I went to a meeting on Thursday for our district’s math leadership committee. I feel very honored to be a part of this as probably the youngest person on the team. I also feel that math is the content area that I feel least skilled at differentiating instruction and helping students to uncover their own learning so I am excited to discover new ways to enhance my math instruction and feedback.
A large part of our meeting was centered on growth mindset. Growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and personality can be developed rather than being ingrained character traits. Thus, there are no students who are “bad at math” or “just not readers”. Everyone is on a journey to discovering their own potential, which limits are unknown. This lies in contrast to a fixed mindset, which holds that one’s character, intelligence and creativity are static givens and that failure must be avoided at all costs. Most teachers and parents, whether they are aware of it or not, possess and engage with students in a fixed mindset. We need to change the way that we provide feedback to students, the way that we organize students into groups and the way that we model for students the benefits of failure and learning from mistakes.
I never really felt a sense of failure until starting my first year of teaching. I don’t even think I was failing but with all of the pressures and demands that go into teaching, I felt like I was unable to accomplish all that I wanted and needed to be the best I could be for my students. At the age of 22, this was an experience that I did not know how to cope with. My health started to decline, I had major anxiety that still affects me even 4 years later and I began to hate going to work. I even remember driving home listening to The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” and thinking, “Surely death would be better than this life I am living right now.” As a person who had always experienced great success and loved going to school, I began to feel like I wasn’t even myself anymore. As a result of this experience, I feel strongly that students need to have many safe experiences with failure, starting from a very young age. Coupled with that needs to be direct instruction about why failure is good and what to do when it happens. This needs to come both from the teacher modeling and discussion about failure and what happens afterward.
Here is an interesting TED talk about the importance of being wrong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QleRgTBMX88So how do I begin to talk about this with first graders? I began to search for picture books that might broach this topic. I had a lot of trouble with finding a direct source that listed books so asked others for advice. With help from a peer (thanks Stephanie!), I found a list that included a book called Tillie and the Wall by Leo Lionni which talks about a mouse who wants to get to the other side of a wall and the process she takes to get there. Then I discovered a book called The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, which is the story of a girl who tries so hard to make an invention but experiences a lot of trial and failure in the process. As I continued to search on Amazon, I found more and more books that address the ideas of constructing knowledge and the growth mindset. I decided to make a BuzzFeed article that will help others identify books engaging in these topics. Here is the link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/lisamartin689/picture-books-to-teach-constructing-knowledge-and-1ue72.
I am really excited to try these books and have some great discussions this coming week! Stay tuned for another post about how it went!