Posted in Education, Learning, New Ideas, Sixth Grade, Teaching

Saying the Right Thing Takes Practice

One of the hardest things I ever had to do was break up with a girl in college.  I don’t like being the bearer of bad news, but I knew that it was for the best if we split up.  I didn’t foresee a future with her and so staying together would have been a mistake.  After weeks of putting it off, I finally worked up the courage to tell her how I felt.  I used the standard line, “It’s not you, it’s me.”  It worked.  There were no tears, which was great as I was worried that she would cry.  No, I’m not egotistical nor a great man by any means, but in the movies, when a man breaks up with a girl, the girl usually cries.  I was afraid that might happen, but luckily it did not.  It was actually quite an easy break up after stressing about it for so long.  Perhaps things went a bit smoother than they could have because I practiced what I was going to say over and over again in my head.  I made sure I had my speech all prepared with the kinks worked out.  Practice pays dividends.

The same mantra is true in the classroom.  The more I practice a lesson ahead of time or rehearse what I want to say, the easier it is.  Today provided me with a prime example of how practice leads to success.

One of my goals for today was to introduce the students to the seven Habits of Learning Cardigan embraces and utilizes in the classroom.  I want the students to be comfortable with the terms and understand the value and importance in using the Habits of Learning to grow as learners and students.  Last year, I struggled to define the terms in a student-friendly way.  All year, several of my ELL students struggled to write or talk about the Habits of Learning because they did not fully comprehend their meaning.  So this year, I took a different approach.  I thought about the idea of visualization as well as the professional development text I read last summer Made to Stick.

I used simple phrases with words the students could easily visualize.  For Growth Mindset, I had the students imagine someone opening their brain and stuffing things in.  Having a Growth Mindset means being open to new ideas and information.  I then added onto the simple definition with more details, but kept the central meaning simple and easy to understand for all of the students in my classroom.  For coexistence, I used my hands as an example of two people working together.  Putting my hands together signified effective coexistence.  I do believe that these more simplistic, visual definitions for my school’s Habits of Learning helped my sixth graders better understand and comprehend these somewhat obtuse words and phrases.  Following my explanation of the Habits, I had the students reflect in writing on the Habit they felt they used the most today.  I wanted them to explain and describe how they used the Habit of Learning.  The boys did a fine job explaining and describing how they used a particular Habit of Learning today.  I was impressed and amazed.  It took several weeks for the boys to be able to complete a task like this last year.  I’m so glad I stopped to reflect on how I explained things last year so that I remembered to revise that lesson this year.  The power of reflection is amazing.

So, because I had practiced explaining and defining the Habits of Learning last year and realized that there had to be a more effective way to do so, I was able to revamp my skills in this area this time around.  Had I not tried this activity last year and failed, I probably would not have had the same success I saw in the classroom today.  Learning from one’s mistakes is a how true learning comes about.  Saying the right thing really does take practice.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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