Sometimes we all need little reminders to keep a growth mindset. Here’s some food for thought about making one slight adjustment to dramatically increase engagement in our classrooms.
When I was a first and second year classroom teacher, I spent the first weeks of school making sure the students were quiet and obedient, and knew my rules. Later, I changed my ways and spent a bit of time on classroom expectations—but mainly I taught students how to get over their fear of making mistakes when sharing or presenting, especially in the first few weeks of school.
My students used to come to me each year with the notion that quieter is better than talking and making a mistake. This frustrated me year after year. By week two my students usually understood that I want to hear their voices, and that I needed to hear what they have learned so I could re-guide them as necessary. I didn’t get frustrated or angry with the wrong answer, because they were just one step closer to the right answer. The way we react when students make mistakes can directly affect classroom management and more importantly: classroom engagement.
Let’s look at a few ways to redirect students without making them feel embarrassed in front of their peers and “shut down” in the classroom:
1. Teacher uses “incorrect” answers to re-guide students to correct answers.
When you ask your class a question and more than two students get it incorrect, use that as a check for understanding that your students may need another quick partner talk before sharing out again. This also allows your students to practice speaking and questioning each other, which builds confidence in students.
2. Students know not to shame, laugh, or ridicule each other for giving incorrect answers.
I used to do table points in a token reward system I used class-wide. When a student would accidentally laugh at another student for giving a way-off-track answer, I would reward the student who was ridiculed with table points. If the perpetrator apologized, I would give a few points to him or her, but not as many as the ridiculed student. This gave the power back to the student who was just ridiculed. Pretty soon, the laughter stopped.
3. Teacher asks classmates to “help out” when a student is off track with answer.
A simple phrase we can use when a student gives an incorrect answer is, “I see where you’re going. Can someone help him out?” This can help create a community of learners. Also, keep in mind that a wrong answer is just one step closer to a right answer.
This type of support leads to an engaged classroom full of raised hands because students are eager to try. Let’s face it, it’s really hard to unlearn failure. When kids get the idea that they failed at something, it stays with them. Be someone in their life who shows them that mistakes are part of growth. It takes an extreme amount of patience and practice to do this, but is well worth the payoff. Who doesn’t want a classroom where students aren’t afraid to answer?
Classroom management is about building students up, not breaking them down.