Three Epiphanies about Content-Area Learning

Do you ever feel like with everything you have going on in your life, it can move through time like a freight train, with events, activities, and schedules just coming and going when you don’t stop to take it all in? I certainly do! Sometimes, I make goals for myself to reach a certain point in the year or to complete a set of tasks, only to find that when I get to that point, it’s off I go to the next goal. Not this time!

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Stop and Reflect!

I am just completing another course in my Masters program, and as fast as summer classes go, I have decided to stop and reflect on this one. My point is not to “stop and smell the roses” as I finish another class; rather, I need to stop and think about everything I’ve learned and synthesize it. What did I gain from my time in this class in content-area learning? How can it change my practice for the better? With what I’ve gained since June, how can I apply it for the betterment of my students, especially for those kids who need the most intensive work and encouragement I can give them?

Epiphany #1: “We are all math people” (Brown, 2016)

(Brown, 2016)

One of my family’s favorite shows to watch together is PBS’ Arthur, based on the book series by Marc Brown. I love the episode “Sue Ellen Adds It Up” because it’s encouraging, and the message at the end shows kids that everyone can “do math”, it just sometimes needs to be framed into their world of reference. But every time I watch this episode, it occurs to me that my struggling learners live this character’s reality every day. During math class, she excuses herself to the restroom upon being stressed during the lesson, saying, “I have a confession to make: I’m not a math person. Sometimes, when I’m in math class, it seems as if Mr. Ratburn (her teacher) is speaking a different language” (Brown, 2016). This highlights one epiphany from my course this summer! I have experienced first-hand that my students can relate to Sue Ellen’s character, but now I am seeing precisely why. Though it’s not the same for every student, I now know more about what specific struggles some students encounter when they step into core-content classes, math being one of these struggle zones. For example, I have come to realize that some kids could struggle because when a concept is presented, it may have taken more explicitly presented background knowledge. Or maybe such a student as Sue Ellen was taught a small measure of background information, but due to a learning disability, the concepts didn’t stick within her long-term memory, as she needed more time, practice, and work with that idea. Perhaps the way the concepts were presented was to rapid, or was presented in a way that her struggles weren’t anticipated before the lesson was taught, and she struggled to learn it before her peers moved on to another concept in the unit. No wonder some of our most challenged learners decide, as the cartoon character, “I’m not a math person”, and any notion of success is tainted with this mind set. I’ve learned this summer why my students are struggling, yet I’ve also learned how to help them see that “we are all math people” (Brown, 2016).

Epiphany #2: Grow their “Growth Mindset”!

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After this semester, I now feel like I have more specific tools to employ to help my students to see beyond their learning “limits”. Sometimes, it begins with the premises of planning. For example, one tool of which I had never before heard is content enhancement, “an instructional method that relies on using powerful teaching devices to organize and present content in an understandable and easy-to-learn manner. Teachers identify the content that they deem to be most critical and teach it using powerful teaching routines that actively engage students” (The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, 2009). By using content enhancement principles and routines, we as teachers can better plan to help students to experience confidence and to anticipate growth in the core content subjects with which they may struggle, rather than to present it ways that may counter-affect their success.

Beginning with student success in mind thus takes planning, but more than mere lesson planning. Another part of this epiphany I’ve had encompasses so much more: the growth mindset. I have come to realize that building this as an underlying framework for my students who are challenged in their learning could turn the tides for them, giving them a path beyond a “fixed mindset”. When interviewed by writer James Morehead, Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University defined the difference between these defining ways of thinking:

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.

In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it (Morehead, 2012).

The definition and difference opened my eyes! I want to show my students that they can grow through struggle. I love the lesson from Khan Academy:

Yes! My enlightenment in a three-minute nutshell! Now, finally…

Epiphany #3: Data, data, data!

I want to think that I’ve always known data is important. I don’t think I had fully realized up until this point, however, that the data I collect with purpose and planning will drive my success, as well as the success of my students. This may sound like a really crazy thing to have just fully realized, but haven’t we all given assessments of various kinds and then not used the data to move forward? I will admit it here and in the open: sometimes, that’s me. Or, I will have SO many students to assess that I just don’t get all of the data I need to properly use it, to see my efforts either failing or coming to fruition. Covering this more explicitly has made me see that it’s vital to develop and give good assessments, look at the data I collect from all learners, and to then use it to guide what I need to do for their best benefit. Through the IRIS Center, teacher Jessica Weisenbach Sellers said of assessment, “I can see if my instruction is increasing student learning and make adjustments throughout the year… By the end of the year I know I’ve increased student learning through my instruction because I’ve tracked their growth all year” (Weisenbach Sellers, 2017). Knowing this, I now feel that I am better equipped to move forward in helping my students to grow since I began my course in June!

What epiphanies have you had in teaching and learning? I’d love to hear about them, so click on the comment icon and let me know your thoughts! Thank you for reading my blog! 🙂

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References

Ballard, E. (n.d.). Believe Quote. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from http://www.epiphanychannel.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/simplereminders.com-believe-epiphanies-ballard-2000w.jpg

Brown, M. (2016, June 07). Sue Ellen Adds It Up/Wish You Were Here. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1H1m-AyQrI&list=ELliMn0FL5OGsAalXPmSSG5g. PBS Series.

Brown, M. (2016, July 30). Arthur Season 19 Episode 2 – Sue Ellen Adds It Up Wish You Were Here. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhU_C0legXU. Cartoon Entertainment.

Kansas Center for Research on Learning . (2009). Content Enhancement. Retrieved from http://ttac.vt.edu/content/dam/ttac_vt_edu/CE_Overview1.pdf

Khan Academy. (2014, August 19). Growing your mind. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtKJrB5rOKs&feature=youtu.be

Morehead, J. (2012). Stanford University’s Carol Dweck on the Growth Mindset and Education. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://onedublin.org/2012/06/19/stanford-universitys-carol-dweck-on-the-growth-mindset-and-education/

Nature Floating Flying Flower Growth Dandelion. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2017, from http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Nature-Floating-Flying-Flower-Growth-Dandelion-1931080

Time. (2017). Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://biochemjm.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/time.jpg

Weisenbach Sellers, J. (2017). IRIS | Transcript: Jessica Weisenbach Sellers, MEd. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/gpm/cresource/q2/p04/gpm_04_trans_a/#content

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