"Try this with your Kick-Off prompt: wait for the class to become quiet, the bell to ring, then reveal the prompt and mandate that everyone do it together and see what happens."
Roberto was a student in my freshman Integrated Science class a few years ago. Every time I revealed the Kick-Off prompt at the start of class Roberto would look to the student on his left, then to the student on his right, and then he would write the question. After having a few bouts of classroom management issues with him in the first weeks of school, I surrounded Roberto with higher-achieving students. No matter what direction he looked, he saw a student who recorded the Kick-Off prompt when it was revealed. He was given the opportunity to see himself doing exactly what the “students” in class were doing. Suddenly, by engaging in the Kick-Off, Roberto looked like a student as well! Perhaps students like Roberto are thinking, “You are student, I look like you, I must be student."
It is my belief that 90% of the battle is getting students to actually see themselves as students.
In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Carol Dweck explains that our mindset, either growth or fixed, is the main determinant in whether or not we succeed.
Mindset is particularly important for the schoolteacher because students will experience greater academic success if we help them develop a mindset that is more growth and less fixed. How we use our starting routine can be a powerful instrument in this pursuit.
I begin every class in the exact same fashion; we all answer the Kick-Off prompt at the same time. I do not show the question until the bell rings, to ensure that all students write the prompt at the same moment. I want every student in my classroom quietly doing the exact same thing; everyone looks identical. At that moment you cannot decipher between my “good” students and those that have room for growth. While this is subtle, it is powerful because it happens every single day in class.
Samantha, the girl who sat in front of me in Mr. Hodges’ physics class my senior year of high school, was one of the “smart” kids, evidenced by her 4.0 GPA. I am unsure of the labels applied to me in Physics, but I am certain it was not “smart”. One day, we were asked to work with a neighbor and Samantha and I were assigned to work together. I was happy to have a “smart” kid on my team while nervous to live up to my end of the deal. The only thing I recall from this interaction is what happened after we were finished. We completed the problem, Samantha turned back to her desk, and we began to work independently. A moment later she turned back around, as if she had thought about it and proclaimed, “You know, you are smart”, then turned around and resumed her work. I am not certain what convinced her of my “smartness”, but she spoke with authority.
Her proclamation was an epiphany for me. Moreover, I believed her and that made all the difference. I always struggled in school and now I see that I had a fixed mindset. Meaning, I knew what I was good at and what I thought I was not good at as it related to school. However, instances like these helped me begin to embrace a growth mindset, even if I was not the “smartest” kid in the class.
My mom, one of my life heroes (an awarded 2nd grade teacher by the way!), sent me a short email last week. Her note was in response to some nice feedback I received in on a recent speaking engagement. This was a very powerful email. She wrote, “Yea to my youngest kid! The one for who school wasn’t terribly easy. Good job!”
At some point I began to believe that I could succeed academically even though for many years I believed the opposite was true. Students like me, those for whom school is difficult, can either have a fixed or growth mindset. On the other hand, those who see themselves as having the ability to succeed tend to be more successful. Meanwhile, those who do not see that possibility tend not to experience academic success.
Teachers can create an environment wherein students have the opportunity to experience this shift on a daily basis, if we use our starting routine appropriately. Try this with your Kick-Off prompt: wait for the class to become quiet, the bell to ring, then reveal the prompt and mandate that everyone do it together and see what happens.
By the way, three years later, after some serious credit recovery efforts, Roberto is graduated from high school! I believe he graduated with a mindset that is slightly more growth than it was four years earlier.