Monday, July 29, 2019

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Chapter Seven Notes

The quote by Ralph Ellison at the start of the chapter, makes me think about what is real for me today and as a child, and what is real for my students? How can we make what is real for our students come alive in the first weeks of school so we get to know them well?

Hammond uses Carol Dweck's research which, in part, teaches us that what people believe about themselves as learners and their ability to be effective are the catalysts for learning. This research helps us learn how to cultivate students' academic mindset and their ability to believe in themselves. These integral components of an academic mindset matter:
  • I can succeed at this
  • I belong to this academic community
  • My ability and competence grow with my effort
  • This work has value for me
Hammond teaches us that we have to seek the deep roots of why a child is disengaged in the learning and why that child has self doubts about their ability to be successful. She also challenges us as educators when she shares the fact that "schools do a lot more to influence a negative mindset than we'd like to admit." She points out that this support of a negative mindset can be found in these components of school life:
  • structural inequalities that are predictors of who will achieve well and who will struggle
  • policies and practices that limit opportunities
One example that she provides about structural inequalities speaks to my will to revise our Response to Intervention program is when she discusses "the student who is a struggling reader in seventh grade might believe he is just a slow learner. He isn't aware of the policies and practices that led to poor reading instruction in second grade with no intervention to close his learning gaps as he moved to third grade." I would like to re-look at our RTI approach after reading this book, and make some changes to elevate what we can do for struggling math students. 

Hammond demonstrates to us that students' internal scripts that lead to less engagement, negative academic mindset and low achievement are the result of microaggressions. She defines microaggressions as "those small, seemingly innocuous, brief, verbal, denigrating, and hurtful messages to people of color." As I read this, of course, I think first of the President's tweets, words, and actions which have demeaned so many in our culture. And I also realize that I have to be more aware and responsive with regard to the "small, nonverbal snubs; dismissive looks, gestures, and a condescending voice" that sometimes finds its way into classroom and school endeavor. As I think back to when events like these happened last year, I now realize that a quick course on what microaggressions are and their negative impact on students' learning would help to elevate the entire class's awareness of this negative behavior. Students are generally well meaning, and often their less than positive behavior is the result of not understanding what they are doing and why it has such a negative impact. 

We learn in this chapter that the brain is more hardwired to negative experiences than positive experiences. We can work against a deficit model that activates negative experiences in the following ways:
  • Using equity with regard to our reactions to students, and not treating students of color with more severe punishments, overemphasizing military-like behavior management strategies, and being careful not to use exclusion as a consequence for behavioral issues.
  • Refrain from microinsults which are insensitivity to a child's cultural or linguistic background, trivializing their racial or cultural identity such as not correctly pronouncing a child's name or giving them another name because you can't pronounce their name or continually confusing students of the same race and casually brushing it off rather than apologizing and working not to do that.
  • Microinvalidations trivialize and dismiss students' experiences telling them they are being too serious or "playing the race card."
To help students successfully move from dependence to independence, we have to help them reprogram their brain's academic mindset and resetting their safety-threat system so that they don't get upset every time they try to stretch themselves academically with new challenges. 

We need to validate students' emotions and experiences. Hammond cautions us not to trivialize what students' experience or feel when she writes, "We don't trivialize issues of racism, language discrimination, or socioeconomic injustice that show up in the media. Instead, we use these events to remind students that they are not crazy or being overly sensitive when they experience microagressions." This reminds me of the importance that we listen and observe our students and learning environments carefully--we want to be attuned to what is going on, and respond in ways that elevate students' ability to move from dependence to independence rather than to stay mired in an academic mindset and behaviors that don't allow them to move ahead.

Self efficacy is essential. Every year I focus on the story, The Little Engine that Could. In many ways that little engine demonstrated the I think I can academic mindset, a mindset that positively motivates the way a child thinks, acts, and learns. It's imperative that children understand the value of effort when it comes to academic success, and they also have to believe and know that they are capable of success. Small, incremental successes are the stepping stones to developing a positive academic mindset--children build self efficacy by doing and experiencing success, not by hearing positive words. 

Students must be able to see and understand mistakes as stepping stones to success. How to positively deal with mistakes has to be an open topic in the classroom. Students have to see learning as the process of creating new learning paths, and getting better in ways that include making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. 

Hammond gives us lots of ways to help learners develop a strong, positive academic mindset. First, she reminds us that we must help students develop a positive narrative about themselves as a learner. Often I'll tell students about education myths that abound in the culture--myths that tell us only some can learn or myths that equate success with ease rather than hard work. We spend time talking about why many myths the culture holds about success are wrong and what is right instead. This helps students to better develop positive academic mindsets. The chart on page 116 that shows the difference between a fixed mindset and growth mindset is important to show to and discuss with children in this regard as well. 

Work with students to find and display visual images of success--let them choose the images from magazines or online, and have them tell you why they chose that image and why that image illustrates success. Rather than focus on negative events in the class, make time to acknowledge students' display of a positive academic mindset with phrases such as you ask amazing questions, I love the way you persevere in your learning, and I am inspired by the way you think about mistakes and use them to help you learn more and better. Use the phrase, "neurons that fire together, wire together," to support student share about their areas of success and strength, and then use those personal areas as ways to inspire students' success with tasks that are challenging and/or new, and coach students out of negative self talk with actual strategies such as the "back talk" strategy where students write down their negative self-talk statements, evidence that it is not true, words that positively rephrase the statement. 

Hammond, at the end of this chapter, writes, "Through the process of validation and critical examination of dominant cultural messages, you can help them develop critical hope and recognize their true potential." This is a powerful statement that makes me want to be more attune to the details of the school day with regard to the words students are using about themselves and each other, their physical and verbal responses to one another, and the many ways they can develop to be better self advocates who use self efficacy to succeed.