Friday, July 27, 2012

Thinking Together about Books: Building Social Imagination

The term “social imagination” was new to us.  The concept not so much.  Johnston defines social imagination as “the ability to empathize, and to imagine others’ thinking” (p.6).   Part of our Social Studies curriculum addresses this concept.   Last year, we said we were going to stop teaching this concept with the picture cards provided by our district and instead use picture books to teach these lessons.  Opening Minds reminded us of this goal, so this week our post focuses on teaching social imagination through text. 

In this section of the book, Johnston has nudged us to shift our thinking from teaching a social emotional skill through a book to nurturing a type of thinking in students through thoughtful conversation.  This is a small shift and maybe one of linguistic nuances, but we think it’s been established that language brings great implications. 

Bad News, I’m inCharge by Bruce Ingman is a book we’ve used as a catalyst for discussing community guidelines with first through third graders.  The main character, Danny, finds a treasure chest that bestows him kinghood.  Our students always laugh at the rules Danny the King makes, especially the rules imposed on adults.  Following a reading of this text, we engage our students in brainstorming guidelines for the classroom.  We’ve continued to use this book over the years because it rotates through our community members’ book boxes all year.  That’s right—the kids love it so much that it doesn’t spend more than a few minutes back in the classroom library.  Kids of many reading abilities can access the book because of its picture support and list structure.  (We revisit this book when we write lists.)

After reading Opening Minds, we dream of using this book to facilitate a discussion that goes beyond establishing guidelines, so that it may help us nurture social imagination and establish symmetrical relationships.  For example, we will ask students to discuss the implications of some of the rules that Danny makes.  What is the effect of having pets in school?  What impact would such an environment have on our learning?   What effect would it have on our community members that are allergic to furry friends?  Since there is no right or wrong, our conversation will honor all voices and establish a symmetrical environment.  We imagine this conversation will show that the teachers do not have the answers, but are sincerely interested in students’ thinking.  Additionally, this conversation helps us take on others’ perspectives, particularly in regards to learning needs, a dimension of social imagination.  Lastly, this conversation will likely facilitate a discussion on differences in individuals’ learning needs and help us increase students’ comfort with the differentiation they will see in our classrooms.

Bad News, I’m in Charge by Bruce Ingman
We used to…
We want to…
Use it for a springboard to write community guidelines (AKA rules).
Facilitate a conversation about guidelines that will help our community of learners and thus begin to establish symmetrical relationships
Extend the conversation by asking students what rules they would make if they were in charge.  This activity generates a lot of laughter as the book encourages them to impose rules on adults.
Extend the conversation to build social imagination by asking students to imagine what it would be like to be a person living in the environment  established by the rules. 

Let’s imagine how this shift to nurturing a thoughtful conversation may play out when thinking together about The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith.  The bossy, unkind behavior of the protagonist, Mean Jean, crosses the line into repeated, unsafe bullying behavior.  Our past approach with this book likely reinforced an analysis that supported fixed character traits.  With our shift, we think this story will be particularly helpful in asking students to discuss their false beliefs about bullies and discuss why Mean Jean may be acting the way she is.  (i.e. Is she a new student?  Are her parents getting divorced?).   Perhaps her behavior is showing how lonely and/or scared she is.   How might Mean Jean’s recess time have been different if she met a new friend at lunch?  

The Recess Queen by by Alexis O'Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith

We used to…
 We want to...
Use it for a springboard to discuss recess behavior and bullying prevention
Facilitate a conversation about problem-solving.  “What is the problem in the story?  How can this problem be solved?”
Extend the conversation about including others in play, particularly at recess. 
Extend the conversation by asking students to imagine why Mean Jean may be acting this way (new to the school/doesn’t have any friends, etc.) and support students in finding “conflicting worlds and false beliefs” (p. 72) that exist in the book.

As we embark on weaving social imagination development into our “thinking together with books (p.57),” we think the following sentence stems suggested on page 98 will be helpful to introduce and model with students.  

• I think [POSITION], because [REASON].
• In the story, it says [EVIDENCE].
• What if [SCENARIO]?
• Let [CLASSMATE] talk!
• What do you think, [CLASSMATE]?

We hope to report back that student engagement skyrockets through this approach.

As a side note, we’ve enjoyed perusing Books that Heal Kids for titles that may set the stage for a thoughtful discussion on moral development and civic engagement and thought you might, too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bring on the Neauralyzer! Feedforward Here We Come!

“We open our mouths and our parents or our previous teachers come out. Changing our talk requires gaining a sense of what we are doing, our options, their consequences, and why we make the choices  we make.” (pp. 6-7)

MIB, Bring on the Neauralyzer!  
Feedforward Here We Come!

We feel like we are thoughtful and constructive with our feedback to students.  We choose our words in a way that we believe nurtures kids to grow, but thinking about how our comments influence children’s mindsets, how children see and approach the world, makes us want to stop and think about our practices.  Is the feedback we give students based on phrases we heard our own teachers and parents say to us—with a little updated, “we’re living in 2012” lingo? 
This quote from Opening Minds, referring to the differing impact of process-oriented feedback over person-oriented feedback, catches our attention and reiterates our responsibility to craft our language in purposeful ways :

                        “What I find striking about these studies is that only a few instances
                        of a particular form of feedback produce quite strong effects. We have
                        to imagine the consequences of these patterns magnified over the days,
                        weeks, months, and years children spend in school. We also have to
                        consider the extent of the effects. The effects are on children’s thinking,
                        their emotions, their resilience when they are unsuccessful, and their
                        relationships with others.” (p.40)

After some reflection, we’ve decided to send the MIB back to their job of protecting us from alien invaders and instead create a “cheat sheet” to move us toward internalizing language that truly moves learning forward as suggested by Johnston.  What will be on our cheat sheet?   The dense information within chapters 3-6 (and the whole book) helps establish criteria to evaluate our feedback and work toward “feedforward.”  

                        “The purpose of feedback is to improve conceptual understanding
                        or increase strategic options while developing stamina, resilience, and
                        motivation—expanding the vision of what is possible and how to get
                        there. Perhaps we should call it feedforward rather than feedback.” (p.48)

Criteria for feedforward (based on our synthesis):
  • Causal 
  • Nurtures symmetrical relationships 
  •  Fosters Intrinsic Motivation 
  •  Process-oriented 
  •  Establishes a dynamic-learning frame

Are we using a causal structure in our “feedforward?”
Causal “feedforward” is particularly powerful in creating agency in students. We can’t help but notice how it takes attention away from extrinsic motivation, too.  Here are two sentence stems we may add to our cheat sheet:
You did ___________, so _______________
Thank you for _______________.  It helped ______________________.
Here’s a great example from Johnston:  You read your piece to the class with such expression that I couldn’t help but become interested in wolves.” (p.47)

Are we using language that builds symmetrical relationships?
We believe in the power of learners helping learners.  The work of Maria Nichols helped us think about how we position ourselves in discussions.  And then we rethought how we position ourselves in inquiry discussions after working with Steph Harvey.   Johnston’s analysis of a dialogic conversation in Cheryl McMann’s classroom highlighted two strategies we will remind ourselves of to help build symmetrical relationships in our classrooms.  First, we will focus on consistently asking open-ended questions (i.e. “What does everyone think about this idea?” p. 55) to allow for dialogic talk and to honor ideas from all voices.  Secondly, we will aim to respond in nonjudgmental ways.  Step one, we will throw out your “good job's” and "uh-ha's" and replace them with “thank you.”  And since we hope to be establishing the causal relationship, we strive to stay, “Thank you for________.  You helped us ___________” or “Thank you.  You noticed _____________, so we _______________.”   

Are we nurturing intrinsic or extrinsic motivation with our comments?
“I like the way Jenna lined up with her hands by her side,” may appeal to all of the people-pleasers in our classrooms, but it sends an underling message that we have our hands at our sides to please the teacher.  What about the need to have our hands at our side to respect our neighbors’ space, to help us focus on directions, or even notice when the line has begun to move?   This sounds like such a petty example, but the secondary messages sent in “I like the way…” may counteract the independent environment we are so hoping to foster.  September is full of shaping behavior.  This September, we hope to shape behavior by building intrinsic motivation to conduct oneself in a learning-friendly way, that builds symmetrical relationships (How are we doing at showing other classrooms full of students respect while moving through the hallway?) and causal in nature (Thank you for putting your name on the paper, so I can be sure to share my comments with you , the author). 

Are we giving process-oriented feedforward?
Johnston shares the importance of offering “feedforward” on the experience, not the person.  “You are a good drawer vs. you did a good job drawing” (p.39) convey two distinct underlying messages.   In a research study, the latter led to a rise in children’s (intrinsic) interest for drawing and drive to fix errors (dynamic learning). 
Are you beginning to see the huge interrelationship between the criteria of “feedforward” like we are?

Are we establishing a dynamic-learning frame?
As we think about this, we hypothesize that if the feedforward meets the first four criteria, it will pass the test of establishing a dynamic mindset, too.  However, we do not believe the converse is true.  In other words, feedfoward does not need to encompass all of the other four criteria to foster a dynamic mindset.  Thanks to several #cyberPD bloggers for reminding us that one word, one word can convey a dynamic mindset.  

We’re in the process of making our cheat sheet.  What will your cheat sheet look like?

Thanks to Katie @Catching Readers Before They Fall for sharing in her July 16th post that Johnston noted cheat sheets may be useful in the quest toward internalizing language.  Any negative connotations of “cheat sheet” that existed in our fixed mindsets were wiped out with Johnston’s causal explanation that a cheat sheet may nurture internalization of language. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Stop. Engage the Growth Mindset

My dear friend and grade level team member recently announced she had been offered and (unfortunately) accepted a job in a nearby district.  This is a great move for her as she will be working closer to her home and be able to spend more time with her family.  My initial response to this scenario (remember she is a dear friend and colleague—i.e.—my world is crashing down) was very fixed.  I’m not proud of it, but my reaction with reference to my professional life was, “How in the world can my team provide better instruction to our incoming students next year when we have to get a new team member on board with our shared responsibility model?” 
Get a grip.  (AKA-Engage my dynamic mindset)
Start a blog.
Continue to collaborate.
In the 24-48 hours that have passed since I found out about this catastrophic change, my own thinking is swinging to be more dynamic.  This shift in which I have decided to make lemonade from the lemons that were left on my whiteboard ledge is an important moment for me--not just because my husband is happy that I’m not moping around anymore.   The mindset shift I noticed in myself is one that has practical implications in my day to day teaching.   As Peter Johnston notes in Opening Minds, it is the mindset we utilize when we encounter struggle that most defines us.  I want to share with my students the possibility and power of shifting our mindset. 
Action Plan:  Model authentic mindset shifts as they occur
To accomplish this action plan, I must first raise my first graders’ awareness that we all struggle.  That’s right…even their teacher, principal, and parents struggle.  Secondly, I must model that we have a choice as to which mindset we use when confronting a struggle (fixed or dynamic).  Third, I want students to observe how to coach oneself in a mindset shift–the decision to make lemonade from those juicy lemons. 
Since my first graders love hearing my personal stories, I might indulge them in my struggles as a new mom.  My current list of struggles includes getting my three month old to take a bottle, getting spit up stains out of our rugs, and the list goes on.  Accompanying these struggles are feelings of confusion, frustration, worry and/or disappointment which easily awaken my fixed mindset.  It is in these moments of struggle that I have a choice.  I can let the fixed mindset prevail and the said struggle becomes a permanent quality about me or I can awaken my dynamic mindset and grow.    When I engage my dynamic mindset, I begin to access resources.  Is there a term for speed dialing on the Internet?  If so, I speed dial Google often.  My mom always has knowledge to share about child rearing, too.  It should be noted that it takes effort to access the resources and execute the ideas gained, but it is worthwhile effort.  The pride I feel following the learning is a feeling I hope all of my students experience regularly.
Once I’ve shared the decision to engage my growth mindset in my personal life, I anticipate the concept will authentically surface in the school setting.  For example, I can model my pursuit to write a circle story about how I poured way too much syrup on my plate and ended up having to eat more pancakes to mop up the syrup.  Although I may originally feel my content lends itself to the circle story structure, if the story doesn’t develop with ease, frustration may soon set in. 
Pause. (a few moments, a few  days…whatever it takes).
Engage my growth mindset.
Try again by continuing to pursue telling my story through the circle story structure, choosing a different structure OR consciously noting the learning from the struggle. 
Although struggle might be full of negative connotation, imagine what struggle can bring when you confront it with a dynamic perspective.   I’m witnessing the fruit of my struggle today.  Despite job changes, my dear friend and collaborator, Lisa, and I embark on a journey to blog about our practices as teachers.  It is a way that we can continue our collaborative reflection. 

I’m so glad I was reading Opening Minds when I encountered this struggle, so I could note my mindset shift and have the words to articulate it.  As Johnston entitles his first chapter, “Changing words, changing worlds.”

P.S.-  Thank you to Franki Sibberson, Cathy Mere,  Karen Terlecky, Laura Komos , Jan Burkis and Kim Yaris and other bloggers that have helped enhance Lisa and my practices and see the possibilities of focusing our instruction through reflective blogging.   This new journey of blogging is our lemonade.
P.S.S.-Thanks to Choice Literacy’s Big Fresh for helping us find the bloggers.