Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Opening Minds, #Cyberpd

"When you make a mistake it means nothing more than that. Fix it. Learn from it. It does not mean you are incompetent, stupid, or not a good person."
 Or, in this case, not a good blogger. I have been lurking in #cyberpd. I've been reading and commenting on blogs, checking in on wall wisher, but not posting. I intended to be a full member posting and reading, but the calendar was always ahead of me!  While reading Cathy's latest #cyberpd post I saw an opportunity to "fix it." Carol of Carol's Corner will be hosting a concluding event on August 1!

What We Say Matters
"Her words change the life in the classroom. They change the worlds the children will inhabit, and consequently who they can be, what they will feel, what they can know, and what will be normal behavior. "
I have always loved language and the power of words, but when I think of the impact my words have on our children, it is truly humbling. Our children are the world we will live in tomorrow. I want them to possess the confidence and ingenuity to move our world forward, to be contributing members of a global society and have the leadership skills to guide and teach the next generation. To think my every word helps or hinders these goals is frightening.  

Peter Johnston offers a plethora of word choices, all with the goal of instilling a dynamic learning frame, which will allow our children to be the global citizens capable of moving learning and the world forward. Julie Balen has created a google.doc of language to support educators as they work with children. Thank you Julie I plan to revisit this page often.

Dynamic Performance Frame v's Fixed Performance Frame
Children who adopt a fixed-performance frame tend to become helpless when they run into trouble. They cease being strategic - except when it comes to ego-defense. Taking up the fixed-performance narrative affects the way we experience the world and ourselves. When we encounter difficulty, we attribute it to our permanent characteristics."
"Children in a dynamic-learning frame actually use deeper processing when reading difficult material and they become more rather than less strategic when they encounter difficulty."
To be active members and leaders of our global community our students will need dynamic learners. This frame of learning will allow children to embrace challenges, implement strategies, and learn from the experience. Children with this open mindset do not measure themselves by their challenges, they learn from them. 

I have encountered kids in my class, and maybe even one or two in my own home, that feel they should already know what is being taught. This fixed mindset can be crippling to their progress, or at least make learning less interesting. 
Johnston reminds us to consider how we offer praise to our students. Our praise should reflect the effort and work not the ability of the student. Again I will be referring to the google language doc for support here. He also reminds us to consider how we present challenges to our students. Challenges should be introduced as interesting not as a contest of a challenge. Lastly, Johnston reminds us to explicitly teach how the brain works and how learning can actually grow new cells to develop a dynamic learning frame. 

Social Learning Experience  
"Since learning is fundamentally social, basing a classroom on dynamic learning principles   offers a double boost to learning."

This quote really struck home with me. I have used a clip system to help monitor and shape behavior for years. Last year I chose not to implement the system for many reasons~
  • Former students would return and ask "Did anyone get on (insert color here) today?
  • Parents would ask questions about clip color before, or instead, of asking about learning. 
  • Students were making choices only to avoid moving clips.
  • I began to notice the clips were only effective for about 2-4 students.
  • Students that were responsible for making choices that support a learning community were rarely recognized. 
If I said the year went seamlessly without clips I would not be honest. There were days that I wished I had clips, days I was sure a clip move would correct a behavior quickly.  As I continued to work through the 'no clip community' I began to hear my language change, I became more explicit. I began to notice I was understanding more. I observed more. I was becoming more aware of the "why" behind the behavior. I began to understand how to teach the behavior of a learning community. I noticed my understanding of all children deepened.The motivation behind their  choice was not malicious, it was not intended to disrupt learning. Rather it was out of curiosity (How do you make that bunny in the projector light? I wonder if Sally will play with me at recess?)  or a result of a misunderstanding ("I had those math tools and Sally took them! [Sally thought they were for everyone to share.])
"When faced with transgressions, people holding dynamic theories try to understand the thinking and the context of the transgression, to educate and forgive the transgressor." 
I learned to see the behavior from the perspective of a younger mind. This new perspective made all the difference in my teaching. It was clear that it was my responsibility to teach what it means to be a member of a learning culture.  Teaching requires an understanding of the child's perspective and their reasoning. This teaching will allow the child to internalize the learning and make a choice based on the learning and the consequence of their choice. This gives the student agency. I am embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until I put the clips away that I realized teaching behavior is just like teaching academic skills and strategies. I also began to see the clips were a crutch for me. The clips allowed me to extinguish  temporarily stop a behavior, again and again and… 
As  I flip through Openning Minds I find many more points I want to reflect on here in the blog, but I also know that many of you have stopped reading. This is already to long for a single post. I want to say, maybe I will continue to reflect in a later post, but we all know what happens when we set ourselves up like this.


  1. Deb,
    So glad you decided to post today. Like you, Johnston gave me much to think about in terms of establishing classroom community and helping kids manage their behavior. I was in the classroom last year, after many years as a coach. I had used a clip type system previously, but knew I didn't want to use one with my fourth graders. I was glad I hadn't, but there were definitely some days… As I read Johnston, I reflected a lot on that group of kids. Wish I could have them again as fifth graders. There was a lot that went well, but there was definitely stuff I would do differently! I'll be anxious to read how this year, after reading OPENING MINDS, starts off.

    1. Carol~
      Isn't it nice to have the summer to look back on your year, weed out what worked, what needs refined and plan to make it happen! You know what Peter Johnston says,.. Fix it. Learn from it. Some how this makes it all seem so easy!
      What works one year isn't a promise for next year. The classroom dynamic is sure to be different, but knowing now what I know about the strength and power of language and the "crutch of the clips" I plan to continue to be clip free community rich in explicit language that values you process and hard work.

  2. Deb,

    I am so happy that you have joined us. I appreciated your thoughtful description of getting rid of your clip system. My favorite phrase from this description was: "teaching behavior is just like teaching academic skills and strategies". This is such an important idea to think about and create an action plan for.

    I also appreciated your honesty in this post - being embarrassed about your clip system, knowing not to promise another post (been there, done that) and so much more.

    I plan to move forward with Peter Johnston's phrase from our chat on Twitter that Laura reminded me of in her post today: "No Guilt. Just Action."

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Jill~
      I am so happy to be able to add to the conversation, I have taken SO MUCH!
      It really is important to remember we need to teach the culture of the class before we demand it from our kids. Each class, school and family have their own culture. We can't expect kids to "just know" what it means to be appropriate in such a variety of expectations.
      LOVE it~ "No Guilt. Just Action."
      Thanks for taking the time to chat!

  3. Hi Deb,
    Your post really spoke to me. I've used a quasi clip system my entire teaching career. In the past, I've noticed that I introduce it to everyone but only use it with 2-4 students. It's just such a great level of uncertainty to move away from the structure. Thanks for sharing your journey. One of the reasons I've held on to a clip-like system is because of the ease of communication with parents, but you gave me a lot to think about. What if parents ask about the clip system before learning?
    I would love to hear more about your clip-less journey. Did you have a theme of some sort (i.e.-fill eachothers' buckets) or even a slogan like "check your choices?"
    Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Amber~
      It was VERY scary to embrace a "clip free" classroom, but I am one those people who LOVES a challenge, or a dare. This may be exactly what got me through "those days" and the fact that I actually gave my clip system to a colleague as a "safe keeping." Not to be released unless under extreme conditions! LOL
      the class did have a few phrases that reminded students to be their best -self and practice self-control, "Do the right thing, even when no one is watching." these phrases were supported with books like Hunter's Best Friend at School by Laura Malone Elliott, Lynn Munsinger, The Great Fuzz Frenzy by
      Susan Stevens Crummel (Author), Janet Stevens (Author, Illustrator), and
      Nibbles: A Green Tale by Charlotte Middleton.
      thanks for chatting!

  4. Deb,
    Thanks so much for joining in the conversation! I appreciated being able to hear your thinking about Johnston's book.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for including your honest thoughts about your clip system. I moved away from it for a long time but my school recently went back to it. Without blatantly going against the whole-school initiative, I plan to only use the language so that my first graders are familiar with it (as it impacts all areas of our building.) However, reading your post reaffirms my belief that I need to stop doing it in my classroom and, as you said, teach behavior.

    Thanks again!

  5. Laura~ I am so happy to be adding my thoughts, you all have given me so much! The good news Laura is that the dynamic learning framework you will foster with your language will help to make the clips only positive for your kids. Your class will learn how to live and learn in a collaborative environment that pushes thinking, expects effort, and teaches self-control! So your class won't have much experience with them. Think of the language as your tool that teaches, shielding them from the clip system, they simply won't need clips.
    Does this make sense?

  6. Do you think anyone would notice if I silently, secretly became a clip-free classroom in an all-clip school? (Shhh....don't tell...)

  7. Mary Lee I wont tell anyone! But like I said in my comment to Laura, if we truly teach what it means to be a member of a learning community the kids wont even know the clips are there!

  8. Thank you for being brave and sharing your journey so honestly. I haven't always used a clip system but have always had some external "discipline" plan dependent on me. One of my guiding questions has long been, "Who does all the work/ learning/thinking/problem solving" and if the answer wasn't the students it prompted me to rethink. I NEVER made the connection to behavior. Though for the reasons you mentioned(what students and parents reflected back that it was performance in my behavior system that was most valued) I didn't like it. I just didn't know what else to do. Today was the my third day with my new first graders, no external discipline plan and I have already noticed some of the benefits you mentioned. It prompts me to slow down, investigate and actually notice what is going on. I am practicing and it is not a natural behavior for me...yet. It is the "best practices" path and with encouragement(like this) I am excited to see what is ahead.