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Posts Tagged ‘growth mindset

Letting Your Learners Experience Productive Struggle

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I came into teaching through a non-traditional, backdoor route – through a graduate degree in counselor education and through being an adventure therapist, whereby I took at-risk youth on extended wilderness trips. There have been a plethora of lessons I learned through these experiences that have served me well as a teacher.

As part of my counselor training, we were taught to not try to take away a client’s pain or struggle; that they often need to experience these struggles in order to move forward. My role during client distress was not to try to take their pain away but to offer my presence, listening skills, and being a witness to their stories.

As an adventure therapist, the youth often had a difficult time during wilderness activities such as rock climbing, rappelling, and the wilderness solo (spending 24 hours alone). Many become scared and wanted to give up. My role during these times was to encourage them and not let them give up. The results of successfully completing these activities that seemed unsurmountable were feelings of accomplishment; an increase of positive self-esteem.

This often seems contrary to being in a role of a helper, either as a counselor or as a teacher. Being a helper translates into wanting to take away the struggles and pain of others. The paradox becomes in that by allowing our clients or students to work through their pain and struggles, it helps them to grow.

Productive Struggle

In 1910, John Dewey described learning as beginning with a dilemma—an uncertainty about how to proceed. Struggling to work through uncertainty and ambiguity to discover a solution was, for Dewey, essential to meaningful learning. Struggling and persisting in the face of uncertainty is finding its way back into prescriptions for good classroom practice. Advocates for meaningful struggle recommend that teachers avoid telling students how to solve problems. Instead, teachers are urged to allow students to wrestle with a problem and try to solve it themselves.

Engaging students in productive struggle is a challenge for teachers as well as the students. It takes time, persistence, and some experimenting to plan rich learning opportunities that challenge but don’t frustrate students. Activities need to stretch students’ thinking and performance just beyond the level they can do on their own. Struggle works and does not frustrate when students have the knowledge and tools to tackle novel problems—ones they’ve not seen before, and are just beyond what they’ve already learned and mastered.

Another crucial teaching role in productive struggle lessons is providing timely assistance. When a challenging task opens a productive-struggle zone, the teacher’s judgment is again critical. Success depends on teachers recognizing when a little timely assistance sustains student persistence but does not prematurely terminate productive struggle and learning.

Getting the right balance can be difficult. For teachers accustomed to avoiding student struggles, there is temptation to intervene and help students get the right answers. To do so runs the risk of turning the activity into the classic recitation-style lesson—turning students into passive receivers of knowledge and teachers into “tellers.” (Beyond Growth Mindset: Creating Classroom Opportunities for Meaningful Struggle)

Maker Education and Productive Struggle

I’ve been integrating maker education activities into my gifted classes for the past several years. The ill-defined tasks that often characterize maker education create situations whereby my learners often struggle. In fact, I’ve had 6th grade boys cry due to this. Being gifted, they’ve developed a school history of being able to quickly and successfully the tasks given to them so when given tasks they can’t do easily, they become distressed.

I also teach summer camps with a maker education focus. This past week I taught Toy Making and Hacking to 2nd through 6th graders. Many of them struggled and due to these struggles quickly exclaimed, “I can’t do this.” This occurred mainly during the Toy Take Apart and Repurposing and through making Wiggle Bots.

Assisting Learners With Their Productive Struggles

First and foremost, I let them struggle. Second, I say to my learners who struggle and want me to fix it – do it for them something such as:

  • I know you can figure it out.
  • I won’t do it for you. I have faith that you can do it.
  • You got this.
  • Take as much time as you need. There is no time limit.
  • Why not try for ___ minutes? If you don’t get it by then, I’ll help you.
  • What steps can you take in order to be successful?
  • Why not ask a classmate how they worked on the problem?
  • You might want to try something different.

Finally, I do offer and give help to those who have struggled and are reaching high levels of stress.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 13, 2019 at 4:40 pm

Courage to Be an Outlier Educator

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Today, during a podcast interview, I was asked what it takes to be an educational thought leader. My response was, “courage.”  In this test driven, accountability-laden era of education, it takes courage to be an educator driven by authentic, constructivist, and student-centered values and practices.

Courage:

Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.  Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss. According to Maya Angelou, “Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courage

Outlier:

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August. http://gladwell.com/outliers/outliers-q-and-a-with-malcolm/

I have been an outlier educator in a number of educational settings including elementary and college levels. I rarely stood in the front of the class as a sage on the stage. The only time I did so was to provide short snippets of information as mini-lectures, ten to twenty minutes in length, or to provide information about how to do the class activity. My classes were loud and seemingly chaotic (it was controlled chaos – I gave students lots of choices with the only rule being that you need to be engaged with a learning activity) with all students engaged and interacting with one other, computers, and with hands-on and experiential activities. I often was asked to quiet my students down and questioned about my classroom practices by other teachers and administrators. The other teachers did not like how I was teaching-what I was doing but my students did like it . . . a lot. Many students shined in this learning environment especially those who did not fit into or thrive in a traditional classroom. I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing even in these climates where I was an outlier, where my techniques were under constant scrutiny and ongoing questioning. So today, during that podcast, I realized I have been courageous in standing my ground about what I believe encompasses good, student-centered teaching and I also realized that I am proud of that courage. And in this new year, I toast all of those courageous, outlier educators.

Photo Image: http://www.superherolife.com/e-courses/cultivating-courage/

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 23, 2015 at 12:55 am

Educator Actions to Last a Lifetime

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I currently teach graduate level educational technology courses. I like to acknowledge exemplary work by tweeting out the best of the best to my 21,000+ followers.  A past student of mine was asked by one of her current teachers to describe a major positive learning experience in her education and she replied it was my course due to:

A major moment in this course was some validation of my work that I was not used to. A few of my assignments were used as examples, and some were even tweeted out, and retweeted! The fact that a professional in this field (the professor) and others thought my project had real value and took the time to share it thrilled me. That has been one of the best moments in my education, because for the first time I felt my work extended beyond the gradebook. I also felt like my work gave me some validation and confidence that I just might be able to put some things on a resume that might land me a sought after position someday.

. . . and then there was Payton, a gifted 5th graders who spent one day a week with me when I taught in a gifted program. Payton was a quiet and somewhat shy kid. He didn’t make trouble in his regular ed class the other four days per week but he also didn’t excel.  I had a number of robotics kits in the classroom that the kids could select from during our last hour of the day for choice time. Payton, after some weeks of experimenting, ended up creating a solar powered Ferris wheel. His subtle non-verbals indicated to me the pride in his work.  I suggested that he take it outside while the other students were walking to the lunch cafeteria. As they went by, he would demonstrate his creation to them. I hope that this is a memory he takes with him . . . forever.

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. . . and then there was Jose, a tough 6th grader who I had in a gang prevention group. The group of kids were doing a difficult group problem-solving task called Island Hop.  He figured out this task that even adults have had difficulty solving. Upon doing so, he looked up at me. I gave him a big head nod, a smile, and thumbs up. To this day, I remember the look of pride in his face. It was one of those looks that still brings tears to my eyes – seeing the look of self-esteem growth.  I had a hunch this kid didn’t get a lot of positive feedback for pro-social behaviors or for being the smartest in the room, so I hope this moment stayed with him.

I am using these as examples to show the variety of ways to acknowledge exemplary actions and work of learners.  Isn’t this a big part of our responsibilities as an educator to acknowledge learner work that has gone past the normal expectations? I once heard an expression that our actions, even the smallest ones, can change the life and the world of another forever.

I am definitely an advocate of intrinsic motivation – providing students with choices and options so they naturally want to engage in the learning tasks, get joy out of the learning process itself. But I do believe that learners should be acknowledged for exemplary work – especially if it is exemplary for them – providing them with feedback and opportunities to shine for a job well done.  This matches real life where good works are or should be given credit. On the other hand, I don’t go into any learning activity offering learners any type of extrinsic rewards nor with the intention of finding the best work and using it as an example what other learners should be doing. I believe learners are on their learning journeys and should be acknowledged for actions and work that moved them beyond what they personally perceived possible.

Some ways to acknowledge and highlight exemplary learner work include:

  • Intentionally look for those big moments in learners’ lives.
  • Tweet or Blog about exemplary learner work.
  • Write learners personal notes about why you admire their work.
  • Ask learners to show others what they’ve done.
  • Ask learners to present at a virtual or face-to-face conference.
  • Don’t hold exemplary work up as an example of what you expect from other learners.
  • Remember that each learner is on his/her own journey.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 27, 2015 at 2:15 pm

The Educator as a Maker Educator: the eBook

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makered bookcover

I compiled all of my blog posts about Maker Education into an ebook that I published via Amazon Kindle. The price is $3.99.  It can be accessed at http://www.amazon.com/Educator-as-Maker-ebook/dp/B016Z5NZ6O/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

The pieces include theoretical ideas, informal research-observations, ideas related to the educator as a maker educator, the maker education process, suggestions for implementation, and reflecting on the making process. Graphics and infographics created to support the chapter content are included.

The Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • The Perfect Storm for Maker Education
  • Is It Project-Based Learning, Maker Education or Just Projects?
  • Maker Education and Experiential Education
  • MAKE STEAM: Giving Maker Education Some Context
  • The Intersection of Growth Mindsets and Maker Education
  • Becoming a Lifelong Maker: Start Young
  • Making and Innovation: Balancing Skills-Development, Scaffolding, and Free Play
  • Let Children’s Play (with Technology) Be Their Work in Education
  • Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology
  • Educator as a Maker Educator
  • Educator as Lead Learner
  • Promises to My Learners as a Maker Educator
  • The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Tinkering and Maker Education
  • Maker Education: Inclusive, Engaging, Self-Differentiating
  • Team Building Activities That Support Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM
  • Stages of Being a Maker Learner
  • Making MAKEing More Inclusive
  • Example Lesson:  Maker Education Meets the Writers’ Workshop
  • Reflecting on the Making Process

 

Is “Have a Growth Mindset” the New “Just Say No”

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I’ve been interested in the ideas surrounding the growth mindset prior to it being coined as such by Carol Dweck. As part of my studying Education Psychology as part of my Doctoral studies, I delved into studying attribution theory. Attribution theory provides a foundation to the ideas connected to a growth mindset. As such, I have been thrilled about the press it’s getting and I have facilitated several workshops for educators on the growth mindset – see The Education with a Growth Mindset: A Professional Development Workshop.

With all of that said, I am also concerned about the fad of the growth mindset. Bulletin boards, classroom exercises, and catch phrases about the growth mindset are being promoted in lots of school settings.

It is understandable that some may be skeptical of this years buzz phrase. Despite being debunked as pseudo-science, the scars of brain gym and learning styles are still felt in classrooms around the country. Unfortunately, pseudoscience still wastes the time of many, in the form of right brain v left brain myth. So where does Growth Mindset sit within all this? Is it the latest fad or is it something we should all be embracing? (Growth Mindset: The Latest Fad)

Carol Dweck’s expresses some concerns about integrating the growth mindset into educational settings:

A lot of teachers are saying ‘yes I have a growth mindset’, without doing the work and without making a journey to deeply understand it and to know how to apply it. Even some teachers who genuinely have a growth mindset aren’t understanding how to apply it properly. They are just telling kids to try hard: which I call nagging, not growth mindset. Or they are just saying ‘hey kids, have a growth mindset’.(Carol Dweck says mindset is not ‘a tool to make children feel good’)

The faddish or pop culture version of the growth mindset is emerging as: “Have a Growth Mindset.” This smacks of the “Just So No” campaign of the Reagan era.  Catch phrases about a growth mindset will have as much effect on actually developing a growth mindset as just saying no did on curbing drug use.

I mirror Dweck’s concern about educators and learners needing to do the work required to develop a growth mindset. It is a deeply reflective process requiring that this process occur often and over time.

I developed the following graphic as a reflective tool for my college students to assess the amount of effort and work they put into individual assignments:

Growth Mindset_ Personal Accountability and ReflectionThis personal assessment is designed to be used following numerous assignments so learners can continually assess the amount of effort given.

Similar tools can be used with elementary and high school learners as well as by educators themselves so they can (1) assess amount of effort put forth for learning tasks, (2) make personal judgements if this was okay (learner agency), and (3) learn where and how they are engaging in fixed or failure mindset attitudes and behaviors. These tools can include reflective blogs, questions for discussion (like the ones included in my graphic), and personal assessments. Again, this is not a one time occurrence but a process that needs to occur over time.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 4, 2015 at 11:17 pm

Learning About Young Makers

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I am a huge proponent of using hands-on, interactive learning activities to explore ill-defined problems as a way of teaching for all age groups. Given the spontaneity and uncertainty of these types of active learning environments, I believe educators should observe, reflect on, and analyze how learners interact with the materials, the content, the educator, and the other learners. This practice is in line with the teacher as ethnographer.

In my role as a teacher as ethnographer, I made some initial observations during my first two weeks of teaching maker education for elementary age students. With half the kids under 7, I learned a bunch about young makers.

  • Young makers are more capable than what people typically believe.
  • Young makers need to be given more time, resources, strategies to learn how to solve more ambiguous and ill-defined problems (i.e., ones that don’t have THE correct answer). Too many don’t know how to approach such problems.
  • If a project doesn’t “work” during the first trial, they way too often say “I can’t do this.”  They have a low tolerance for frustration; for not getting the answer quickly.
  • Young makers often celebrate loudly and with extreme joy when making something work.
  • Young makers like to work together but lack skills or desire to peer tutor one another.
  • Young makers usually like to stand while working.

Young makers are more capable than what people (adults) typically believe.

During our maker education summer camp, the young makers made LED projects, circuit crafts, and simple robotics. Looking at the instructions for similar activities, the recommended ages were usually 8 and above.  Yet, my group of 14 kids contained half under that age. The kids of all ages struggled a bit – as is common with making type activities but all were successful to some degree with all of the activities.

I believe that children are way too often limited by our (adults’) expectations of what they can and cannot do rather than what they actually can understand and do.

I think we often talk down to children and we think they’re not capable of deeper understanding, and I think that’s false. So we treat them like they’re capable human beings and we use scientific terms and talk to them in a way that they can gain knowledge from those things (Young Learners STEAM Ahead).

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If a project doesn’t “work” during the first trial, they way too often say “I can’t do this.”  They have a low tolerance for frustration; for not getting the answer quickly.

The nature of maker education is that makers engage in activities that require experimentation, trial and error, and multiple attempts.  This is not the norm for kids in mainstream education environments. The curricular activities, worksheets, and tests of our current education system most often include single attempts and then assessments on degree of correctness. Multiple attempts and mastery learning of individual learning activities are not the norm. Life is not filled with getting single correct answers yet we are giving kids an education that there are.

During our maker education weeks, if a project didn’t work on the first attempt, many of the young makers would exclaim, “I can’t do this.”

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One young maker, a 3rd grader, was obviously intelligent and easily jumped into the maker activities. For each of the learning activities, he would try it and more often than not, that activity wouldn’t work correctly the first trial. He would then quickly find me and tell me that activity didn’t work. I asked him if he was used to things working the first time and he responded that they did work for him the first time. Instead of helping him solve the problem, I told him to go work it out for himself. He looked at me with a frustrating and somewhat angry look but each time he went back to that activity and would make that activity work.

The maker education activities help learners discover that perseverance pays off but the educator must let the learners struggle giving them the message that effort often produces positive results. This supports a growth mindset.

In the following video, Carol Dweck talks about making challenge the norm when working with our learners.

 

Young makers need to be given more time, resources, strategies to learn how to solve more ambiguous and ill-defined problems (i.e., ones that don’t have THE correct answer).

Related to the “I can’t do it”, many of the young makers struggled with the strategies needed to solve more ambiguous and ill-defined problems. For example when a circuit or a robotic component didn’t work, they looked to me to resolve the problem for them. Although, I was tempted to go solve it for them, I knew that wasn’t in their best interest. I would say things like, “Give it another try,” ” Try something different,” and “Ask another learner for help.”

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Problem-solving is, and should be, a very real part of the curriculum. It presupposes that students can take on some of the responsibility for their own learning and can take personal action to solve problems, resolve conflicts, discuss alternatives, and focus on thinking as a vital element of the curriculum. It provides students with opportunities to use their newly acquired knowledge in meaningful, real-life activities and assists them in working at higher levels of thinking (Problem Solving).

Young makers often celebrate loudly and with extreme joy when making something work.

There is nothing in the world as magically as watching a young person’s face light up when s/he understands a new concept, gets something to work that hadn’t at first, or discovers something new and exciting. It is those light bulb moments. There were lots of exclaims of “I did it” during the maker activities. These exclamations were especially joyful given that they often struggled in making their projects work (as previously discussed). The joy in their voices and in their faces during those moments cannot be matched and maker education provides lots of opportunities for those moments.

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Giving students time to figure things out for themselves without being instructed, is very powerful learning. They will remember it for the rest of their lives. Students need that kind of lightbulb learning – that Eureka! moment when they suddenly realize something new for the first time (Lightbulb Moments)

Young makers like to work together but lack skills or desire to naturally tutor one another.

As is characteristic of maker activities, some of the kids completed the activities faster than the other kids. One of my themes during the maker education weeks was that if you understood and finished your project quicker than those around you, that you should help them. They would happily help whenever I asked them to but it never came naturally. I had to continue to ask throughout the weeks. Then, at times, they would help for a minute or two and then stop.

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I understand that part of the reason is the developmental nature of younger kids who tend to be more egocentric but I also believe that it is because they aren’t being given the message and opportunities to help fellow students in the more formal classroom.

Giving students the opportunity to practice prosocial behavior is one of the most effective ways to promote it. For example, when having them work in cooperative learning groups—an instructional technique that allows small groups of students to work together on a task—inform students that part of their responsibility as members of the group is to help one another. Scientists have found that students who engage more in cooperative learning are more likely to treat each other with kindness. (Four Ways to Encourage Kindness in Students)

Young makers often stand while working.

Throughout my weeks with the young makers, they always had a chair available to sit to work. Choosing to sit or stand while working was not an option that was overtly stated. Many, though, chose to stand.

The reason this is being mentioned as part of this post is that sitting quietly in one’s chair is the expectation of most schools. Why? It is often not learner’s first choice and sitting at a desk all day may be physically and mentally detrimental. The idea of standing in the classroom was recently addressed in several articles, Should Your Kids’ School Have Standing Desks? and How Standing Desks Can Help Students Focus in the Classroom.

Conclusion

Even though these weeks were considered a maker education summer camp, there was an expectation from the school and parents that the learning activities incorporated the expectations and rigors of a classroom environment. I could easily identify cross-curricular state and common core standards even though I never taught to THE standards. Never during the sessions were the young learners formally testing, asked to be quiet or sit still, or asked to finish quickly so we can move on. Yet, I believe each of the kids would say that they learned lots . . . . and had fun doing so.

Instead, the making learning activities were structured to honor natural ways of learning along with developmentally appropriate practices. Sadly, it appears that some of these natural ways of learning were “conditioned” out of the young learners through more formalized education as I identified in my observations. Incorporating making into a learning environment teaches lifelong learning skills such of perseverance, love of learning, working with others, and embracing challenges.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Being a Growth Mindset Facilitator

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I was asked recently why I have a strong interest and innate understanding of the growth mindset. I believe it comes from a background of being an adventure educator, and even though it was not labeled as such, the adventure educator embraces a growth mindset when working with participants. The underlying tenet of adventure education is “You are capable of so much more than you can even imagine. I believe in you and your capabilities; and I will set up the conditions for you to develop and amplify that same belief in yourself.” quoteThis attitude or mindset was important given that the populations we worked with were especially at-risk: adjudicated youth youth; recovering substance abuse users; victims of domestic violence. Many had lost belief in themselves and developed a failure mindset. Our major goal was to shift that so that participants internalized a growth mindset; one that they would carry over into their everyday lives. Some of the underlying principles of adventure education that drive my process of being a Growth Mindset Facilitator include:

  • You are capable of so much more than you can even imagine.
  • I believe in you and your capabilities even if you don’t, but the ultimate goal is for you to internalize these beliefs.
  • Failure is okay but you need to stand up after you fall/fail.
  • Everyone’s unique self is valued and valuable.
  • Your peers and I will support you as you take risks; attempt new ways of being. It is up to you to decide the type of support you need.
  • Conditions will be set up for you to be challenged. It is up to you to take responsibility to embrace those challenges.
  • You can go beyond your self-perceived limits. I might push you a bit to do so because I believe you can succeed.

facilitating growth mindset

Also see The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop http://wp.me/pKlio-1JD 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 12, 2015 at 11:39 pm

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