You could forgive my Algebra 1A repeat students if they have a pretty low self-worth when it comes to math. They think they’re “dumb”. Math stopped being fun around 5th grade or so when “=” stopped meaning “put the answer in this blank” and started meaning “these two expressions have the exact same value”. Math makes no sense to them, so of course it is “stupid”. It’s something they’ll “never use in real life”, so why learn it now? I’m exaggerating only slightly here, for effect, but the student sentiment is real.
If you said, “Gosh, there, Mr. Dull, I think you need to get their heads straight before you try to teach them math”, you are so 100% absolutely correct it’s not even funny. I’ve worn a groove into my student’s heads with “No, I’m not good at math YET” these last couple of years. If you’re familiar with Carol Dweck’s concept of Mindset, you know where I’m coming from.
Several of the teachers in my circle (both online and IRL) are subscribers to the growth mindset theory. Truth be told, why wouldn’t you be? If students were stuck at their present level of understanding and skill forever, hell, why show up to work? Let’s stay home and play Madden and eat Doritos and call it a life.
But there’s more to growth mindset than “hey, good job, you tried”, as Dweck points out in this article. We’re not just sending these guys out there to get their brains beat in, then saying “Awww, nice try!” when they fail. It’s building strategies to learn from that failure and move towards success.
You need a little background here. Ned Yost is the manager of the Kansas City Royals, his third major league managing gig. He has been roundly criticized for his managerial decisions – in a baseball world more and more dominated by the quants, he flies by the seat of his pants, often disdaining the percentage play suggested by advanced metrics… and oh, yeah, his team won the World Series this week. Ferlazzo linked to a New York Times Magazine profile of Yost, including part of his managerial philosophy:
Later, Yost would be criticized for not replacing erratic infielders when he had late inning leads and allowing untested pitchers to compete — and often fail — in crucial situations. The critics didn’t understand, he told me, that he wasn’t necessarily trying to win those games. ‘‘The difference between 72 and 76 wins doesn’t mean a damn thing to me,’’ he says. ‘‘I wanted to put those young players in a position to gain experience, so that when we could compete for a championship, they’d know how,’’ Yost says. ‘‘You can’t do that when you’re pinch-hitting for young guys. You can’t do it when you quickhook starting pitchers. They’ll never learn to work themselves out of trouble. People would say, ‘What’s he doing?’ They didn’t understand. I’d rather lose a game on my watch so they could win later.’’
Or, for my visual learners out there:
This week during our Monday PLC time PD, the topic was Rigor and Relevance and Relationships. Point being, rigor only comes after relationships and relevance. Back to Yost:
One night this season, Yost encountered a knot of players leaving the team hotel in Milwaukee. It was nearly 10. Hearing that they were headed to a late dinner and then a casino, he nodded. He wasn’t giving his blessing, exactly, but he wasn’t disapproving either. ‘‘I know these guys inside and out,’’ he told me later. ‘‘I know they won’t stay out too long. Their goal is winning. They won’t do anything to detract from that.’’
He’s got the relationship part down. But equally as important, he’s got players who can see the prize waiting for them at the end. They’ve got a whole off-season to celebrate a title now, because they got down to business during the season. As a baseball guy, I get the analogy. As a teacher, and a reflective practitioner, I ask myself: “What does this look like in a classroom? Does it translate?” I’m going to go out on a limb here. A major league baseball player, who has ridden the busses and slept in the flea-bag hotels and eaten Mickey D’s three times a day every day for years while trying to make The Show, actually wants to be there. Nobody is making him. It’s not a requirement for graduation anymore. Hell, it’s all you want to do ever since you could pick up a bat.
My students? They don’t have “Learning For Learning’s Sake”… yet. I leave them alone and say “hey, do what you want, you know I trust you”, you know what I’ll get.
I wonder still if I’m helping all this to come together in class, so that actual learning occurs. I think I have the relationship part down. Getting the buy-in on the math? Work in progress.