Category Archives: education

Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci

I’m reading this book to prepare for professional development which I am leading in the fall.

I just hit something I want to remember and didn’t quite know where to put it so, here I am. It’s been three years since I blogged anything. I write my reviews on Goodreads and I tweet periodically things I find which interest me but for more in-depth work, I guess this is where it goes.

From Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment p. 33: “Eaters and bakers. Eaters want a bigger slice of an existing pie; bakers want to make a bigger pie. Eaters think that if they win, you lose, and if you win,, they lose. Bakers think that everyone can live with a bigger pie.”

This quote makes me think about life in competitive dance. It’s very hard to keep your child remembering that all of their class can improve as dancers and yet that’s what makes dance so engaging and exciting. Just because you dance well doesn’t mean I can’t dance well. On one day to one examiner or adjudicator one of us may be ranked higher but that isn’t the end or beginning. It’s just one day.


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My fixed mindset

I have a fixed mindset when it comes to my athletic ability. I stopped thinking of myself as an athlete long ago – grade nine or so. I was one of 90 girls who tried out for Junior and Freshman basketball. They cut to 40 after one day. I didn’t make it. Then in the later part of the year, I spent the whole track season looking for something at which I would be competent. This meant that I would be among the top three in my age category because it didn’t seem to matter if you were less good than that. My school was large. I wasn’t that good at anything. They recommended middle distance running. It didn’t interest me. That was the complete end for me in athletics. I spent the rest of my high school career in fine arts and academics. I was in the top of my class but there were 60 or so of us in the higher academic stream. I ‘belonged’ there. I was among the best of the musicians.

I married an athlete. I see him take so-so runners and encourage them to be active and enjoy their own improvement. I wish I had considered improving my own athletic ability before I got arthritis in my feet. I’m not sure I would have ever loved to run but perhaps if I had been better earlier in my life, it would have made a difference.

I struggle with my fixed mindset when I work with disadvantaged students. Students who have already given up on themselves and are not motivated to learn are hard to teach. It’s not that I don’t think they can, I don’t think they will. I’m not sure how to move that part of my thinking. It’s not a long distance from ‘they won’t’ to ‘they can’t’.

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Filed under classroom, education, reading, thinking

Making Thinking Visible – Part Three

What can a teacher do to help create a classroom where thinking becomes visible?

Question. Listen. Document.


Good questions help students to construct their understanding.

Questions need to be thought through to help students think about the content not simply to outline the facts.  I think asking good questions is one of the toughest parts of good teaching.  This is at least the second time I’ve read about the importance of questions in creating teaching excellence.  It seems strange that something so simple can be so difficult.  It’s easy to ask who, what, when, where questions but to ask questions which ask them to make interpretations, make connections, focus on the big ideas requires thoughtful planning and deep understanding of the content and intent of your lesson.


Once a teacher asks the good questions, what do they do with the responses?  Really listening to the responses students give and figuring out what they mean and what they might have missed in their understanding is another task which takes care and deliberate thoughtful preparation.  I’m not sure I’ve figured this one out.  Often I listen for the answer I think I want as opposed to listening for the thinking the students are doing and learning about them from those responses.  I think the third part of this trio probably would help me with that.


Recording what students say during a class helps track what has been said, demonstrates the value of the students’ ideas,  gives an object for further discussion and reflection.


Three simple actions to take in order to make thinking the work of the classroom and learners within the classroom.

I know I’m going to use this.

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Making Thinking Visible – Part Two

Looking at student responses to thinking.

In Making Thinking Visible, the authors outline four different types of responses students give when asked to thinking or write about their thinking:  emotional, associative, meta and strategic.  Emotional responses indicate how the students feel about their thinking – unsure, hurried, stressed.  Associative responses indicate accompanying features when students are thinking – while traveling, in math class, when reading.  Meta responses have to do with student awareness of the purpose of thinking and complexity of the process – there is always more to know, knowledge is partial, you need to know something in order to create something.  Strategic responses indicate how the student goes about thinking – practice, look for information, organize my ideas.  These strategic responses can be broken down into four further categories – memory and knowledge development, generalized strategies, specific processes, self-regulation and monitoring processes.

While all thinking about thinking is useful for learners and their teachers and coaches, learning which strategies to use to monitor and regulate our learning, to commit things to memory and to complete specific tasks are of particular help for learners when creating independence and understanding.


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SPS Inquiry Project

My partner and I have not done what we thought we would do. As a planner and pleaser, I am completely disappointed with us but I’m also aware of what we have accomplished and the strides the class has taken as we worked through the challenges of the first term of the year.

We had hoped to use our inquiry to learn more about what the students knew about reading and giving them some more strategies to try. We had hoped we would be able to get them to write about their thinking and explain what they are doing when they read. We haven’t done any of that.

We did do some inquiry and some writing and started to get the students ready to use technology, so there has indeed been much accomplished and much learned both by the students and by us.

We have started a blog for the students and for the teacher. The students have learned how to login to the computers on their own and how to login to the blog by themselves. They are excited to be writing online and have had some great ah-ha moments. On the first day, we blogged a pair of boys were starting their first post. They typed it in and stopped to re-read their work. They couldn’t read it. One of the boys said, “Oh, we need to put in spaces!” It was great re-enforcement of one of those key first writing skills.

It has been fun to see some of the students who excell at handling the computers helping their peers. Particularly when some of the students who excell at computers are not the ones who excell at traditional school tasks.

The class has done some informal class inquiry into the nature of eels and snakes. They were able to work through from questions to searching to sharing of their ideas and learnings. Although this process was largely, off the grid, it fostered some great curiousity and allowed for an excellent writing opportunity.

The students have really learned about writing and being self-critcal during this term. They have worked together to develop a writing continuum which they can use for all kinds of writing throughout the year. It has been particularly helpful for the students who are writing well to challenge themselves to improve.

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SPS Inquiry Collaboration

My teacher partner and I got together today to work on our project. We were glad we had waited until we had learned a bit more about the students we are working with and where they need us to spend time. We have discovered through some testing that althought the students work well to understand when they are reading they are struggling to decode and read with fluency. This has helped us to set a slightly different focus for our technology and learning inquiry.
Using Debbie Miller’s work as a guide, we want to foster a community of learners in the classroom who are curious, reflective and thoughful. We want them to be absorbed by their learning experiences and eager to share them with others. We are going to focus on giving them a real audience and practical reasons to read and write.
Each student will partcipate in having a blog and using drawing and writing to think about how good readers decode text.
We have deliberately not chosen another curricular topic as the focus of our inquiry so that we may continue to work on the inquiry as the curricular content changes throughout the term.
We are planning on using Pixie and MS Paint as tools for communicating about words and reading.
It’s going to be fun to see where things go and what kind of products we can make to communicate with others the interesting things we read about and how we are becoming better readers.

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Inquiry Work SPS

Today my learning partner and I had a day of time to work on starting our inquiry project sponsored by our SPS central office. We decided on our area of study which will be English Language Arts and Social Studies. We found some really good links between our student work and our own professional work on literacy. We are feeling good about the alignment of our goals. We are needing to work on what the details will look like as we move forward and are concerned that we not pick off too much at once.

We think our inquiry question will be: How can I make my non-fiction writing exciting? We will be able to use the question throughout the year and move forward with both ELA curriculum outcomes as well as fold the question into our other areas of study.

We will be exploring using blogs and photography to develop our voice and our writing skill.

We are wondering, how we will best collaborate and divide up the work load.

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