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cc flickr photo by azjd

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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…”
  5. 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.

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  • http://modconmusings.blogspot.com.au/ Nick Harvey

    I am currently tutoring an adult acquaintance in maths as she seeks entry into the police force. I can see some parallels between her and some of my year 8 students who are similar maths anxious and disengaged. I am finding one thing that works for her is the one-on-one time. Today we had a discussion about her classes, in preparation for the exam, and she said it is difficult to be surrounded by people who are so many levels ahead of her, it demotivates her and makes her feel like she will not succeed. When working one-on-one, I am able to illustrate her strengths to her more clearly. Whilst I think that in a class it is possible to show students who have disengaged with the learning process some of their strengths, I think they register the deficits more strongly in the presence of more able others.

    Definitely breaking/chunking things down to a smaller level is the first step (for both teacher and student!).

    Nice blog btw! Thanks!

  • http://modconmusings.blogspot.com.au/ Nick Harvey

    I am currently tutoring an adult acquaintance in maths as she seeks entry into the police force. I can see some parallels between her and some of my year 8 students who are similar maths anxious and disengaged. I am finding one thing that works for her is the one-on-one time. Today we had a discussion about her classes, in preparation for the exam, and she said it is difficult to be surrounded by people who are so many levels ahead of her, it demotivates her and makes her feel like she will not succeed. When working one-on-one, I am able to illustrate her strengths to her more clearly. Whilst I think that in a class it is possible to show students who have disengaged with the learning process some of their strengths, I think they register the deficits more strongly in the presence of more able others.

    Definitely breaking/chunking things down to a smaller level is the first step (for both teacher and student!).

    Nice blog btw! Thanks!

    • azjd

      Hey Nick…I appreciate you taking time to read my post and add your thoughts. Think you are right on track with this. Connections and opportunities to individualize instruction allow us focus on the strengths of learners, and that is a good thing. Providing students with one-on-one time is definitely valuable!

      Best Wishes!

  • Ally

    Add “yet” at the end if every I can’t.
    I can’t add fractions….yet.
    I can’t subtract integers…yet.
    Ask your teachers to say it evey time they hear “I can’t”.
    It starts to catch on after a while and helps to change a mindset.

    • azjd

      Fantastic suggestion Ally. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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