Thursday, June 15, 2017

We Want Students to Think 'HOW Am I Smart?' Not 'AM I Smart?'



In a recent post, I considered the importance of building on student strengths rather than a deficit-driven approach. When we help students understand their strengths and use them for learning, we show them they are valued for who they are. And we help them develop greater efficacy as a learner so they will want to learn more.

As I continue to reflect on this idea, I am reminded that we should never sort kids into smart or not smart. Even subtle decisions in the classroom can lead kids to think of themselves as not smart. And when a student's confidence suffers as a learner, then motivation is likely to suffer too. Instead, we want them to think, "How am I smart?" Every student has strengths as a learner.

And these strengths shouldn't be confined to just certain subjects. For instance, some students think they are only good at reading or writing, but don't recognize any strengths in math. I am suggesting that in every discipline, we teach students to identify their strengths and build on them.

So, even when working with a struggling writer, we can recognize that the student has a strength with imagination, spelling, or whatever. What is one area of writing that is stronger than the others? Identify that and build on it.

If a math student struggles with basic facts or number sense that gap is going to present challenges, but what mathematical skills do they have that we can reinforce? What is a way they can enter the problem based on a strength they have in their thinking? Build on that.

Students with highly specialized minds can be brilliant in certain areas and struggle mightily in other areas. When we recognize things that are familiar to them as strengths, we can use these things as a pathway to learn new skills. We start with the familiar and move to the unfamiliar. We all like to learn that way.

All students want to feel like learning has value, and they have a good chance of success. It leads to more engagement. In fact, all performance is built on strengths. That doesn't mean students shouldn't try something new or shouldn't be pushed out of their comfort zone. But we must first start with strengths and use that to lead into more challenging areas.

Question: What ideas do you have for identifying student strengths? How do we do this? I want to hear from you. Share a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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