When my sister was very young, my mom said her first consistent sentence was “I do it self!” She had a strong internal desire to do things for herself and be independent. This desire to be independent and capable is in all of our students. Unfortunately, we have shifted in education to a culture of it being the teacher’s responsibility to ensure student’s success vs. it being the student’s responsibility to ensure their OWN success. The helicopter, lawnmower, snowplow parent plays a role. The cultural ease of technology doing things for us and instant gratification plays a role. We, as teachers, play a role when we do not expect and empower our students to be independent learners capable of overcoming adversity, growing, and changing.
The growth mindset is a big concept right now and one that I think is essential in the classroom today. Here is a great starter link if you are new to this concept: https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/ and an excellent video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUWn_TJTrnU My opinion is most life-changing educators have always had the growth mindset before it had a trendy name. The growth mindset creates students who have these qualities of independence and grit. I often think of my daughter when I think of this mindset, who is the youngest of 2 much older brothers. We, like most families today, have an insane schedule of school, sports, family, homework, etc. Partially because she genetically inherited the “I do it self” mentality and partially because of these factors, she is incredibly independent. Last year, when she was in 1st grade, I started telling her when she problem solved something on her own (because I think I am waaayyy funnier than I am) that she would survive the zombie apocalypse. She then went to school and wrote a fantasy story about zombies. As she excitedly told me about it, I was mortified and told her to immediately go to school the next day and tell her amazing teacher that I did not and had not ever let her watch zombie movies. It was just a joke I liked to say. She smiled angelically and said “Yes you did, mama. Remember, we watched Zombies vs. Cheerleaders on Disney?” Sigh…never mind. Funny story aside, I am proud of her independence and problem solving ability that allows her to do some amazing things at such a young age.
As a teacher, I have always been known for high expectations and developing a strong internal motivation and work ethic. As a 5th grade teacher, I feel this charge to prepare my students for the transition to middle school and life. I am not always successful in this, but it is a major goal for me each year. Here is a short list of things I think all teachers should do to create the “I do it self” mentality.
- Use communication tools to make sure students, parents, and other staff are crystal clear about tasks, due dates, directions, and expectations. Agendas, emails, weekly newsletters, google classroom/microsoft teams announcements, whatever combination works for your classroom – use it consistently!
- Accept no excuses. This sounds harsh, but if you use the clearly communicated systems in place with no excuses allowed they will rise to the occasion. Use failures as an opportunity for the growth mindset to be practiced.
- Accommodate and Modify with explicit instruction. Wait a minute, didn’t I just say accept no excuses? Yep – but not every student is there YET. Students with special needs, in intervention processes, with significant behavioral/emotional needs, or massive organization issues may need modified expectations at the BEGINNING of the year. Again, communicate explicitly with parents and other staff, but set their bar where they can reach it WITH EFFORT, explicitly teach them what to do, and keep raising the bar. (Example of this: I had a student a couple of years ago who was on the autism spectrum and had never been able to log into his own school computer. I knew this child regularly accessed the internet on his mom’s phone. I thought if he can do that, he can log in. So, we wrote his log in information in large font on an index card, taped it to his desk, and had his special education teacher, classmates, and myself repeatedly direct him on how to log in. This took less than 2 days and he could log in to every computer and program needed.)
- Create a system for how students independently monitor their work for completion according to directions, how/where/when they turn it in, and what happens if it is late or missing. Once you set these systems in place and communicate them explicitly. Go back to #2 and #3, but hold the kids to the systems you create. My son’s middle school math teacher has this amazing system where students turn their work into one of 3 bins “Totally have it, I need some help, or I am lost”. This allows the teacher to know who needs them but EXPECTS the students to know and ask for assistance on their own.
- Don’t chase after students but expect them to do their part. My husband is huge on kids asking questions. I believe that taking academic risks is essential. So, set up students to do their part rather than you chasing them. Cooperative learning, asking good questions, answer banks to self-check work, help stations, whatever works for you – put it into place so students do their part to work independently.
- Know the difference between guided practice, independent work, and assessment. Guided practice happens right after my instruction. Together, with me moving around, I am helping students who need it. This might be a small group at my table that I invite or students ask to be a part of or me roaming the room. I am fully accessible to students at this time. Independent work time requires students to be INDEPENDENT! Each year, I do a system called “Try 3 and then try Mrs. B” where we brainstorm how students will problem solve during independent time. They must tell me the 3 things they have tried to do to solve their own problem BEFORE they come and ask me for help. This is when I expect and create a community of cooperative learning. Students can and should be helping each other during independent practice. Finally, assessment…totally alone. During assessments, I will NOT read a child the directions, answer a question about the actual assessment, or give any other assistance (of course, this does not apply with IEP’s or 504’s require specific testing modifications). I tell them this up front. We practice specific strategies for test taking. However, they have to have the stamina and problem solving to make it through the panic or confusing times in an assessment or I simply will not know what they have mastered and what they have not. We also do student data analysis consistently in class so this growth mindset allows them to learn from their mistakes. Test corrections are an excellent tool for students to earn back points AND practice the growth mindset. Here is a new package from Authentic Teaching Teachers Pay Teachers. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Test-Corrections-and-Assessment-Data-Review-4885164
Colleges and Universities today are reporting a generation of incoming students without basic tools to overcome adversity in life or their learning. While it may seem that stopping our kids from experiencing hardship, pain, and difficulty is our goal; it in fact may cause them significant, life long damage. We need to foster the “I do it self” mentality so that every child feels proud of who they are and what they can do…maybe to survive the zombie apocalypse…or maybe to be successful students and people!