On Wednesday, I am going to be speaking with a number of our seventh grade math classes — at the request of their teachers. Many of these students are struggling to complete assignments, prepare for assessments, participate in tutoring, and engage in classwork. By traditional measures of academic performance, they are failing.
I have been giving this quite a bit of thought, and to be honest, I am struggling to come up with what I should tell them. I will explain how junior high is different from elementary school. How they earn credits for each course they take, and that a certain number of credits are required to advance to the 8th grade. For some, this might be a bit of motivation to “try harder,” but I am skeptical that this will have a substantial impact. With the hope of coming up with some ideas, I re-read a post I wrote two years ago, entitled Re-Engaging the Disengaged: 5 Strategies.
Of one thing I am convinced. Many of the students who are struggling have a fixed mindset. They have experienced such minimal success, for so long, that they are convinced that they have been dealt a bad hand, and there is nothing they can do about it. It is sad, but even at the young age of twelve and thirteen, I see many students who see little, or no, hope in school.
So, as I prepare to speak to this reluctant audience, I am going to emphasize the process of shifting from a fixed, to a growth mindset (see How Can You Change From a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset?). As I visit with the kids I will:
- Recognize that school can be very challenging, and that we are often filled with self-doubt, which translates to “I can’t…” or “I’m not good at…” statements. I will share challenges I have faced where I felt discouraged, even hopeless.
- Point out that everyone can think of things at which they have improved — with practice, and diligence. I’ll have the class brainstorm a few examples: riding a bicycle, singing, playing an instrument, shooting a basketball, reading, etc.
- Emphasize that each one of us chooses how to handle challenges — either with “I can’t…” statements, or with an understanding that our effort matters. Practice and persistence pay off.
- Encourage students to start small. Set a goal of completing one assignment, attending tutoring one day a week, or simply asking for help. Replace “I can’t…” statements with “If I put in the work, I can…”
- Let them know that if they want to get better, I will personally do whatever I need to do in order to make sure they get whatever help they need. They matter and I care. Each one of them needs to know that.
I am convinced that re-engaging the disengaged learner, is about a close to “rocket science” as we get in education. There are no quick fixes, or easy answers. Success relies on a critical balance of relationships, student self-esteem, connections, purpose, and countless other factors.
If you have any suggestions, please add them to the comments. I would love to hear about resources you have used with students, as well as your ideas for what I might do, as a school administrator, to help these kiddos get on the right track. Thanks in advance to my awesome PLN.