Friday, July 18, 2014

Step Inside

At a recent book club where we were discussing Paul Tough's book, How Children Succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character, someone pointed out that "Chapter 4 says these character traits are hard to teach as students get older and lack of motivation affects GPA for many students." He then followed up with the question, "Should character education start in elementary school and how could that happen and why is it important?"

After working in a Primary Years Program of the International Baccalaureate for the last three years, I feel that our school does a wonderful job with character education, since much importance is placed on students' development of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile and the PYP attitudes. To answer the question then, from the perspective of the book's author, I boiled character teaching and learning down to these three steps:
  1. Teach character.
  2. Expose kids to "child-sized adversity" and (sometimes) let them fail.
  3. Let them make their own decisions.
Quickly though, I realized these steps follow a traditional teaching model. From an inquiry stance though, a teacher would inversely follow the steps above:
  1. Let students make their own decisions in authentic situations.
  2. Thereby exposing kids to "child-sized adversity" and (sometimes) letting them fail.
  3. Teach character by providing students with feedback.
These steps don't just work for character education though. In a PYP, teachers are charged to teach this way all the time. In a blog post dated February 13, 2014, I wrote about the power of providing feedback to 4th graders on their personal narratives. I wrote about how Professor John Hattie found that providing students with effective feedback has a high influence over student achievement (for a summary of his findings, check out this infographic but to read more in-depth about feedback, check out pages 129-154 of Hattie's book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing impact on learning).

Paul Tough, Angela Duckworth (a researcher whose TED talk about grit is amazing), and MANY others have referenced Carol Dweck's research when discussing the key to students' success. Overly simplified, Dweck's idea is that a growth mindset involves believing that one's intelligence is not fixed and that growth and learning require effort.

Therefore, for students to be truly open-minded enough to receive the feedback Hattie is promoting teachers give, which will undoubtedly help them grow and learn their character AND their intelligence, students must adopt a growth mindset.

In order to investigate this mindset with students, I guided students through the thinking routine "Step Inside" multiple times. This thinking routine comes from Making Thinking Visible: How to provide engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison (p. 178-184).

During this thinking routine, students are asked to think about a person that is connected to what they are examining. They are instructed to "step inside" the situation to see things from the person's point of view. To do this, students answer the following:
  1. What can this person see, observe, or notice?
  2. What might the person know, understand, hold true, or believe?
  3. What might the person care deeply about?
  4. What might the person wonder about or question?
Following the simple inquiry cycle developed by teachers at my school, I first wanted to INVITE students into the inquiry by answering the above questions from the perspective of a person with a growth mindset.

I showed them this:

Together, we created this.

The next day, we entered into the INVESTIGATE stage of the inquiry cycle. To investigate a growth mindset, I showed them this video:

Again, we used the Step Inside thinking routine to dig deeper into growth mindset, coupled with Chalk Talk, another thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible: How to provide engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison (p. 78-85).

And then synthesized all their ideas into this:

Lastly, we entered into the DEMONSTRATE phase of the inquiry cycle, the step where learners are given opportunities to demonstrate their newly gained understanding.

To see whether or not they truly understood the concept of a growth mindset, I had the kids "Step Inside" themselves and record their thinking in their notebooks. Below are a few samples.

After reading about how sixth graders used the thinking routine Step Inside to better understand the perspective of a growth mindset and thus ready themselves to receive feedback which has proven effective at increasing student achievement and success, how could your students use the thinking routine Step Inside?

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