Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Smart is What You Do, Not Who You Are"

I have been using the phrase, "Smart is what you do, not who you are," in my classroom lately.  I was inspired to use this phrase by Dr. Theresa Perry's recent talk which described the actions that create "smart."  Perry emphasized the fact that students need to be aware of and discern the whisper voices they hear as they learn so that they can dispel the false voices that tell a child he/she is not capable of "smart," and gravitate towards the voices that encourage and direct a child to actions that create "smart."

I shared this discussion with my students.  We made a list of actions that promote "smart."  This is what the students came up with:
  • Stay focused.
  • Ask questions.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Study, Read, Learn, Create.
  • Help one another, collaborate.
Now I ask students prior to most lessons, "What is smart behavior for this lesson?  How will you learn well?"  And if students are off-task, I'll ask them what they can do to learn?

Recently, a young student in my class was off-task during our sustained, silent reading period.  That child is one of the students in my class that struggles and does not score as well as the others on reading assessments. Although the child's ability to read words is solid, vocabulary often hinders comprehension.  We have developed a solid reading program for that child's reading progress which includes sustained independent reading with just-right books.  

When the child resisted reading, I made the decision to discuss the progress scores.  I mentioned that the scores were lower in part because when it's time to read, "you are not reading, therefore you're not getting the practice that the other students are getting.  I can help.  We have lots and lots of great books.  Let's sit down and read some."

At first I was met with resistance as it's never easy to have a challenge presented in such a blunt way, but then a few minutes later the child joined me and we read a very interesting, just right book together.  Following that, the child took the book home to read, and I promised that the two of us would read it again next week as we know that rereading books is natural and prompts reading growth.  

As I write report card comments this week, I will focus on "Smart is what you do," and add comments to each report card that notice the optimal learning practices a child engages in, and those he/she can employ more to develop their level of knowledge, concept and skill.  

I work in a school that has a wealth of tools and structures to support responsive, student-centered learning.  The key is teaching students how to access those tools with confidence, discipline and regularity so that they experience "Smart is what you do, not who you are."  Do you agree? I look forward to your thoughts.

Inspired Related Article from New York Times

What's Most Important for Students to Learn

Intrinsic Motivation