I met Keegan on parent night in my classroom with his father. The jokes I tell to introduce myself didn’t produce even a hint of a smile in Keegan. He seemed to have lost the sparkle of childhood. I’m not sure how that happened.
On the first day of school, Keegan was back. Unchanged. I started the year teaching the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset. Almost the whole class learned how the effort and determination they put into a lesson and their classwork determines their success. It’s not intelligence that’s the determining factor, but grit and perseverance. All the while, Keegan has his head on the desk.
During a partnering activity to review one important thing they learned, I hear Keegan say, “I got nothing”.
The next day, I have my students examine the effort and understanding rubric that I implement with every lesson. They work with partners with a T-chart that examines what the highest effort looks like and sounds like in the classroom. (The maximum is not understanding everything—it’s asking questions when something is unclear.) Keegan perks up a little. I see a small spark in there.
We continue with practice in small group using the rubric along with thinking about a growth mindset. Keegan starts to ask questions, simple questions, like “Where do I put this?” or “Which part do we complete?” and then my other struggling students at the teacher table begin to ask questions, too. One by one, they admit how they’re usually afraid to ask questions in front of others because they’re shy, or don’t want to seem stupid. Keegan nods in agreement.
They’re learning that a growth mindset means asking questions. If they don’t ask questions, they’re not trying.
The next day, Keegan is writing in his journal while I’m talking about persevering. I worry that he’s just doodling, but as I walk around his desk, I see he’s writing down the definition of perseverance.
While it’s still very early in the year, I have hope. Between self-evaluation and the importance of questions, the growth mindset is overcoming poor habits and shyness in my students. Some arrive with sparks already; but those without are beginning to brighten.
This morning, a poem by Mary Oliver feels exactly right. One stanza reads,
My heart is falling asleep
And it wants to wake up.
I’m working on it, Keegan. I’m working on it.