Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Helping Students Take Action and Develop Resilience

A goal without taking action is, essentially, a wish, a hope, or a dream. That is why setting goals without taking appropriate action is an exercise in futility. This is one of the pitfalls with helping students set goals. Once set, the process usually stalls because their is an assumption that the student, now that she has a goal, will "go for it" and find a way to achieve it. However, life is full of challenges and reasons to loose sight of your goal. As a result, students tend to be more successful with strategies in place that help them stay resilient in the face of difficulties.

I like to think of resilience as stubbornness directed at a worthwhile cause. Here are some ways to support student resilience.

Think "Why?"

When faced with the temptation to give up, remind yourself of why the goal is important. The result of this reminder will uncover one of two things. Either the goal is still a priority or it has been replaced by a higher priority. If it remains a high priority, keep going. If it has been replaced, move on.

Form a team

If you can find a group that is facing a similar challenge, you may find help by working together. When faced with accomplishing a goal for yourself, it is easier to give up than it is knowing others are also counting on you.

Smaller pieces

Difficult or unfamiliar goals can get overwhelming if you try to accomplish them in broad strokes. Break the actions into smaller and more manageable pieces. This helps you track progress, which is an important part of sticking with your goal.

Release the mantra!

No, the mantra is not some horrible monster. Your mantra is a short phrase that is easy to remember and clearly articulates your goal. For example, if your goal is to do a better job of handing in your homework on time, then you mantra may be something like "My homework; always on time." When you feel like you are moving away from your goal, repeat your mantra a few times. You may find it helps build resilience.

More than "What?" and "How?"

This is advice I often give. Knowing what and how is certainly important, but by adding "when" and "where" to your action plan has shown to increase the likelihood of you following through. Add "When?" and "Where?" to your plan to aid resilience.

A version of this post was originally published on The Thrivapy Blog on April 6, 2013. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

7 Questions For Which Every Student Should Have An Answer

Successful students know plenty, but some of what they know will never appear on a test or exam. While facts and figures are important and have their place in school, every student is not going to know everything. However, if I had to choose a few questions to which every student knew the answer, the list would include the following:

1. What is your purpose as a student?
This question speaks to the student's sense of mission. Generally, students can take two approaches to their role. One is the student as a receiver of an education. The second is a student as a producer of educated work. I advise students to reflect upon and move towards the second.
2. If all barriers to success were removed, what does an ideal school experience look like?
Another foundations* question, this asks students to craft a vision of success. An important element here is the need for specifics in the description. I have found that greater specificity leads to greater chances of success.
3. (2 part question) - What are the barriers to your ideal experience and how can you overcome them?
Of course the ideal is probably out of reach (if it wasn't out of reach, you would have gotten there by now), so facing reality and recognizing the real challenges facing your success is important. Knowing the difficulties you are about to face makes it easier to identify where you may need to work harder, who you may need to get on your team, and what type of help you may need along the way.
4. (2 part question) - What beliefs do you have about being a student and what actions are implied by those beliefs?
This question can be a difficult one to answer. It is difficult because your answer can reveal some inconsistencies in your work which would need to be addressed. For example, if one of your beliefs is that homework is an important part of getting better and getting better is an essential aspect of education, then the implied action is that you would always do your homework. For a student, this could be a difficult conclusion to manage, especially if you realize either you really do not hold that belief or you need to adjust your actions. Sometimes, neither course of action is attractive. However, the exercise of reviewing belief/action continuity can uncover some useful insights into why a student is not as satisfied or successful as they would like to be.
5. What did (will) you do to be a better student today?
I like this question better than, "What happened in school today?" One reason is that this question focuses on growth mindsets. Second, because this question is more focused, you are more likely to get a specific answer instead of "nothing" or another equally less descriptive answer.
6. What did (will) you do to help someone else be a better student today?
This is the previous question's cousin. After reflecting on your own growth, this one turns your attention to others. One of the principles of Thrivapy is relationship building and nothing helps build relationships like sharing your talents, ideas, knowledge, etc. with others. By helping others, we help ourselves. For example, I played baseball from the time I was able to walk  through college. Upon graduating, I became a high school baseball coach (which I continued to do for about 10 years). To this day, I am convinced that I was a better batter while I was coaching players and sharing what I knew than I was when I played.
7. Who are the people you can count on to support your efforts? Who is on your team?
When I played and coached baseball and football, I had a shirt with the word TEAM spelled out in all caps with the meaning "Together Everyone Achieves More" written on the back. While such messages are common in sports, the work of the student is often very much a solo act. Even with increased emphasis on collaboration, students can easily feel alone and unsupported when things begin to get a little tough.
We live in, arguably, the most connected society in the history of the world. Now, more than ever, it is easy to form a community of like-minded and talented people and tap into the collective genius of the group to help get you through difficult times. This is when knowing who is on your learning team and what they can do to help benefits students. This team can include parents, teachers, administrators, friends, other relatives, etc. Having a team in place does not, however, diminish the student's responsibility to act and make satisfactory efforts. What the team does is elevate the potential of the individual by creating a network through which knowledge is created and shared.
These are important questions and are the basis for some of the Thrivapy conversations I have with students. One of the great aspects of these questions is that with very little adjustment, they are as applicable to helping almost anyone, including teachers, find greater clarity, satisfaction, and success in their work.

* The term "foundations" is what I use to include mission, vision, beliefs, and philosophy as a single part of one's ability to find greater purpose, direction, satisfaction, and success. The foundations concept is one of the seven principles upon which Thrivapy works.

This article was originally published on The Thrivapy Blog (4/3/2013).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Helping Students With "Completion Amnesia"

"Completion amnesia" is a term I use to describe a student's insistence on having completed an assignment, but cannot recall any or all of these questions.

1. Where is the assignment?
2. When is the assignment due?
3. Why was the assignment given?

Completion amnesia reaches its peak for many students during the middle school years (grades 6-8, ages 11-13). It is often misunderstood and often (mistakenly) assumed to be a symptom of a lack of effort. This leads to frustration and confusion which, in turn, create a less than satisfactory experience for students, parents, and teachers. There are some ways, though, to minimize the effects of "completion amnesia" that anyone tasked with supporting students can use.

First, be patient. Adults, for the most part, do not struggle as much with such matters as adolescents do. Solutions that are easy for us to understand and use are not always easy for students. This can lead to a great deal of frustration when what appears to be an easy fix always seems just out of reach. Patience and knowing that the solution is easy to us because we have had much more practice can help. There are many times when I hear teachers (and parents) lament having to repeat themselves over and over again. Sure, it is frustrating, but it is also necessary sometimes if the end result is important.

Second, advise the student to slow down and do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is not always a good thing and with the busy lives students live today, it is easy to see how an eleven year old can feel like she needs to do a lot more than you and I did each day when we were eleven. While the ability to multi-task can help get things done, it also contributes greatly to making careless mistakes. A lack of focus also prevents the student from possibly remembering important key concepts. Slowing down, taking one thing at a time, and being more deliberate in your work can help prevent carelessness and support thorough completion.

Third, add "when" and "where" to each assignment. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard students answer the question, "What do you need to do?" That is certainly important. However, two other questions have shown to help students actually follow through and get the assignment done on time and with good quality. Those questions are, "When are you going to do it?" and "Where will you do it?" If you use an assignment book or have a chart at home, add those two pieces to the equation. You may see better results from needing to answer them. Also, the more specific your answers are to these questions, the better.

Fourth, and finally, allow students to learn from their mistakes. This may be the toughest tip for some because it forces parents and teachers to face the fact that making a few mistakes along the way is where the learning takes place. It is tough because it places the learning process in front of the conversation in place of results and grades. Grades have their place, but can distract a student who is doing something new or difficult from focusing on doing better at the task at hand.

If the student has an idea about how to correct their own "completion amnesia", let them try. Give them feedback and enter into a partnership with the student to help them find what works better form them. After all, it is their work and they need to begin owning it. Ask questions. If you hear, "I don't know" too many times, then offering a specific idea is in order. The goal here is not perfection. The standard for satisfaction should be growth and effort.

"Completion amnesia" is a frustrating part of the school experience for students, parents, and teachers. Be prepared to help by considering these strategies.

This post was originally published on April 1, 2013 at The Thrivapy Blog

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My 1st eBook, Paying Attention, Now An Amazon Best Seller

Recently, I chose to make a few changes to my first ebook, Paying Attention. I had the cover freshened up, enrolled the book in KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select, and changed the price from $0.99 US to a limited time promotional price of $0 - free.

Today, I checked the sales figures and found out that Paying Attention is #1 on the Top 100 free ebooks list for Kindle in the Professional Education Development category.

Thank you very much to all the readers and visitors of this site and my new blog, The Thrivapy Blog.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Strategies For Finishing Your School Year Strong

I learned a long time ago that most people remember the first and last thing they see or hear. That is one reason why it is important to start and finish your school year strong. Even as the school year begins the final phases, you can still develop good habits, realize better results, and go into the summer with positive momentum.
This applies to both students and teachers.
Keeping in mind the importance of a strong finish, here are a few tips to help you end the year on a positive note.
"Low Hanging Fruit"
One way to finish strong is to take a moment to recognize when opportunities are presented for you to get ahead. These opportunities may include assignments that come easy to you, extra time for help from teachers, or a fee professional development event. I use a similar strategy when doing crossword puzzles. Do the easy ones first, then work on the more challenging items. It is sometimes amazing how an item that was very difficult becomes easier after applying your strengths first.
The same applies at the end of the school year. Start with your strengths and grab the "low hanging fruit".
Frequent Review
End of the year work can seem like a long term prospect even if it is only a couple of months away. One strategy that works well with long term (or long term appearing) challenges is to have frequent reviews of progress. This may require the help of a trusted adviser, friend, or colleague. However, by tracking your progress, you can see how far you have gone and how far you have left.
Once you set a goal for the end of the year, schedule frequent reviews to stay on track.

The end of the school year is also very busy. With the coming of Spring and better weather, many outdoor trips and events are planned. Therefore, time may be more scarce that it appears. Keeping that in mind, you may begin to feel overwhelmed by the work and responsibilities facing you as you near the end of school. By having clear priorities, you can fight any anxiety that comes up and maintain focus on the issues that matter most.

Break it Down

Difficult work is more easily addressed when you have a clear sense of what to do. Breaking down these tasks into manageable chunks can clear up time for reflection and adjustment. It also helps you prevent careless errors or mistakes made simply due to lack of experience. If working on an unfamiliar or difficult task, pay close attention to what to do by breaking the item down into smaller components.
Mobilize Your Team
Every teacher and student has a team working with them. This team is made up of all the people one interacts with who has either the experience and/or desire to help. As the end of the year approaches, it is a good idea to check in with and mobilize your team. Reconnecting (or connecting with them at all) can bring a fresh perspective to your work as well as offer up ideas and inspire you to try something new. If you are finding a particular challenge very difficult, your team may be able to provide suggestions and support.
Eyes Forward

Finally, if you are looking to push for a strong finish, keep your eyes forward. There will be time to look back when the school year ends. Just like running a race, looking back can slow you down and lead to some disorientation. Set your goal for the end of the year and stay focused on that goal. Also, try to avoid moving your goal too much. After all, it is much harder to hit a moving target.
Spring brings with it the first signs of a rapidly approaching end to the school year. By using a few simple strategies, you are in great position to end yours with a strong showing.
This post was originally posted on my new blog, The Thrivapy Blog, on March 26, 2013. For more, please visit The Thrivapy Blog and check out Thrivapy's webs site.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Difference Between Pushing and Shoving

Though your thesaurus (or the one you use online) may not agree, I believe there is a difference between pushing and shoving. This is especially true when supporting students.
When I think about pushing, I imagine an object with potential that needs some assistance to begin moving.  Imagines such as a grocery cart, a rock on a hill, a car that runs out of gas, or a lawnmower come to mind.  Each of these objects have potential energy, but need a push to do their work and move forward.
Shoving, to me, is entirely different.  When I imagine a shove, I think about the inconsiderate person trying to get ahead in line, Black Friday masses attacking the shelves at midnight, or the response of a school yard bully to a new student.
Pushing is cooperation between an object with potential and a force seeking to help that object do its work.
Shoving is selfish.  It is done solely for the benefit of the person shoving.
When you support the potential for students, keep in mind the difference between pushing them and shoving them. Are your requests, activities, lessons, suggestions made to help a student with potential realize that potential or are they made primarily for your comfort.  Are you asking them to push themselves or are you simply taking the status quo and making it more difficult (essentially creating the mirage of pushing)?
With all respect to Merriam-Webster, pushing and shoving are not always synonymous.
This post was originally published on The Thrivapy Blog.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Thoughts On Student Motivation And Ownership

When helping students to take ownership of their work, we often begin to talk about motivation, or more specifically, how to design our work with students in a manner that supports higher levels of motivation. There are two aspects of "motivational design" that can help you. One involves the actual activities you expect students to perform.  The other involves the feedback you provide to students.

The Activities

The vast majority of activities students perform in class require some sort of focused effort. In addition, many activities demand attention to detail, creativity, collaboration, and the expense of some cognitive energy. 

When designing activities that support greater ownership and internal motivation, keep in mind the risks of rewards. This is not to say that positive feedback is not important (more on that later), but if your plan to encourage ownership and motivation is based on rewards, you will likely fall short and potentially set your students back further from owning their work than when they began. Instead, look for ways to incorporate autonomy, mastery, and purpose into the activity. Make sure the purpose is well understood, provide a clear path from activity to better mastery of the concepts, and give students some choice in how they go about delivering the final product.

For more on motivation, read Daniel Pink's Drive: The Surprising Truth Behind What Motivates Us.

The Feedback

In addition to the activities you design, the feedback you give also plays a part in supporting ownership and motivation. Feedback to students, both formal and informal, should be given frequently during activities.  Not only does feedback help keep students on task, but it also can be a significant factor in helping students take ownership and develop internal motivation. Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson's blog post, The Feedback You Need to Be Giving provides a wonderful explanation of how different types of feedback affect different people. Essentially, Dr. Halvorson reports that for experts, being more critical in your feedback is useful and motivational.  For novices, additional praise is the better motivational feedback. In other words, if you are giving feedback to an expert, telling them how to do better next time is more helpful than piling on the praise.  For people just staring out, frequently telling them what they are doing well is more helpful.

There are obvious implications here for giving feedback to students. If you are working with a student who full grasps the concepts and is looking for more of a challenge, feedback that suggests areas for improvement is a good idea. For students unfamiliar with the concepts, begin more positive in your feedback will help them stay motivated to continue trying.

Effective educators support the academic development of their students. The level of "academic maturity" a student has is largely the result of how much she takes ownership of her work and the level of internal motivation she has to do better. Both ownership of work and motivation are topics teachers can support in their classes with some attention to designing appropriate activities and giving appropriate feedback.

A version of this post was originally published on The Thrivapy Blog on March 11, 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Student's Vision of Success

The following post was originally published by me on my new blog, The Trivapy Blog.
When we talk about vision in connection to success, we often hear about it in terms of organizational vision or a leader's vision. Seldom, if ever, are students engaged in conversation about their vision for success.  That is unfortunate. Many students hold a short term, "get me through this week" view of their school work, but just as having a clear vision of success is a vital component to organizational or leadership success, a clear vision of success in school is an important element to student achievement.
So, if helping students create and articulate a vision of success is important, why do parents and teachers seldom engage in that conversation or exercise with their students? There are probably many answers to that question, but the two that I think are probably the most common are:
  1. Limited time
  2. Lack the tools to engage effectively in that conversation
Limited time
For parents, especially in dual income families, time for parenting is limited. A recent report by the Pew Research Center reveals some interesting findings about this topic. In particular, about 25% of mothers and almost 50% of fathers reported that they spend too little time with their children. In addition, mothers in dual income families report an average of 12 hours/week with children and fathers reported an average of only 7 hours/week. This means that in an average dual income family, fathers spend about an hour a day parenting and mothers spend just shy of 2 hours a day parenting.

For teachers, the challenge is similar. If the typical teacher works about 8 hours a day at school (this does not count the hours spent at home or weekends preparing lessons, grading papers, etc.), chances are they are in class teaching for roughly 6 of those hours. Most teachers have a planning period during which students are in class, which is about another 40-60 minutes. That leaves about an hour each day to have lunch, answer phone calls, and attend to other duties (lunch supervision, etc.). In other words, unless the school has a dedicated time for student advising, most teachers have very little time to devote to helping students craft a vision of success.
Lack the tools to engage effectively
Crafting a vision of success requires more than simply telling someone what you hope to achieve. For many students, if you ask them to describe their ideal situation they will talk about grades. I have found this to be the case in almost every conversation I start with students about their vision of success. Students will report that success is getting all A's or A's and B's or no grades below C. However, this fixed mindset description of success is not going to help them focus during tough times. It will not help them deal with adversity or build the resiliency to stay engaged when the inevitable distractions appear.
Developing a vision of success is a process that may require multiple drafts and edits along the way.  Knowing the types of questions to ask or to have as a guide will help keep the exercise on track and serve to support the students' own thinking. After all, a key element to a student's vision of success is that it is THE STUDENT"S vision, not yours. 
What to look for in a good vision of success
So, what can a parent or teacher do in their limited time to help a student create a vision for success? One option is to get help. Certainly, connecting with Thrivapy will help support that work. However, if you are looking for a way to jump start the conversation with a student, here are a few tips.
  1. Try to guide the student to use future oriented language.
  2. Make sure the vision is optimistic.  A lack of "bad" things is no tan optimistic vision.
  3. Include all important parties in the vision.  This includes teachers, parents, friends, siblings, etc.  They all have a role to play in the student's life and success.
Having a clear vision of success is important for businesses, leaders, . . . and students! Engage with them in this important conversation and see if you begin to notice a difference in their approach to school.
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