‘My favorite no’

In what she calls “my favorite no,” math teacher Leah Alcala shows students how to learn from mistakes.

Teaching ‘grit’

Teaching “grit” – resilience, persistence, conscientiousness — is the topic of an Education Week roundtable.

Teaching non-cognitive skills blames the victim, writes Darnell Fine, a “multicultural educator who facilitates creative writing and education seminars, as well as social justice workshops.” Low-income kids shouldn’t have to adopt middle-class values, he argues.

The teaching of non-cognitive skills pushes a socialization process that homogenizes students into the mainstream culture if they want to “succeed.” These skills send cultural messages on how a student exhibits “good behavior.” They are built upon mainstream beliefs and values that could prove to be culturally irrelevant. Are low-income students therefore “bad” when they don’t assume mainstream society’s cultural ethos?

I hope Fine’s students enjoy being poor because they’re likely to stay that way.

Alison Wright, a math teacher, takes a more pragmatic approach to teaching her students to learn from mistakes, persist etc.

Last week, I gave a short 10-question quiz in my Algebra 2 class. Student A and Student B both received a score of 6/10. Student A looked at the paper, rolled her eyes, threw the quiz on the floor, and loudly complained that the assessment was unfair and “shouldn’t count.” Student B, on the other hand, read my comments, reworked the problems to find her mistakes, and then after class asked to set up an after-school meeting so we could go over the assessment together and discuss her study habits.

She wonders how she can help Student A “improve her motivation, self-efficacy and overall academic drive.”

“Self-efficacy” or “efficacious thinking” means the belief that what a person does makes a difference. If I do the homework and pay attention in class, I’ll learn something. If I study for the test, I’ll do better on it. Kids taught they’re the helpless victims of social injustice will see no point in working hard in school or even showing up every day. Why exhibit “good behavior” when you have no chance to “succeed.”

Teaching the core — and social competence

California educators are trying to integrate social and emotional learning into Common Core Standards, reports EdSource Today.

SACRAMENTO – School is nothing if not an intensely social experience, which is why teacher Michelle Flores posed this question to 24 third graders at Aspire Capitol Heights Academy: “When someone makes a mistake, what do we say?”

“That’s cool,” the third graders responded in unison. “We are experts at making mistakes,” said Flores, who incorporates social and emotional instruction, including the idea that making a mistake is not cause for embarrassment, into academics at the charter school using an approach called Responsive Classroom.

Students need to work in teams, understand different perspectives and persevere in solving problems, said Nancy Markowitz, director of the Collaborative for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child at San Jose State University. “To be able to do a ‘pair-share’ in class, where each kid takes a different perspective on the Civil War, listens, empathizes, and represents her point of view, the prerequisite is that students know how to share ideas,” she said.

Flores’s third graders use “professional discourse” and “academic discourse” to discuss math.

“Javon, why do you concur with my thinking?” asked Meranza, who stood beside a document camera and an overhead projector to explain her math results. “I concur with your thoughts because,” began Javon, launching into a math proof.

“Could you please project your voice, Meranza?” asked Niema. “Absolutely,” replied Meranza. “It would be my pleasure to.”

I’m not sure if this is social and emotional learning or just good manners, but I like it.

Parents, let your kids fail

Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail, writes Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

Thirteen years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, stumbling around my classroom on wobbly legs, I had to call a students’ mother to inform her that I would be initiating disciplinary proceedings against her daughter for plagiarism, and that furthermore, her daughter would receive a zero for the plagiarized paper.

“You can’t do that. She didn’t do anything wrong,” the mother informed me, enraged.

“But she did. I was able to find entire paragraphs lifted off of web sites,” I stammered.

“No, I mean she didn’t do it. I did. I wrote her paper.”

Overprotective parents are raising their children without “the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure,” writes Lahey.

It’s hard to teach children who’ve been shielded from frustration and failure. Kids can’t learn from their mistakes if their parents never let them make any.

. . . teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.

Her students who are “happiest and successful in their lives” are the ones  who were “allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.”

 

My Favorite No

My Favorite No features the warm-up routine of an eighth-grade math teacher whose school couldn’t afford clickers. Student analyze what’s right and wrong about a classmate’s wrong answer.

Alexander Russo calls it “my kind of flipped classroom.”

In praise of failure

For an inventor, “failures are just problems that have yet to be solved,” writes John Dyson in Wired. It took 5,127 prototypes and 15 years to get his vacuum right.

Dyson’s new engineering foundation encourages “hands-on creative thinking through design and engineering,” rather than prescriptive learning, he writes.  He wants kids to tackle problems, make mistakes and keep going.

Learning is ‘persistence through failure’

As a second-year teacher of fifth-grade special education students, Mark Anderson often feels like a failure. He hasn’t mastered the “pedagogical and content master of all subject areas” or learned how to meet all of his students social and emotional needs. Also, “I’m not Superman.” But that’s OK.  “Learning is fundamentally about persistence through failure,” he writes on Gotham Schools.

Anderson was inspired by Rita Smilkstein’s “We Were Born to Learn,” which calls for “making mistakes, correcting mistakes, learning from them, and trying over, again and again.”

He also quotes Deborah Meier, from her book on trust in schools:

There is no way to avoid doing something dumb when you are inexperienced or lacking in knowledge, except by not trying at all, insisting you don’t care or aren’t interested, thinking the task itself is dumb (not you), or trying secretly so no one can catch your mistakes — or offer you useful feedback. Of course, these are the excuses we drive most kids into when they don’t trust us enough to make mistakes in our presence.

As he learns to be a teacher, Anderson makes mistakes.  He tells students when he’s made a mistake and what he’s learned from it.

The important part of learning is not that we fail, nor even that we fail over and over again. The important part is that we persist. And with time and the proper support, anyone can get better.

Of course, learning from failure is a skill.