Mindset Matters: Growth Mindset for the High Schooler

Growth mindset, simply put, is the belief that one’s intellect and abilities are not only unfixed, but malleable. That is, people are capable of employing different strategies to grow and improve their intelligence and skill sets. For high school students, this notion of agency and control over their abilities can be a transformative realization. Once teenagers realize that they are capable of improving themselves in any area that they choose, their options become limitless.

In order to teach concepts about growth mindset to high school students, they must first recognize what it is versus what it is not. Growth mindset is not a “cure-all” belief system that suddenly makes us capable of being perfect at anything that we attempt. Quite the opposite, actually. Growth mindset is about striving to improve, as opposed to focusing solely on perfection.

A way to encourage growth mindset in the high school classroom is to create opportunities for students to build intrinsic motivation by appealing to their curiosities. Want students to go above and beyond just for the sake of learning as much as they can? Provide student-centered options that provoke each teen’s natural inquisitiveness. For high schoolers, intrinsic motivation may just be beginning to bud. Nurture this by allowing them to research, read, and create based on content that they are interested in. For obvious reasons, students are much more enthusiastic about learning when they have had a hand in choosing the content. Additionally, when students are given choices in how they can demonstrate mastery, motivation, effort, and creativity spike. In this sense, growth mindset is all about encouraging explorative challenges.

Provide opportunities for students to get to know themselves as learners by challenges that make them think outside of the box. We all have natural talents; however, growth mindset is all about using the knowledge of our natural talents to unlock our potential in other areas of difficulty. The high school classroom should be the number one place for students to take risks—this means tackling a challenge that they know full-well will be difficult for them. Remind students that grit emerges when people are faced with setbacks and demanding obstacles. With this in mind, help students to focus, not so much on the perfected outcome of a task or project, but on the process—the trials and errors that occur as they work through a problem.

The idea here is that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Help high schoolers to expect and accept failure as a certainty of life. Allowing failure to permanently fix our mindsets is an automatic means of sabotaging ourselves. Instead of shutting down and internalizing a perceived failure, high school students need help recognizing why they failed and how they will use this moment as a building block for their next attempt. When they stumble, remind them that anything worth doing will not come easily. An essential aspect of growth mindset is the fact that effort, motivation, and reflection are bridges to success in anything that we attempt.

How-To Stay in the Know: News for Elementary-Age Groups

For elementary students, the topic of news or current events may likely be met with confused faces or outright groans of boredom. I can certainly remember my eyes glazing over when Nightly News occupied the television in my house growing up. And today’s elementary schoolers are no different—they may not be 100 percent enthralled with current events. However, today’s technology means that current events are not only readily available, they are also available to all levels of readers and viewers. For the elementary age group, news events and stories shared with children must be age and reader-appropriate. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with elementary students.

Be sure to preview all news stories, articles, and broadcasts before having students participate. Thankfully, today’s technology and vast number of children’s programs ensure that current events and news articles can be easily assessed for age-appropriate content. Several educational news outlets do this work for us by categorizing material by age group and Lexile range. While it is important that students understand what they are reading, it is equally, if not more important, to be sure that the material is suitable for children. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Discovery Channel, Channel One, Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for elementary schoolers.

Keep the news relevant but light. Of course, we want students to be aware of some of the important events happening around them. But, at the same time, we must be sure not to expose them to anything that is too jarring or upsetting. News stories for elementary-age groups should involve topics to which students can relate. Make sure that the information they are getting connects to something in their own lives. This is a great way for students to begin to connect to the outside world, as well as recognize their place in it.

Encourage questions. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip? How does this story or event affect the people around me? How do I benefit from knowing about this story or current event? Again, these questions prompt students to consider what they have just learned.

Know the difference between credibility and unreliability. Again, this is a new concept for elementary schoolers. When it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that elementary school students can begin to do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Today’s school libraries and media centers have wonderful resources that help with providing credible sources. Whether primary or secondary sources, schools purchase multiple paid forums, anthologies, and online databases for students to conduct research or investigate specific topics.

Homework Strategies for Easy and Effective Practice at Home

Now more than ever, students are experiencing astounding amounts of work outside of school. Instead of an hour of homework per night, many students and parents are now seeing an hour of work per content area each night. Depending on grade level, this may mean as much as 5+ hours of homework on any given school night. With so much time going to homework, it is important to make sure that work time at home is as stress-free as possible. So, how can parents help to alleviate homework woes? It is as easy as 1-2-3.

Praise effort. Much of the stress affiliated with homework revolves around the ideal of homework perfection. Yes, correctness is important, and students need to be ready to exhibit mastery when it comes to major projects and assessments. However, the everyday homework assignments that come home are likely for practice—not perfection. Instead of hours of struggling to arrive at the correct answer for every question on every assignment, encourage the honest effort put forth. The importance of homework is to provide opportunities to practice and seek clarity for new concepts or skills. Students should feel allowed to make blunders or experience difficulty when completing homework so that they are prepared to ask questions, analyze errors, and reflect on their practices when they arrive back in the classroom.

So, if you find your child in tears or stressed over the presumed need to arrive at the correct answer for every homework assignment, remind him that practice involves making mistakes. Errors not only help young learners to develop grit and determination, but they also allow students to begin to understand themselves as critical thinkers.

Speak with teachers about homework issues—and encourage your child to do the same. When homework, projects, and exams seem to be weighing down the dinner table, chances are the stress is weighing on your child as well. When this happens, reach out to your child’s teacher(s) about your concerns. Send a quick email or a note to school expressing how hard your child worked on the assignment, but that is was not possible to fully complete the work. Again, effort is the key—and teachers will understand that the student truly attempted the work. Homework is meant to be a scaffold or support, one which provides students with opportunities to practice skills. But, if the assignments are too lengthy, redundant, or complicated, students are likely to shut down or break down at home—neither of which is beneficial to academic success.  

Remove distractions—all of them. Parents must set the tone for effective homework time. Allow children to choose a comfortable, quiet area to settle in and complete assignments. Make sure that their workplace is well-lit and contains everything that they will need to work in terms of supplies and work space. Remove distractions such as iPads, cell phones, television, etc. Parents can set a good example by picking up a book and reading quietly while children complete homework.

Providing short breaks between assignments or lengthy projects will help as well. Energy and focus start to lag when working for long stints of time. Encourage your child to take a short 5-10 minute break every 45 minutes or so. Eating a little snack and grabbing a bottle of water while taking a brisk walk around the block will help to rejuvenate and refocus a child who has been working steadily.

Creating a checklist adds to the gratification of completing assignments at home. Much like the to-do lists that we all create, children can also benefit from the checklist in multiple ways. A checklist ensures that children know exactly what must be completed in a given block of time. It is a studious practice—one which helps to keep youngsters organized and promotes self-advocacy. Not only that, but creating a list of assignments is a simple method of boosting intrinsic motivation—crossing off tasks as they are completed is a great way to acknowledge the hard work.

Conflict Resolution in the Classroom

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The highly social aspect of the classroom makes it fertile ground for conflict. Due to many variables—from age group and personalities to abilities and backgrounds—classrooms are almost certain to see some sort of conflict on a regular basis. While conflict is typically regarded with a negative connotation, some disagreements or clashes in the classroom are actually welcome. These squabbles indicate that students are expressive, communicative, and opinionated—not necessarily bad traits when learning is involved. If, however, conflicts escalate to tense arguments or heated quarrels, teachers must address the issue before the conflict grows. The goal then becomes swift and thorough mediation between students or groups of students.

Strategies to mediate conflicts can be just as varied as the personalities involved. There are, however, several effective methods to try.

Keep calm and move on
This method is best used when the classroom tiff seems inconsequential. Separate the students involved, allow them minimal time to dwell on the subject, and keep the train moving, so-to-speak. Attention to small arguments like this can only feed the beast. Instead, minimize the damage by quashing it and moving right along.

Consider it a teachable moment
When a conflict becomes larger, it may be time to pump the breaks and have a conversation with the students involved. Allow students some time to cool down before pulling them aside for a conversation, but be swift about the mediating. Letting things boil over when arguments become larger will only exacerbate emotions. Ask each party to explain his/her perspective. Ask about emotions and reactions, i.e., How did you feel? Why do you think you felt that way? How did you react? How could you have reacted differently? Then, ask each party to articulate what the other person said. This sort of instigated perspective-taking allows students to begin to see outside of themselves. Looking at a disagreement from the other’s perspective teaches students to value another person’s feelings and interpretations. This is no simple feat—adolescents do not readily develop empathy in one fell swoop.

Put things into perspective
Without minimizing the feelings and circumstances that led to the argument, try to provide a non-condescending adult perspective. Ask students to genuinely think before responding to the following question: Will this matter in the long run? In the most sincere way possible, you are simply providing students with an opportunity to reconsider the value of an argument. This is not to downplay their feelings. Instead, it prompts students to consider whether the argument is meaningful or trivial.

Elicit help from the expert
Obviously, especially when dealing with adolescents, some conflicts are far too complex. When the argument is ongoing, repetitive, or significantly impactful, refer students to the guidance counselor. The counselor is the “guru” of conflict resolution and will be able to mediate when disagreements prove to be serious issues for the learning environment.

Problem Solving Month: From a Teacher to a Teacher

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If you are an educator, you are no stranger to the days when it feels like you are constantly putting out fires. You also know by now that no amount of organization, preparation, or planning can prepare you for everything that happens in the classroom on a day-to-day basis. While the constant “unknown” or daily surprises leave us feeling stress similar to that of reluctantly participating in an improv class, it is this same “on your toes” mentality that many teachers claim to love. Whether you’re the type of teacher who loves the spontaneity of the classroom or not, you are bound to the reality that problems will arise no matter what. That said, there are countless strategies for the “what if” situations that we all stress over. Seeing as September is Problem-Solving Month, what better topic for exploration?

Problem 1: Unplanned Sick Day
Yes, as a teacher, if you’re coming down with something that’s looking like it’ll wipe you out, you likely begin to plan and find sub coverage as early on as possible. However, even the most intuitive of us sometimes cannot see the stomach bug coming. When this happens, and the early morning hours are turned into a roll-of-the-dice decision, a little bit of proactive planning can ease the stress of calling out last minute. Most schools require emergency sub plans—but creating a full-proof sub “bundle” can turn those problematic impromptu sick days around.

Here are a few recommendations:

  • Keep two to three solid lesson plans in the binder/folder
  • Use lessons/assignments that review or extend overarching skills of the class—nothing too content specific
  • Keep directions clear and concise
  • When in doubt, plan lessons that run longer, rather than shorter
  • Have copies or class sets ready to go and indicate where to find said copies
  • Include up-to-date rosters, fire drill information/protocols, bell schedules, and your teaching/off periods
  • Include copies of your seating charts

Problem 2: Lesson Moves too Quickly and You Are Left with Down Time
We’ve all had those moments where the information or discussions that we’ve planned simply did not elicit enough conversation to fill the expected time. Looking at the clock to find that class is 15-20 minutes from ending can be a major stressor—especially if you are in the process of being observed. When this happens, reach for index cards or post-it notes. Have these items handy at all times so that the transition is seamless. Depending on your content area, ask students to create two truths and a lie about today’s topic. This requires them to look back at their notes/book and creatively identify three important bits of information from the day’s lesson. Have students swap with elbow partners and ask them to identify the lie. If even more time is left, have students share out.

Problem 3: Student Asks a Personal Question that Could Open up a Floodgate of Issues
Children are naturally inquisitive. They often want to know more about their teachers than a teacher is willing to share. Especially during this explosion of social media, sharing too much information will never bode well for an educator. I’ve had students ask questions from, “Do you go to church?” to “Would you vote for Trump?” Sometimes the conversations emerge one-on-one with a student—sometimes in the middle of full instruction. Either way, responding to such inquiries can be rather tricky. It is always best to air on the side of caution when divulging personal information with students. Of course, being dismissive or disingenuous is not recommended either. Instead, tell students that you value their curiosity and admire their attempt to get to know you, but that now is just not the time or place to be discussing such topics.

Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!! Organization Style. Part 1 of 6

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Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!!

Organization Style

It’s that time again—the back-to-school commercials are in full swing! Backpacks, lunch boxes, clothes, and school supplies are some of the things occupying the minds of parents these days. As the sun sets on summer 2016, it is important to ensure that your child is given every advantage to begin the school year with a bang!

While much focus is put on school supplies and the “necessary” materials, one key element in preparing for a successful year ahead is to put organization in the forefront. And, as they say, practice truly makes perfect—or close to it. Organization applies to a multitude of facets in the educational realm. While all are important, organizing time or “time management” is essential. For example, consider if a student has color-coordinated references, organized notes, and an impeccable outline for a research paper, yet that same “organized” student gives himself Sunday night to complete the final draft of his research paper. All of the prior organization becomes a futile attempt if time was poorly organized.

Organization, specifically time management, is a skill that comes with practice. Even as adults, we sometimes drop the ball by failing to plan ahead accordingly. Here are some tips to ensure that time management makes its way into your household this school year.

Start from the beginning. As we all know, it is much easier to prevent negative habits than to correct them later on. Right from the start, discuss a realistic daily schedule that includes designated homework/reading time, after-school activities, family time, and reasonable sleep/wake times. Of course, be prepared to be flexible when things inevitably come up. But, for the most part, a set schedule will help your child to maintain balance and assuage the stress that comes with cramming.
Model the practice of planning ahead. Especially in the middle and upper grades, projects and assignments become more labor-intensive. With several steps, check-in points, and deadlines, it is easy for students to quickly lose track or get overwhelmed. As with many difficult tasks, showing is more beneficial than telling. Show your child how to organize by breaking down large assignments and setting at home check-in points in advance of the actual due dates. Also, show them how to prioritize more difficult tasks. For example, a five-paragraph argumentative essay is going to need more attention than a vocabulary practice sheet.
Be proactive with organizing your time. It is important to anticipate certain roadblocks to prevent last-minute school stressors. Check the printer for ink before the paper is due; plan for picture day so that the outfit of choice is clean and pressed; pack gym clothes with extra socks so that the morning rush through the dryer can be avoided; email teachers about foreseen absences ahead of time to get any missed work or important information; have a plan for sick days, in which your child has a buddy in the neighborhood to bring work back.

Teaching students how to organize their time is a skill that will prove beneficial throughout their academic and adult lives.

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