The last few days I have had some amazing and eye-opening conversations with students about grades, learning and a growth mindset (thanks in large part to my learning at ACTFL 2015). Shortly I will post the rationale behind all of this, but suffice to say a lot of thinking and conversation has gone into this moment. One particular eye opener for me came during dance class recently. I was teaching the foundation skills to help two students pirouette. We discussed the importance of a center of gravity over the working leg, spotting, turnout all the elements that would enable an amazing pirouette to happen... Yet, perfection was not achieved by either student. At best they made a slightly wobbly, off-center complete turn, yet most of the time they fell off their center mid turn. And yet, I was SO proud of the progress that they made as they stumbled through that skill, and I cheered them on because I they were dancing their toes off!
And the question remains, then why do I get so hung up when my Spanish students do not perform a particular skill perfectly in the time that I wish they would... And why have I historically taken the position of critiquing their mistakes rather than cheering them on for their hard effort?
Listen, there is so much to say here, but I will start with this... I actually love the mistakes and the bumbles that my students make as they struggle through a complete sentence, because they are working so dang hard! In the dance studio my colleagues promise to cheer when I fall because I have taken a risk and will understand better how to balance following that wobble. Similarly, I want my students to believe that I will cheer when their language wavers.
This week I began a conversation with my students about collaborating on a grading contract, and wow! It was an amazing conversation. I was astounded by how conditioned they (and I) are to define an A student as someone who is academically intelligent. Several students actually said, "An A student is someone who doesn't have to work too hard for their grade". Everyone agreed that, yes, there are different sorts of intelligences, and thus all seemed to accept that some are simply part of a system that won't reward them for their particular type of intelligence.
And so we brainstormed and shared our ideas. And I realized the magnitude of the shift that must happen before ALL of my students can assert with confidence that language proficiency is attainable for every single one of them, before students decide they are going to take charge of their learning and DEMAND that they take a functional skill away from my class (wouldn't every teacher love this?).
I would love to hear any feedback on this. At this age is it reasonable to expect that students can believe in what they are learning enough to take responsibility for some measure of their growth? Have you had experience with seeing a difference in students when they change their thinking and growth mindset? How do I encourage them in this direction?
Shannon Norquist, teacher of Spanish and Dance at Barrington Christian Academy, mother of 3 lovelies, wife to an artist, modern dancer, daughter to the King.