replaced with understanding if they are persistent.
I have learned to warn students when we are going to learn something that I know from experience will be frustrating. I tell them that they may need to look at the material several times before it will make sense. Acknowledge their struggle in advance and let them know it’s normal.
I am finally comfortable with the role of work outside of class. I don’t assign “Homework.” I do assign content and concepts that I expect them to master by the end of the week. I use Edmodo to communicate with students. I tell them on Monday what I expect them to accomplish by Friday. I provide resources on my website. We will engage in activities that make the concepts make sense during class. Simple. GO…
Some students complete all of their work during school. Some students struggle more and need to work outside of school. I have learned they really don’t resent the work – they want to learn. They appreciate having an entire week to sort things out. They also appreciate that I make myself available to help them.
I tell my students to come see me if they need help. I have students that come in after school to work. We play music on Pandora. They bring drinks and a snack. They work. I help. Simple. I don’t judge them. I don’t (or try not to) get frustrated with them. I also don’t run them off at 4:15.
I have convinced the students that I am willing to stay as long as they need my support. As long as there are several students (a 52 yr old man doesn’t need to be 1:1 with a HS student) I will stay as long as they want. Students come in shifts. Some nights I leave school as late as 7:00 or 8:00. If they WANT to stay and work, who am I not to stay with them? After all, I assigned the content. My philosophy is simple, if they ask, “Mr. Strickland, will you help me?” I answer, “YES.”
The students are starting to see it’s about LEARNING – not worksheets. I will stay and we can explore concepts and practice skills until they can do the work. I think some of the students are feeling very empowered. They don’t perceive what’s happening as me giving them “tons of homework.” I have one student that stays late often. She struggles every day. I support her and answer her questions. She is the happiest kid I have ever seen because she’s truly learning and she feels very good about herself. She making me work 80 hours a week and love it.
I’m getting pushback from some students. Some students are not yet doing the work. The VAST majority like what we are doing and like flipped instruction. Six weeks ago I was very nervous about teaching physics to everyone. I can honestly say I am having the most rewarding year of my life. Seeing students who are accustomed to failure and judgment blossom and begin to take responsibility for their learning has been amazing to experience.
What I have learned:
It’s simple really. Don’t lecture – challenge them to learn something.
Don’t judge. Hold students accountable and support their efforts. If you honestly believe in them, they know it.
GIVE. THEM. TIME. Students need TIME to learn. Over and over time is the one thing students thank me for – giving them time to sort things out and learn the material.
Be present. Be available. Talk to them. Respect them. Love them. If you do these things students will happily do whatever is ask of them. They also will learn something in the process. They will learn about themselves. They might even learn some of your content.