Jessica Parsons is a “Teacher with Habitudes.” Jessica Parsons, a 7th grade Life science teacher, uses strategies and brain-based learning approaches to connect student interest to the core content. She strives to make science fun, engaging and relevant, while challenging students to think critically and make connections between the content and their everyday life experience.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks all day long.”
In July, I had the great pleasure of attending one of Angela’s workshops, “You Matter: 2 Words Changing Learning and Lives,” at the BLC12 in Boston. I was inspired by her talk and one of the keynotes asserting we, as educators, should re-examine “what we do in the first five days.” A student-centered focus versus a content-centered introduction felt like the appropriate way to acclimate my new middle schoolers! Throughout the first five days, we discussed and evaluated the some of the characteristics of an effective learner.
Mid-August came quickly and the anticipation for the new school year mounted. The Self-Awareness chapter from Classroom Habitudes was the perfect guiding map. And on the first day, as the students nervously settled in their seats, I stressed that the first five days were going to be all about them. We discussed that “self-aware learners know how they learn best; are able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, they monitor and control their own learning process” (Maiers, p. 55).
We, first, did a student search game so students could meet and greet the other learners they would collaborate with throughout the year. With a bingo-type worksheet in hand, students had to introduce themselves and ask several questions of each other to earn points. New students, and even shy students, were engrossed in questions and conversations amidst students that have known each other since kindergarten.
The next day, we began the conversation about effective learners. Students brainstormed ideas and posted to prompts about champion learners using Polleverywhere.com. We then discussed the research of Dr. Carol Dweck and value of a growth mindset, especially when our 7th graders are faced with the new and various challenges the Middle School has in store for them. Through a self-assessment, students discovered where they fell on the mindset spectrum. The Mindset graphic, by Nigel Holmes, also gave a visual summary about the fixed vs growth mindset and essentially describes how one can move from one mindset to the other.
It’s important for students to understand the anatomy and physiology behind the psychology. So we analyzed the article, “You Can Grow Your Intelligence,” (NAIS). If students have a growth mindset, they apply effort in order to grow and persist through challenges. Our efforts and practice can literally change the physical connections of our neural pathways.
To help students further understand who they are as learners, we completed a learning style and preference quiz. Although it was not a comprehensive test meant to box students into categories, many felt the results rang true in summarizing their preferences and when they would be most productive while learning. My students seemed to appreciate the insight to their learning styles and how style-based strategies may be helpful when learning across all content and in co-curricular activities. Then we created a living document of Active study strategies for the various types of learning styles through a crowd-sourcing activity using iTouches. I urged the students to revisit this list when having to learn each night to find the study skills that would best suit them. Lastly, the students searched for the Characteristics of a Champion Learner (p.54) through a QR code scavenger hunt.
Hopefully, this established a foundation of familiar vocabulary, introspection, and expectations, as we continue this discussion throughout the year. Their success and confidence begins with a better understanding of themselves. And by explicitly having the conversation at the start of the year, I hope I conveyed my genuine interest in their success and that I value their differences as learners.