Goal Setting, Thinking, and Understanding

It has been some time since I last posted, but that does not mean there has not been a shortage of things to think about. While preparing for conferences, my inner conflict about grades versus feedback was in full force. The tension was great.

rope-tensionI had to assign a numeric score to report cards, but it often felt conflicting to our classroom focus on learning. Then came conferences and instead of always just focusing on students’ thinking, learning, how they were improving, and focusing on the new goals they created, I could feel our conversation more focused on the evaluation of skills.  It is really fascinating how difficult it is to change our culture of school from performance to true learning.

One of the things that helped us stay on track though, was that each child reflected on their learning over the trimester and we then created learning contracts. We focused our goals on reading, writing, math, and Listening/Speaking and our Norms. Each student filled out a Learning Contract Template.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.20.13 AM.png

This was definitely not easy for all students to fill out, but the process of doing it was extremely valuable.

Some examples…Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.31.20 AM.png

Student BScreen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.28.12 AM.png

Student CScreen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.27.15 AM.png

Student DScreen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.29.03 AM.png It was clear who were independent learners and had internalized how to learn and which students still need support in thinking routines that can help them to learn and understand.

I am trying to figure out how to help them understand what actions they can take to meet their goals. That was really hard for a lot of students, which is really the most important component. What can I do to understand and meet my goal? It will be interesting when we revisit them, to see if they can develop any more specific actions to help them. I think I need to really make their thinking explicit and visible as they are doing it. I need to take the time to allow them to reflect and process.

Then came Thanksgiving break, I read Jo Boaler’s new book, Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, and it was such a great time for me to read it.


It was very similar to her previous books, her articles and website, but no matter what, the message is so important and great to keep repeating.  This quote really hit me.

“Successful math users have an approach to math, as well as mathematical understanding, that sets them apart from less successful users. They approach math with the desire to understand it and to think about it, and with the confidence that they can make sense of it. Successful math users search for patterns and relationships and think about connections”

Excerpt From: Boaler, Jo. “Mathematical Mindsets.” iBooks.

As I mentioned, during my conferences I was getting pulled into talking with parents about math as discrete skills students needed, yet my goal is really the quote above. My goal is for all students to approach math and all subjects with the “desire to understand it”.  This is not an easy task. For some, the change is happening, yet for others they have spent 6 years in school passively doing school and to change that mindset has proven to be much more difficult than I was hoping. But I am not giving up.  See the next post.

This past week, I finally made time for the students to reflect on their learning  3 days.. I ran out of time not the others. I am so bad with time!!!! My goal is to get to 5, but 3 was a good start.

Each day, they were to reflect on our Norms by posting to our class LMS: Schoology. Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.48.53 AM.png(adapted from Jo Boaler’s Math Norms…I added in what each might look like in different subjects as well since the students are in a multi-subject classroom.)


What is great, is that students are able to read each other’s reflections and their thinking is visible for all to learn from. Below are some of their reflections.

“I liked how ______ explained himself in math and that made me think a lot harder and able to figure out the problem.” -Student A

“Today I questioned my teammates work in math and I overlooked it, got into a conversation about what was right, and then figured out the right answer. I appreciate _____ for really trying hard in math and helping me and _____ find the right answer.” -Student B

“Today I thought about if it was always, sometimes, or never. On one question I said it was sometimes and it was always, so I learned from that and got the next one right. ______ made it make more sense when he proved his answer and that helped my.” -Student C

“Today during read aloud, I asked questions about words that I wasn’t familiar with in our story and learned lots of new things about Egypt.” -Student D

“I made a connection from the example paragraph to my Mesopotamia paragraph that helped me understand how to transition to different details.” -Student E

“The trait I engaged in was being perseverant. I was being perseverant because I kept going on finding a way to put a key word in my questions.”- Student F

“…But now I learned from my mistake and my brain just grew. : )” -Student G

I really think being consistent (consistency is so hard for me) with this reflection time might help some of my more dependent learners become more independent.

And then I started to read Ron Ritchart’s book, Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools.

ritchhart-cultures-239x300Wow!, I have so much to process and discuss with others about this one. Where do I start?

Ahhh, thinking…the culture of thinking. It really is the only way that students are going to succeed in life and I feel like it is my most important job to facilitate learning opportunities for them to engage in thinking.

More to come… reflecting on engaging students in the whole subject, thinking like a disciplinarian, and making connections.


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