School Week Round-Up: Week Eleven

Week one-million! Okay, I’m exaggerating, it’s only week eleven. But this is one of those weeks where it feels like forever.

Lessons: First graders are using Google Drive this week for the first time with me, particularly Google Slides. I showed them how to add shapes and change their size and color. Many of them figured out how to add text on their own, and that knowledge spread. That kind of thing is so interesting to observe, since it gives me an idea on what I can expect out of them in the future.

Support: So our school district got more bandwidth, and it’s such a relief. Things are just going more smoothly as a result.

Things I Did Well: This week I felt good in my own skin, which is not really a professional victory, but it is professional-adjacent. I am very aware of how enclothed cognition impacts my attitude. In fact, when I’m feeling my worst, I’m usually dressing my best. My “best” might not be the most professional clothes I own, but clothes that make me feel good about myself.

Things I Will Do Better: I definitely felt a bit grumpy and short-tempered this week. One of the things I’m very aware of as a teacher is how my reactions to things often have a lot less to do with students, and more to do with me myself. For example, one day I might be absolutely fine with a lot of noise. But maybe the next day I’ve got a headache and would really prefer it more quiet. But those kinds of things are not things kids can know about me, especially since those are often things I’m only aware of in myself if I’m paying attention. It would be unfair to punish students one day for behavior that was acceptable the day before. So I try to pay attention to myself; accept support when it comes (like relying on other teachers to step up during bus dismissal); and, when reasonable, communicate directly with students about what I might be feeling without making them responsible for my feelings.

To be perfectly honest, this is one of the reasons I find a class pet to be useful. It’s not really appropriate to say to kids, “Hey, I need you to chill today, because I’m PMSing really bad.” Somehow, though, it seems okay (if still manipulative) to put that on the lizard. “Hey, Qwerty seems to be really grouchy today, so maybe we should try to be extra-quiet?” It works the other way too. Sometimes when I notice a student having an off day, I tell them Qwerty is having an off day, could they please give him a pep talk? Obviously he listens (what choice does he have) but really they’re giving the pep talk to themselves. It’s not a foolproof plan, but it gives kids the chance to put their feelings into words, identify with their feelings, and decide what to do with or about those feelings.

Cold Prickly: Diffusion of responsibility. Our dismissal duties are shared among a wide pool of people, largely to make sure there’s always someone there. But sometimes it feels like there are more people than needed to accomplish a task. For example, for car rider dismissal, there are four or five teachers who man the walkie-talkies and communicate about the specific kids to send out, and when. But there’s only four walkie-talkies, so the other teachers at that duty mind the children as they’re called. As time has gone by, children became accustomed to the routine and are pretty chill now. So, from the outside looking in, it appears as though the child-minding teachers are socializing with each other at least as much as they’re actually minding the children. I don’t begrudge them this, because they also rotate in and out with the walkie-talkie teachers.

In fact, I don’t even have car rider duty. I have a bus duty, where we gather two busloads of students in the cafeteria and dismiss them from there. I took this duty because I had a better ability than other teachers to get there in a timely manner, otherwise groups of students were reaching the cafeteria before teachers were and were unsupervised until an adult arrived. This week, there was a combination of circumstances where I was the only teacher in there for far too long. I could tell it was too long because our buses were waiting outside, but I couldn’t actually take the children to the bus without leaving the other busload of children unsupervised. I had to call the office and ask them to use the announcements system to summon others to the cafeteria.

Now, I don’t know why the other teachers didn’t show, or showed so late. Maybe some were on their way when I had the announcement made. But it seemed to me to be a problem with the diffusion of responsibility. I was raised in a large family; often there would be an important chore that needed done. But you would look at the stack of dishes in the sink, calculate how many other people lived in the house, and think to yourself, “There are x number of people who can and probably will do that; therefore I do not have to.” I think bus duty has become the same way. The people who take on the most active roles are the ones most consistently there. Others feel that, since those other people are there to get things done, they’re less necessary and it won’t be a huge loss if they don’t show. I think this is fine for individuals to experience on occasion, but when many or even most people experience it on the same day, it can lead to big problems.

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Warm Fuzzy: My poop emoji hairstyle I wore on October 31st. I sat in a meeting for 30 minutes before any other adults noticed it, and the one who did thought it was a little monster. But kids recognized what it was instantly.

Ain’t I a stinker?

Snap ‘Em Outta That Funk

On Not Always Right, a submitter tells the story of how they turned a cranky regular into a smooth customer. The submitter, who works at a sandwich shop, admits from the start that she “pretty much hates” the customer, who frequently snaps and groans. But one day when she sees him coming, “instead of bracing for the worst, I physically relax myself and put on a big, tired smile.”

“I’m glad you’re the next customer… you’re pretty low key when someone messes up because you totally get that it’s not on purpose… I’m just glad I’ve got a pleasant friendly face to deal with right now. You’re one of my easy customers, and I appreciate it.

The submitter admits she is lying, but her words have the desired effect anyway. “Every other time after that he came in, he WAS, FOR REAL, the most low-key, pleasant customer I had.”

She changed the customer’s attitude towards her by telling him that he was low-key, friendly, and pleasant. The customer then saw himself as low-key, friendly, and pleasant, and changed his behavior to match his new perception of himself. It’s a case of the Benjamin Franklin Effect in action.

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The title of the story on Not Always Right is, “It’s a Retail Thing,” but I would argue that it’s an education thing, too. I can’t be the only teacher ever to turn a disruptive student into an trusted one by giving them extra responsibilities around the classroom. Or to help a struggling student keep going by telling them how impressed I am with their persistence.

How have you used the Benjamin Franklin Effect to help you out in your classroom management?

My Little Pony: Mindset is Magic

Carol Dweck is a researcher particularly into the areas of motivation, personality, and development. She’s done numerous studies and wrote a book, but her ideas about fixed mindset versus growth mindset really, really caught on since her TED talk last year.

So (and I am taking great liberties in paraphrasing), one’s mindset dictates how they think, feel, and act in every aspect of their lives. One might have a fixed mindset and believe their traits and talents are permanently set. Or, one might have a growth mindset and believe traits and talents can change with effort.

And naturally that makes me think of My Little Pony.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is the current iteration of a popular toy and cartoon franchise that I think motivated me to get potty-trained back in the eighties, so maybe that’s why research on motivation brings it to mind. Just kidding. Actually, I think it’s the cutie marks. Cutie marks (a play on the phrase “beauty marks”) are images that appear on a My Little Pony’s flank. These are often pictorial representations of the pony’s name. My favorite one as a kid was Moondancer; I remember she had a crescent moon and three stars as her cutie mark.

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I spotted this pony cosplaying as Moondancer at the county fair a couple years ago.

But cutie marks can also indicate something that the pony is particularly good at, or associated with. Applejack, who works on an apple farm, has apples for her mark. Fluttershy, who works with animals, has three butterflies. There are even characters called the Cutie Mark Crusaders who do not yet have cutie marks (I guess it’s a coming of age thing), but continuously try new hobbies and explore new interests in case that is where there cutie marks will come from.

So what does this have to do with a fixed or growth mindset?

Well, first there’s the idea that a pony’s cutie mark is somehow pre-destined. This would fit into the fixed mindset mentality, that talents are something you’re born with, something innate, and something that cannot be changed.

However, once you actually watch the show (because you have an eight-year-old niece), this is not an entirely comprehensive understanding of it. Yes, many of the ponies have cutie marks that relate to their talents and interests. But for even many of the ponies there for set dressing, the cutie mark is not the be-all and end-all to who that pony really is.

There is more to a fixed mindset than believing in natural abilities. Someone with a fixed mindset might give up quickly on something they’re not good at when they first try. They stick with what they know because they believe their potential is static.

Main character Twilight Sparkle seems to have that mindset in the beginning of the show. The first episode shows that she’s very bright and academically inclined. She is referred to as a gifted student who is very talented at using magic. She is even mentored by Princess Celestia, the ruler of the land — who tells her that “there is more to life… than studying” and assigns her some homework most unusual: to make friends. The point of the show is that Twilight Sparkle learns how to make friends and then nurture and maintain those relationships, while her friends also learn valuable life lessons. So while Twilight Sparkle does have a natural inclination towards book learning rather than social interaction, she does learn to be a good friend (and learn to love it, too). This is an example of a growth mindset — recognizing that some people are born with talents, but that you can sculpt your talent through experience and effort. Attitude affects aptitude.

I also appreciate the fact that ponies who have special talents and interests do not necessarily make their living off these special talents and interests. Rarity the unicorn is a fashion designer and seamstress who runs her own business. Her special talent is finding gemstones. She uses this talent in service of her passion, rather than building her business on this ability. Pinkie Pie is another example — her ability to throw awesome parties can come in handy, but she still has a day job at the bakery.

Supposedly it is preferable for people to have a growth mindset — it helps us be persistent, to be open to new experiences, to learn better from failure, and have better self-esteem. Knowing that, though, it is difficult to nurture a growth mindset in young learners, often because adults model a fixed mindset themselves. In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the pony peers do a good job of praising one another’s efforts while also acknowledging their innate strengths. Ponies often struggle with a concept before they master it, and these concepts frequently have to do with social and emotional learning. They cooperate more often than they compete; they make room for making mistakes in their relationships, because they know perfection is an untenable expectation to have of themselves and of each other.

 

So, overall, I feel like this is a good cartoon to watch with your kids (and nieces, they also matter!). The characters do a good job of challenging our expectations of them, and modeling different ways to learn positive character traits. Two hooves up!

I Was Right About the Boots

I got in a straight-up argument with a child the other week. I am not proud.

I told him that I liked his new cowboy boots. He seemed affronted, and told me his shoes were not boots. They were shoes.

Which was confusing, because they definitely looked like this:
cowboy-boot-1425028-639x650According to me, his shoes were boots because they came up over his ankles. According to him, though, they were not boots because the bottoms were smooth — the soles had no treads.

Before we could decide what to call his shoes, we had to agree on the definition of boots. And though I could call up class dictionaries and Internet resources, that doesn’t do much to convince a seven-year-old whose definition is derived directly from his life experiences. I repeat: it is useless to have even the most authoritative lexical wordbook when faced with a second grader’s logic. It’s not that they don’t respect or recognize the authority; it’s that they don’t get it. In the absence of direct instruction re: what boots are, he came to a logical conclusion based on his own observations of the world.

Is this a big deal? It is if you’re not aware of it. We had a debate over what to call his shoes, and it went on embarrassingly long before I realized we had different definitions. Different definitions, different starting points. He doesn’t have the same decades of experience as I do. And simply lording my knowledge over him doesn’t make him more interested in learning. People tend to double down on wrong beliefs when they are presented with evidence to the contrary — it’s called the backfire effect.

I don’t know how to get around the backfire effect. Spending fifteen minutes arguing with a kid in the hall does not do it. I do know that sometimes we develop wrong beliefs, and that we need to unlearn them.

And it’s not always the kids with the wrong belief that need unlearning. Sometimes the one who needs to unlearn is the grownup.

(Not about the boots, though. I was right about the boots.)