- Need for approval
- Desire for external validation
- Fear of failure
As educators, it is our profound responsibility to activate and exercise students’ thinking skills every day. Peer group discussions, based on open-ended questions, can get kids engaged with current events, especially if we don’t start out with lectures.
Making Politics RELEVANT for the Purpose of Activating and Exercising Middle Schoolers’ Thinking Skills
The GOP’s recent use of the Nuclear Option, in order to blast through the Democrats’ attempt to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, offers plenty of potential to increase kids’ awareness and involvement with the world they’re growing into – if we open the subject by establishing relevance. (Actually, when it comes to successfully educating today’s youth, nothing – NOTHING – is a more essential responsibility of teachers than establishing relevance.)
Suggestions for Open-Ended Questions to Activate and Exercise Thinking Skills for Relevant Peer Group Discussions
(Start broadly in order to create relevance through known associations.)
- Have you ever been playing a game with some kids, and out of no where one (or more of them) announced different rules? Who has a story about a time like that?
- How did you react? If other kids were involved, how did they react to the sudden rule changes?
- WHY do you think that person (or people) made that sudden rule change? HOW did they justify their new rule to you (and to the other players)?
- Did their justifications (reasons) make sense to you? Why or why not?
- What happened next?
- Name some of your favorite sports and favorite teams. What is it that you like most about those sports / those teams / those players? Share some specifics with the rest of our group.
- Is there anything you don’t like about those sports / those teams / those players? Share some specifics with the rest of our group.
- What does the term “Nuclear Option” mean? (Encourage students to say the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear that term. Be open to all their contributions. Explain that you’re all exploring new ideas together – so “mistakes” demonstrate effort, and nothing negative.)
- Does anyone know what it means when it’s associated with interactions and decision-making in the U.S. Senate? (Very brief explanation: The nuclear option is a parliamentary procedure that allows the U.S. Senate to override / change a rule … with a simple majority of 51 votes, instead of with a supermajority of 60 votes … effectively ending a 60-vote requirement for confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee or the passage of legislation.)
- How could this possibly matter to your life?
- Do any of you know how the Senate responded to Obama’s candidate for Supreme Court Judge – just a few months before he left office?
- Let’s think about some reasons that might have been behind the recent implementation of the Nuclear Option.
- Again … how could this possibly matter to your life?
- The role of judges is to interpret laws objectively. Is anyone ever completely objective? Why do you think that? What examples can you give of people being completely objective? What about examples of people (coaches, referees, parents, teachers, police, friends, teammates, etc.) being partially objective?
Educators’ Critical Responsibility: Activate and Exercise Students’ Thinking Skills – Their Futures Depend On It.
“In our evolving world, the ability to think is fast becoming more desirable than any fixed set of skills or knowledge. We need problem solvers, decision makers and innovators. We need to prepare our children for their future, not for our past.” – Mike Fleetham
How do we prepare students, even very young students, to constructively engage with the world they’re growing into? As educators, we must activate and exercise students’ thinking skills many times every day. Not, of course, in overly serious ways, because children must be allowed to develop at a natural pace through the stages of childhood.
Exercising Thinking Skills Can Be Fun and Relevant
Fortunately, there are ways to exercise children’s thinking skills in ways that directly improve their own day-to-day lives.
With the right kinds of questions (and zero lecturing), young children’s thinking skills can be exercised, so those skills naturally become stronger. Questions can and should be about familiar topics – like, how to: √ treat animals, √ play fairly, √ get someone’s attention. The right kinds of questions (non-leading and open-ended) will draw upon children’s hardwired honesty, common sense, and ability to empathize.
Using Critical Thinking to Find Trustworthy Websites
By the time students are in middle school they have become much less likely to ask questions around everyday elements of their lives. Why? Too embarrassing to appear ‘dumb.’ No problem. We, as their educators, can present topics of discussion for the entire class, with directives on how to discover the most trustworthy answers. (DIRECT BENEFITS: Everyone saves “face,” while gaining the benefits of what they need to learn.)
What about Cyberbullying?
How do we get students thinking about the ramifications of their online communications, without lecturing? Peer group discussions with, again, non-leading and open-ended questions helps to bring issues “into the light,” without putting anyone on the defensive. When students consistently receive opportunities to think together, they will come to conclusions, and even solutions, that work for everyone. Can you think of a better way to prepare them for developing the sophisticated problem-solving skills they’ll need as adults?
There’s a world of difference between useful questions and useless questions.
What’s the difference? Useful questions help to focus attention on intended goals. Useless questions focus on the pain required to achieve those intended goals.
The illustration at the top of this article pretty clearly demonstrates how a useful question leads attention towards focusing on the long view for achieving intended goals. Focusing on the long view helps to keep attention away from immediate downsides and discomforts. When we help our students develop and maintain focus on the long view, we’re helping them to build growth mindset.
An unhelpful or even downright useless question focuses attention on short-term gains. And short term gains rarely, if ever, develop growth mindset.
It’s not just what we ask, but also HOW we ask …
When we ask one of these questions that we hope will help to develop growth mindset, let’s always remember that wordless communication has a significant effect. Can we ask useful questions with genuine respect? Can we ask useful questions with authentic openness to whatever answers the students have, so that openings are created for honest, 2-way discussions?
Whenever our students feel genuinely heard, like all human beings, they’re much more likely to also listen. (Maybe not right away, but if they get used to being heard -genuinely, with respect and undivided attention- they’ll be more open to genuinely, with respect and undivided attention, listening to others.)
IF & WHEN we ask useful questions with a true sense of positive expectation for the wisdom of our students, they will pick up on it. (Because, as you know and experience every day, we’re all picking up on each other’s unspoken signals, feelings and judgments, pretty much all the time. Right?!!)
A few more examples of USEFUL questions to help grow students’ growth mindset …
- What do you think you might be missing?
- What are some ways you could look at this in completely different ways?
- Are you on the right track, but just missing a few pieces?
- Would brainstorming with someone else help?
- What do you think would hurt more: Giving up OR Making the extra effort to train your brain to eventually get it?
Sometimes kids (little ones and big ones) have resistance to our direct efforts to grow their growth mindset. That’s when questions that are actually conversation starters, can help.
Conversation implies all kinds of POSITIVES: √ Respect for students’ perspective and problem solving abilities √ Interest in what they think and feel and deal with √ Engagement with their values, their priorities √ Trust in students’ intentions √ Listening, really listening
Listening is most important
When kids receive quality attention, on a regular basis, to express themselves – especially with regard to their challenges – they get to directly experience that they matter. When they feel that all-important sense of mattering, then the effort it takes to overcome challenges is much more likely to matter, too.
Of course, listening to endless, random complaints and whining doesn’t have much value for anyone.
But respectful conversations that start with respectful questions … now that’s a different story. Try it, and let us know how it goes. We’d LOVE to hear your experiences.
Young people experiencing anxiety, sorrow, depression, hurt feelings, social isolation – any emotional pain – are seriously handicapped in their ability to learn. Teachers can help these students, without ever analyzing the source of those students’ problems.
Get Kids Moving
All kids, to one degree or another, are kinesthetic learners. Engaging their bodies in whatever lessons we’re trying to teach makes life and learning easier for everyone!
Working movement into as many lessons as possible might seem like a tall order, but the rewards can be worth the extra effort. Try:
- Role-playing right in the middle of story time.
- Pantomime opposites during vocabulary lessons. (The teacher can say the word big, and the children can pantomime small.) Here’s link to a starter list of 38 opposites.
- Get kids learning to rhythmic beats. Kids of all ages can learn just about anything (letters, numbers, multiplication tables) while moving to a rythmic beat.
Get Kids Laughing
Laughter has the power to fuel engagement and help students learn. It’s the best medicine … we all know it. And science confirms it: when we laugh, cortisol (the stress hormone) is reduced. Other benefits include:
- Release of health-giving chemicals into the brain.
- Building a sense of togetherness and trust.
- Triggers creative thinking.
Get Kids Thinking and Problem Solving Together
Peer group discussions can provide important opportunities for kids to:
- Express their own understanding in their own words, and discover their significance when peers and the teacher actually listen to them.
- Learn that others feel and understand in ways to which they can relate, even if not the same ways. Thus, they discover the significance of others.
- Grow in a sense of belonging, which is the opposite of pain causing isolation and loneliness.
How can that kind of a meaningful experience be consistently brought into the classroom? It’s relatively easy:
- Find images of situations with which all the students are familiar and, to one degreee or another, are challenged by.
- Before showing the picture to the kids, create a list of 10+ open-ended questions that respect, and age-appropriately challenge, the kids’ intelligence.
- Ask the questions – then really, really listen to the kids’ answers. These discussions are not the time for lectures. When one question stops eliciting engaged discussion, ask another one, and be sure to get as many of the kids talking and sharing their ideas as you can.
Here’s a link to receive some specific ideas for helping bring kids into alignment with their own inner resources and strengths. We want to help kids learn, and sometimes we first have to help them be open to learning. Try any and all of the above 3 evidence-based approaches and then leave a comment with your results.
Most teachers and parents understand that when we step in and solve children’s problems we’re not doing them any favors. Not really. Not in the long run. But when kids’ frustration builds and they get close to quitting, sometimes it just feels easier to get everyone (including us) past obstacles and into solution territory.
Rather than solving kids’ problems, if we’re truly committed to preparing them for a lifetime of challenges (problem-solving opportunities), we should commit to helping them build growth mindsets.
There are many ways to encourage growth mindset. Unfortunately, there are also many ways to discourage growth mindset.
To make sure we are doing all the right things to encourage perseverance in our students, our children, and even ourselves – let’s get clear on what growth mindset is. According to psychologist, Carol Dweck who popularized the term in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, people [of any and all ages] with growth mindset …
“… believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
How do we nurture kids’ perseverance? Well, we could follow Yoda’s approach by being really good examples – which, of course, is never a bad idea. Check out this video:
We should definitely avoid these common mistakes
- Praising effort alone: “Great effort” has become the consolation prize for children who aren’t actually learning. In other words, “Great effort” translates to “ineffective effort,” which sends the totally wrong message.
- “Try harder” is more empty feedback.
- “You can do anything” does not magically make it so. Students need knowledge, skills, strategies, and resources to solve their problems.
- “You’re so intelligent” and “You’re so smart” are actually counter-productive messages. (Many teachers have known this for decades, and instead use more specific statements: “You really stuck with that math problem until you figured it out. Wow.”)
- Scolding and shaming for not persevering and learning effectively. OUCH.
So … what’s so magic about the word “YET” when seeking to nurture growth mindset?
It’s not just what we say … it’s how we say it.
“Yet,” when spoken with genuine respect for effort, can lighten the crushing effects of accumulated frustration. Acknowledgement of effort – when it’s REAL, rather than empty, consolation prize praise – helps to keep minds + attitudes open for learning new strategies.
Hard work is still ahead. “YET” provides a ray of hopeful sunshine to keep on keeping on.
You’re committed to nurturing your students’ potential by drawing out the best that you know is within them. Kids love you for it, and they’ll always remember you for it.
This blog is dedicated to you: the one who sees kids, who really sees them. You see that they comprehend much more than they’re sometimes given credit for. Your passion for teaching is fueled by deep commitment to nurturing your students’ potential.
You see your students’ exquisite capacity to discern what’s real. You see how they adjust accordingly, on their own, when you’ve provided opportunities to discover different ways of being and doing that work better for everyone, including themselves, rather than just themselves.
Your satisfaction as a teacher is in growing kids, not by always telling them what to think and what to do. Instead, you excel at nurturing your students’ potential with your genuine attention. That is your art. That is your gift. Kids love you for it, and they’ll always remember you for it.
Because at the end of the day…
“Because at the end of the day, most students won’t remember what amazing lesson plans you’ve created. They won’t remember how organized your bulletin boards are. How straight and neat are the desk rows. No, they’ll not remember that amazing decor you’ve designed.
But they will remember you … because excellence is more readily attained by being.
Your kindness. Your empathy. Your care and concern. They’ll remember that you took the time to listen ...” http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/students_b_4422603.html
The purpose of this blog is to provide you with the logic, the validations and the research that will deepen your confidence in the enriching value of your nurturing instincts. https://www.kidsownwisdom.com/validation.html
This blog will also suggest useful tools and techniques to advance your positive influence on your students.