Try This Confidence Builder​

Rewriting the stories we tell ourselves can help us succeed and make lasting change, especially when we utilize a growth mindset. You may have heard of psychologist Carol Dweck and her research on a fixed vs. growth mindset. I wrote about her work back in August. With a growth mindset, we believe we can work hard, push through struggle, and come out the other side successful.  But all too often, the stories in our minds leave out this growth mindset, and instead we stay in a fixed mindset. "I'll never learn geometry!" or "Writing is too hard for me" are two examples of a fixed mindset. But the good news is, we can learn to rewrite the stories we tell ourselves. So how can you help your child change her mindset through writing? Using the excellent graphic in this article, you can build a story. Here is an example: Whenever I am faced with a hard problem in geometry, I tell myself that I have many tools I can use to tackle it. First, I can ask my teacher for help. Second, I can go online and watch a Khan Academy video about the geometry skill I am trying to do. I can also ask a friend or get help from a tutor or a parent. I keep trying to understand the problem, getting lots of support from others, until it clicks. All the effort I put into figuring out the problem leads to me understanding it.  Keeping the story in present tense helps. Writing the story in the present tense makes it seem as if it is happening now, which helps students embody the idea. The story doesn't have to be about school; students could make up a story with Star Wars or Minecraft characters. Just the act of writing about perseverance will help students see the steps they can take in their own life.  ​

Skip the Computer When Taking Notes​

Although laptops are now ubiquitous in classrooms, research from Princeton and UCLA shows that handwritten notes are still better. This is because a student can't possibly write down every word verbatim, and this causes them to process the material in a different way than if they were typing. This extra step actually helps students grasp overarching concepts better. Click over to this NPR article about the research if you'd like to learn more specifics about why this is the case. Knowing that writing notes by hand is better, how can students with ADHD and dyslexia get the benefits of handwritten notes when this activity can be such a challenge? I would recommend that the student learn a note-taking strategy such as SQ3R or Cornell and pair that with recording the lectures. Your student's IEP or 504 plan might also include an accommodation to receive teacher outlines and/or other students' notes as well. Another option is to invest in a Livescribe Echo Smartpen, which records while you write. The next step is for the student to review their notes no more than 24 hours after a lecture. This can become part of one's nightly homework, to review the notes from the day and to notice anything that needs clarification. This last step is crucial: it is important for students to recognize what they still don't understand and get help from their teacher or a tutor in the following days. This ADDitude article has excellent note-taking tips. Here are some highlights: Always date notes to make it easier to find information later When a teacher says, "this will be on the test" but an asterisk or star next to the information Paraphrase or use short-hand when possible Leave space at the bottom of the page for questions These skills are not often taught in school and they do take practice to learn. If you think your child could benefit from note-taking practice, please let me know.  Photo credit: Marco Arment​

Using Micro-goals to Tackle Huge Projects​

What is the best way for students to tackle huge projects or essays? To break the tasks into their smallest pieces and tackle those pieces one by one. I first came across the the idea of micro-progress in this recent New York Times article. What is so great about the idea of micro-goals is that it parses the pieces of a project into the smallest possible parts so that momentum builds when a student gets started on a task. The article's author, Tim Herrera, says "once you shift your thinking into this frame — I’ve started being productive, so I’m going to keep being productive — you achieve those micro-goals at what feels like an exponentially increasing rate without even realizing it." And stuff gets done. How would this look with a typical assignment? Let's say your child has to write an essay on The Stranger and existentialism. Here are what the first few steps might look like: 1. Open a Google Doc. 2. Name the Google Doc. 3. Write down one idea for how The Stranger demonstrates existentialism. 4. Write down another idea for how The Stranger demonstrates existentialism. And so on. Rather than having a more global task like "brainstorm ideas for essay," students break that down into the actual minute steps. Herrera says this works because it uses Newton's first law of motion: an object in motion stays in motion. Once you get started, you often get on a roll. The momentum builds and the essay gets written. And tackling each small task becomes much easier than staring down an entire essay. Students would only need to practice listing out the micro-goals a few times before they got the hang of it...and having someone there with them to figure out those micro-goals would be a huge help to them.​

Four Powerful Books for Black History Month​

Recently, I've read four books that I highly recommend as reading for Black History Month. I finished the first book last night, and I'm still steeping in its emotional and poetic words. Sing, Unburied, Sing won its author, Jesmyn Ward, the National Book Award, and for good reason. It deals with the opioid crisis, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, and does so within a magical realist Mississippi haunted with ghosts. There would be a lot to discuss with your child in terms of family and race relations, the effects of drug use, the continued effects of slavery, and how different people deal with death. Definitely for the more advanced high school reader. It will speak to readers who enjoyed Beloved by Toni Morrison. The second book is Kindred by Octavia Butler, which I'd recommend for high school and some middle school readers. It is science fiction with a historical bent: the main character Dana time travels (without knowing how or why) from her home in California to the antebellum South to save the white son of a plantation owner. It is an astonishing look at the horrors of slavery and the meaning of family. There is also a graphic novel adaptation by Damian Duffy (I haven't read it, but it looks well-reviewed). Third is The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, which is on the National Book Award Longlist. It is about a 16-year-old girl who lives in a poor neighborhood and attends the local prep school. She witnesses her unarmed friend get shot by a police officer, and her world is upended. I read this together with one of my high school students and found it created highly interesting conversations about racism, police shootings, and what it means to belong. Recommended for high school students. Last is March, the multiple-award-winning graphic novel trilogy written by US Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. It follows the Civil Rights Movement and Lewis's role in it and I found it to be engrossing and informative. Excellent for upper middle and high school students.​

Modeling Vulnerability​

Being vulnerable is one of the most challenging things for humans to do and many of us shy away from it for good reason — it's scary! But it is also a vital part of the human experience and children are faced with opportunities to practice vulnerability all day long at school: when the teacher calls on them to demonstrate a math problem on the board, when they are assigned to give a speech, when they are asked to read aloud in front of the class, or when they want to ask a friend to do a play date. We can all learn how to step into vulnerability and practice sharing our hearts and inner selves with others. One major way children learn how to be vulnerable is by observing the adults around them. They are constantly watching us and learning from how we interact with others. So, how willing are you to be vulnerable? How often do you risk saying how you really feel? When are you better able to be vulnerable and with whom? Do you share your thoughts and feelings easily? Start thinking about those questions and notice areas and places in which you are more or less willing to be vulnerable. If there are ways in which you'd like to risk more vulnerability, take small risks and see how it feels. I recently finished reading Brene Brown's fantastic book Braving the Wilderness, and in it she presents a phrase that I love so much: Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart. What does she mean by this? That we can learn how to stand up for ourselves and be grounded in our truth (strong back), that we can practice letting our soft and squishy inner selves be seen (soft front), and that the most important thing is to be willing to speak our truth even if it means standing alone (wild heart). When you practice being vulnerable, you're teaching your child how to have those three crucial things. It is messy and painful and beautiful and necessary. And it is one of the best parts of life.​


Katrina's Blog