Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Time" In the Classroom

The idea of wait time or think time isn't new to teachers, but it is worth revisiting. Mary Budd Rowe is credited with creating the term, wait time in the early 1970s and her research still holds true today. She found the average time between a teacher's question and student response is rarely more than 1.5 seconds.  When teachers increase the time to 3-5 seconds, Rowe found concrete benefits for both students and teachers.
 For Students:  
• The length and correctness of their responses increases.
• The number of "I don't know" and no answer responses decreases.
• The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students greatly increases.
• The scores of students on academic achievement tests tend to increase.

For Teachers:  
• Questioning strategies tend to be more flexible and varied.
• The quantity of questions decrease while the quality and variety increase.
• Questions often require more complex information processing and higher level thinking on the part of the students.

Following up on Rowe's research, Robert Stahl constructed the term "think time"- uninterrupted quiet time (silence) by teacher and students.  Like Stahl and many others, think time resonates for me because it implies an active time to process information, whereas "wait time" is more passive and doesn't encourage continued mental engagement.  As with the earlier research, Stahl found 3-5 seconds gives enough time for nearly everyone to consider what's being asked and formulate a response.  Stahl identified a variety of times when short periods of silence are useful instructional tools:

1.  After a teacher asks a question
2.   When a student hesitates while answering, refrain from jumping in (teacher & classmates)
3.  After a student answers (allows for elaboration and other students to respond)
4.  Pause time before speaking (gives teachers & students time to consider what they are going to say)
5.  Short pauses during a presentation (allows for consolidation of information)
6.  Within instruction (to grab the attention/set up anticipation of students)
7.  Before partner work (give a specific amount of time for each student to think individually)

Think time takes discipline and restraint!  Having said that, it seems to relate to mindfulness, and slowing the pace of our classrooms down.  The idea of "think time" resonates deeply for me on a personal level, too.  Because I think internally, in school I didn't feel as smart as the kids whose hands shot up right away and had lots to say.  Like many of our elementary students, I believed fast = smart.  Just think about the potential impact 3 seconds can have on the quieter students in your class!

As good teachers, I know you already use wait time.  My challenge to you is to look for opportunities to intentionally incorporate think time into your classroom culture - insert 3-5 seconds of silence and then notice the changes that result.  Share you idea in the comments on this post so our colleagues can follow up with you.

Personal/Professional Growth:

Using "Think Time" and "Wait Time" Skillfully in the Classroom
The Wonder of Wait Time!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mindset Part 2: Effort & Learning

I recently came across the idea of effort in a blog post on the Mindset Works site. A key point of the article discusses a child's ability to grasp and evaluate effort.  The author believes some children may not have an understanding of what "effort" (as adults think of it) looks and feels like.  Such students may believe the job of getting the page filled in is enough - whether they "borrow" work from a neighbor, get answers from a peer, or fill things in with the purpose of getting the task done.  Other children may come from a more fixed mindset framework, avoiding a challenge, or giving up when something feels hard.

Perhaps the core problem for both children is knowing about what the author calls effective effort, which is both purposeful and targeted.  Some of the best examples of effective effort I can think of come from athletes and musicians. Their practice and effort is very directed; focusing on one small thing at a time - they analyze what went right and what wasn't quite right; attempt a new strategy at the point of error; and try again.  To illustrate this point, I found a quote from the Bulletproof Musician:
          Deliberate practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, which is, for lack           of a better words, scientific.  Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful           process of experimentation with clear goals and hypotheses. 

Systematic, structured, trial and error vs. active and thoughtful, clear goals and hypothesis are words that gave me pause.  In my own life, when I take on that frame of reference, I feel more successful and the "mistake/error" feels more manageable. The Mindset Works Blog has an effective effort rubric, set up from the perspective of a fixed, mixed, and growth mindset.  Depending on your students' understanding and readiness, it can be a wonderful instructional tool.

As teachers, we have the opportunity to help our children develop a habit of the mind similar to a musician/athlete and to deepen their ability to self-reflect, while normalizing errors and learning about effective effort.  Coaching a child to identify what worked, what didn't, decide what to change, and its projected outcome has the potential to help our students find great satisfaction and joy on the path of lifelong learning.

If the idea of mindsets resonates with you, I encourage you to take a peek at Mindset Works Blog.  You can sign up to receive their newsletter and take advantage of the resources on their site for free.  Mindset Works  was co-founded by Carol Dweck; the source of information is sound and research-based.

Personal/Professional Growth:
The Mindset Works article on Effective Effort
Effective Effort Rubric
Mindset Works Blog
Resources for Teachers - Mindset Works
Targeted Practice - (NY Times article)
Growth Mindset Video (2 minutes)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

"Not Yet" - Reframing Mindsets for Teaching and Learning

When Carol Dweck's book about growth mindset came out in 2007, it was heralded as a must read for educators.  The "soundbite" of advice for teachers and parents involved praising effort (not intelligence).  The practice promised to help change a child's preconceived idea about their intelligence or skills - moving them from a "fixed" mindset to a "growth" mindset.  Her ideas made sense from my experience with young children who seemed to already know who the "smart kids" were in a class.  I remember talking with my own adult children about changing their parenting language from, "That's so smart," to comments such as, "You really stuck with that and worked hard."

Misconceptions and oversimplifications of the original work, have caused Dweck and her colleagues to revisit the idea of "growth mindset".  You can hear some of her new thinking in the 2014 Ted Talk as she talks about the power of adding, "Yet," or "Not yet," to feedback and the implications these small words have in leading our brains toward future thinking and a belief in self-improvement.

In an September 2015 article published in Education Week, Dweck talks of the complexities surrounding the topic.  She specifically addressed what has happened in the years since her original mindset book was published.  Two points stuck with me.  The first was reminding readers the true goal of effort is learning.  Dweck suggests adding, "Now let's talk about what you tried and what you might try next."  This aspect of coaching in a growth mindset approach helps children embrace struggles and setbacks as part of learning.

Another point of resonance for me was "everyone has a combination of both fixed and growth mindsets."   Maintaining a growth mindset means learning to pay attention to when self-talk comes from a fixed place.  Dweck's website offers specific steps and examples of thoughts emanating from a fixed mindset voice and how to practice countering the fixed message.

As role models for our students, deepening our understanding of Dweck's new thinking is worth our time and attention.  Reading about her revised thinking is a wonderful example of her own journey in the area of mindsets and lifelong learning.

Ideas for Classroom Application:
•Use the "growth mindset" side from Carol Dweck's chart below in helping children with their internal scripts.

•Take another peek at the video of a 2nd grade teacher helping her class understand that struggles, setbacks and justifying one's thinking is part of learning.

•A mindset visual for use with your students:
Image captured from:

Personal/Professional Growth:
•To read more about Dweck's work and/or take a mindset quiz, check out her Mindset website.
•Watch the 2014 TedTalk video.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Normalizing "Mistakes"

I've seen this sign on classroom walls this year:
Cute sign, right?  But underneath what we say about mistakes, do we really believe it?  After all, many children and most adults tend to view mistakes as something negative and want to avoid making them or talking about them.  I started wondering, "Why is that?"

Google "mistake definition"- and this pops up:
  1. 1.
    an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong.

The harshness of that definition affirmed why folks seem to be naturally adverse to making mistakes!  Who wants to feel misguided or just plain wrong?!?  I kept looking and found a definition that was more palatable.  Here's one from


an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poorreasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.
a misunderstanding or misconception.
This is more in line with how we talk with children about mistakes and the framework I try and use for myself.  An error caused by faulty reasoning, insufficient knowledge, and (even) carelessness, or a misunderstanding/misconception implies learning and revising one's thinking so the mistake isn't repeated.  (On a side note, it also reminded me of the power of word choice!)

I started wondering what would happen if we incorporated the definition in thinking "out loud" about mistakes with our students.  Would it aid our attempts to embrace mistakes as part of the learning process rather than hide them?  So, I decided to try something different.  When I was knocked out of the "king" box while playing 4-Square with second graders, I commented, "Oops, my mistake was not concentrating on the ball.  Next time I have to keep my focus."  With a kindergartener, "That fell apart because we didn't know how much support the structure needed.  Let's fix that mistake and try it again!"  

My current thinking is to try pairing the word "mistake" with the cause of the error and then make an explicit connection to the revised thinking/reasoning.  It might just help mistakes feel as everyday as we want them to be for our students (and for us).  In the meantime, I've order a book called Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefit of Being Wrong by Aliva Tuglend.  I'll let you know what I learn!

Further Exploration of the Topic:

•A 6 minute video from the Teaching Channel of a second grade teacher normalizing struggle and making mistakes.

Read Aloud Titles for Children:
Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg (first grade teachers have a copy)
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak (Available in the LS library.  It's a great book in general.  A few pages in the middle of the book relate to mistakes and the brain.)
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett (coming soon to our library)
Amazon has a Spanish version

Monday, October 19, 2015

New Blog!

After spending a week in Maryland this summer immersed in All Kinds of Minds training, I knew one of my 2015-16 job targets needed to be about sharing information related to teaching and learning with our staff.  To that end, I have started a blog for teachers.  My intention is to post something bi-weekly on Thursdays.  Topics will be research-based (often directly related to brain research), with classroom applications and links for further reading.

There are so many ideas, choosing where to start has been daunting!  Send me an email if you have a special interest area you would like to learn more about.  The first blog post will be this Thursday - about Mindset and Making Mistakes.

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