We are off to a wonderful start of school! Firstly let me say that Sara and I think that your children are just fabulous! While we had a bumpy start with the buses, things improved last week and we have settled into a nice routine. During the first week, children traded stories about summer trips and camps as everyone found their seats and navigated our classroom space. Although half the group was new to us, but because our groups often mixed for lunch and certain projects, such as our Mathemagic Show, there was an immediate feeling of familiarity.
Our first (short) week was devoted to setting up organizational structures in the classroom and getting to know one another. Gathering information about our community is really crucial work, as it sets the tone for all the work we'll do this year together. Sara and I both believe that teaching and learning springs forth from the relationship between teachers and students and among the students themselves.
For example, during the first week we explored the concept of what Carol Dweck calls “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” her book, which the staff read for our professional development this year. While Sara and I didn’t use those terms specifically, we asked the group to think about things they like to do in their free time. They generated a myriad of skills and pastimes, everything from Monopoly to playing the drums to rock climbing. After this brainstorm we asked children to think about how often they practiced these skills of their own free will, compared to things they don’t like doing. In every case, they agreed that there is a huge difference between the two categories in their motivation and in the time they spend practicing.
Dweck’s thesis is basically that many of us, often from a very young age, will cast ourselves as being either “good” or “bad” at something (fixed mindset), rather than seeing each experience as an opportunity to further develop a skill (growth mindset). I think we can all readily accept that negative self-beliefs wreak havoc on one’s self-esteem and performance, but interestingly, Dweck provided quite a lot of data that “positive” self-beliefs in some cases can actually be just as detrimental, because people become so scared of losing their identity that they don’t take risks. For example, if a child hears that s/he is “good at math” for years when things are coming easily to him/her, how will the child react later when they suddenly receive a poor grade? If the pattern repeats itself, some children may flip their belief and sadly decide that they must be “bad” at math after all. Others may blame the teacher or the course.
Still others do work harder, but all while nursing secret shame.
Enter growth mindset. We spoke with the children about the evidence showing that, while some skills will come easier than others for each of us, growth is really about our willingness to jump in, work hard, and, as one of our students said, “smile through the frustration.” Sara and I used ourselves as examples quite frequently, as we have some developed skill areas that overlap, but many that don’t. Children made Wordles of the skills they liked to practice, and chose one that they didn’t that they wanted to really work to improve.
They even came up with a plan as to how they would do it. They recorded their plan in these shoe drawings in honor of Sara’s summer skill work: walking 500 miles across Spain! Many of us who consider ourselves quite skilled walkers, would surely be humbled by that undertaking.
This week, we will ask you all to build upon this discussion with your child during a homework activity we call “Table Talk.” Was there something you decided you were “bad” at and either avoided or gave up on? Was there something you had thought you couldn’t do, but later realized you could? On the flip side, was there ever a time when believing you were “good” at something held you back from taking risks or improving upon your skills? How do you motivate yourself to work on things that you don’t really like to do? Look for a sheet in this week’s homework. I will be very interested to hear how the discussions go!
Another question to talk over with your child: can you exclude by including? We believe that you can, so today during our drama work with Carol children created scenes that demonstrated this "accidental" unkindness, which we have seen recently here and there. Children realized that talking about a play date in front of other children (who are not invited), asking to eat lunch next to certain children, and having "best friend" time can inadvertently make others feel isolated. Please talk to your child about this and reinforce how important it is to be aware of people around us, and to be tuned into how we can make others feel welcome.
During the first few days of school we read an amusing "evil librarian" story called The Legend of Spud Murphy (who clearly does not bear any resemblance to our Amy!). Last week we kicked off our study of ancient Egypt with the book The Red Pyramid, a humorous and action-packed fantasy that incorporates interesting information about ancient Egyptian mythology and geography. The group really seems to be enjoying it so far and have repeatedly begged for more read aloud time.
We have also begun our first math unit, multiplication and division. To see and touch multiplication concepts, children have been building arrays, rectangular and square arrangements of repeated blocks of numbers. On Friday we combined math and social studies when we asked groups to build a pyramid using blocks of sugar cubes. While initially the groups assumed the task would be a simple one, they soon realized that some planning had to be done to ensure they didn’t run out of cubes. For example, one group made a 12 by 15 cube base (which is an example of an array), and we realized that this base alone would need 180 cubes! Since each box contained about 200, the group realized they needed to scale back.
We have also begun reading and writing workshop. In writing workshop, we are focusing on getting into the routine of regular writing, brainstorming, and giving and receiving feedback. Children are creating pieces of short prose or poetry based on mini-lessons and mentor text examples. They are sharing their work with each other and learning to give and receive constructive feedback. In reading workshop, we have tried to get a sense of where each child is and what reading level feels right for them through half group mini-lessons and one-on-one assessments. We also began using the mentor text The Chalkbox Kid to think about using evidence from texts to support our ideas.
We’ll be taking our first field trip to the ancient Egyptian wing of the UPenn Museum on October 1. We’ll leave at 9 and should be back at school by 1:30. We would love to have 2 van drivers and one other driver. Let me know if you are interested!
I have received completed questionnaires from only a few of Hilary and Diana’s families (J.B, A.H.-M., M.M., S.M.,, and possibly someone I am forgetting - you know who you are.) Could everyone else please email me your responses to the following questions as soon as possible?
- What do you see as your child’s academic and socio-emotional strengths? Areas of need?
- What areas of need did you and/or Hilary focus on last year? What supports, if any, are in place for your child in these areas?
- What goals do you have for your child this year?
- Is there anything else I should know?
Also, if you haven't sent in two pairs of spare clothes (one summer, one fall), it would be lovely if you could do so. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Sara and I will share much more about our curriculum on Back to School Night on September 23rd. We look forward to seeing you. If you have questions, don't hesitate to contact Sara or me about anything.