“And the Award Goes To…” Using Testing Season as a Growth Mindset Life Lesson for Students

April 29, 2021

Testing season is upon us, and that can be stressful for both student and educator.  But do you know what other events are big this time of year? Award shows!  Several years ago, I noticed how bad my students’ test anxiety was getting and wanted to shift their mindset. While I was thinking about it one evening, a commercial for some awards show came on and it showed someone’s acceptance speech, talking about all the hardships they overcame, and it inspired me.  This could be a great lesson for my students!

I was a Reading/ELA teacher, so did have to work it to “fit the curriculum”, but it wasn’t too much work and the kids really enjoyed it.  Here’s how I broke it down for a lesson:

STEP ONE: Have the kids word splash in groups or on the front board 2 separate ideas—one, what they are nervous about with testing and two—test strategies and tips for doing well.  This lets them see that their fears and concerns are probably the same as others and get ideas from others about ways to deal with it.

STEP TWO: Have them work in small groups/collaborative pairs to think of what they can do to lessen the stress and be prepared to overcome those things. Streamlining the word splash to things that relate to them helps focus their ideas.

STEP THREE: Have them independently brainstorm where they started from in their skill sets throughout school and the year, personal challenges they’ve faced that may have made it challenging, what they as an individual think success will look like and how they will feel when they reach their goal.  And tell them to remember those shout outs to people that supported them (ahem—YOU!) Encourage them to set more than one goal to create multiple levels of success opportunities.

STEP FOUR:  Show some of the most inspirational, moving, and, of course, school and age appropriate, speeches you can find online, just in case some aren’t familiar with award shows or don’t recall how they are done.

STEP FIVE: Have them write an acceptance speech!  Then they can record a Flipgrid video to post to the class board for you to watch and reply to! (If you aren’t familiar with Flipgrid, research HERE to find out if it may be a good fit for you). If you don’t use Flipgrid, they can use their cell phones or class computer to record and send an MP4 file, or you can have a camera set up in a corner for recording. I would avoid having them present in front of the class since some can have some pretty personal fears and knowing others won’t know might make them more inclined to share if they won’t be judged. Be sure to tell them only YOU will see it, unless they choose to share. A bonus could be to have them do it dressed up at home, or with a podium or fancy background in the classroom to jazz it up!

Be sure you give feedback, thanking them for sharing and supporting their ideas to work through it. Encourage them to save the video and watch it the day before testing to reassure them.

I love this approach since it creates a growth mindset and allows them some self-reflection.  Have data, old assignments, test scores, etc., and their word splashes from brainstorming in step 1 handy to help guide them since some may not think that big or may not be very growth-minded and may need guidance.

Most importantly, tell them that it is okay if they fall short of their goals. Share with them times things didn’t work out for you. Share stories of others you know (teachers, friends, former students, or even famous people) without using names of experiences that didn’t turn out how they expected, but they went on to find success.

We, as educators, know that this is one day and may not show their best ability if it is an off day, but the stress of how high stakes these tests can be to our career and their future can distract us from what is the most important thing—that they show up, show what they have learned and give their best effort. Remind them of this often and you will be doing a huge favor for their future self!

Becoming the Teacher My Students Needed Me To Be

By Sonya Barnes    4/30/2020

Please like and comment on this article if it resonates with you.  You can also interact more frequently by following me on Twitter @addictedtoteac1 or join the conversation on Facebook in the group Addicted to Teaching.

I remember the days of kids not wanting to work, or fake working when they didn’t understand and avoiding asking for help.  They would do as little work as possible to just get done as quickly as they could.  I remember calling home to parents or students to be hung up on when they heard it was me or sent to voicemail so they wouldn’t have to talk to me.  Those moments truly made me an unhappy teacher.  I questioned everything about my practices and wanted to do better, sometimes even considering a departure from the profession entirely.

We hear so much about building relationships with our students, we were shown videos of students and teachers high fiving and fist bumping, with glistening tears in their eyes about their love for each other, but not enough on how to do that.  Sure, I’ve had a few students I’ve connected with over the years and am still in touch with as adults. But it’s rare. And, honestly, I’m not even looking for that with every student. But I would like an enjoyable professional relationship with every student that is positive and progressive in their learning.  It’s not too much to ask, is it?

By happenstance, I stumbled across the how this year.  I found a way to define it, break it down into reproducible steps and saw it succeed-although not 100% because, well, what is ever 100% in life? 

My school does PLC’s a bit differently.  Our principal lets us choose our area of growth to focus on, let’s us do the leg work on it and share about it in a video at the end of the year with our colleagues—and we do so enthusiastically.  It’s not very often that your mandatory learning for the year gets to meet you right where you are and be about something you want it to be about.

With carte blanche, my team decided we wanted to explore the area of Growth Mindset.  It has become such a buzz phrase in education, but, other than defining it, we hadn’t really gone in depth of how to expand on it since it started. We wanted to explore this and see if we, already happy, bubbly people in a positive work environment, could find a way to do it better. And, to be perfectly honest, we were the newbies at the school still learning a new job, so wanted something we thought would be pretty easy.

We had to start by posing a question, so here is what we posed:

Once that was done, we started digging into the research element. I won’t bore you with all the details (unless you are interested, then check out the snip or comment below or email me and I can send you some links!), but we found out some amazing things. 

The sources–if you can’t read them, I can send them

We were surprised to learn that growth mindset not only impacted student learning/teaching environments but could impact whether or not dietary changes or attempts to quit smoking would be successful. Whoa. Game changer. 

A coworkers response to a research post

We realized we needed to do more than we already were, though. Especially since our project required us to make changes and implement them to get data.  We already used the “positive sandwich” approach in student feedback on assignments, but we stepped it up. In fact, when we stopped being negative at all, we saw a whole new level of connection with our students and parents.

You see, by creating a safe and welcoming environment focused on learning and not perfection, learning truly happened. We worked hard at the old proverb of treating others the way we wanted to be treated. We didn’t like being told what we did wrong, we liked hearing what we did well and what areas we could improve on and how.  So, if we, as professional adults, didn’t like negative feedback, why on earth would our kids?! How would they learn positive feedback and growth mindset if we didn’t live it?!

A student that hadn’t worked in weeks would start a conversation apologizing but would quickly relax when asked if they and their family were okay, or about some challenge they’d been struggling with the last time we talked, or how I could help them get the outcome they wanted.  I stopped telling kids to redo work they messed up on, but told them what I liked, what they could do to earn back points lost and gave them the choice of doing it—and most did.

By telling them I wasn’t worried about the past since we couldn’t change it, but that I was worried about how they could succeed right  and in the future showed them that they are the most important thing, not something they can’t change, I changed their view of the task. It truly became one of those teachable moments.

You know what else happened? Parents and students answered my calls, texts or emails. They knew my goal was to help, not judge, not make them feel bad, not point out the flaws. The students would call or text for something they didn’t understand and needed help with. And no matter how obvious the fix should have been or that I had a hundred other kids ask me THE SAME QUESTION that same day, I never made them feel bad. In fact, no matter how silly the overlook may have been, I’d downplay it as being something that was okay to not know since it may have been different than what we had known or just pretty hard to figure out. 

To truly embrace building those relationships, you’ve got to treat students as people and as equals, regardless of rank or responsibility in the infrastructure. You must respect their life and where they come from, what they are going through and be willing to walk through it with them to the other side.  You need to compliment them, celebrate their successes, and work together to solve the not YET successes.  Will it work every time and with everyone—I doubt it.  Who can make that kind of guarantee that isn’t selling something for 3 easy payments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling?  But I can guarantee that you have no chance of seeing success if you don’t try.

So, start looking at how you interact with students, parents, coworkers, your own family—people.  Look for opportunities to focus on positives and celebrate successes or turn negatives into positives in the making.  You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to gain, and you may find the payoff is in more than your day to day teaching interactions.