How one teacher got her students to practice accomplishing more, inside and outside the classroom

At the end of each school year, as the weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer, my students wish to be outside, on the playground, enjoying the sun.  I want to give them one final boost of energy to get them through the last month of school.

Throughout this past year, we visited and revisited the growth mindset.  My first grade students and I had several conversations about what it takes to have a growth mindset and how we can ensure we’re always pushing ourselves to become challenged learners.  We have not, however, taken a moment to list the things we already do and understand how can accomplish more. After reading Empowering English Learners for Classroom Success by Mawi Asgedom and Dr. Joanna Even, I realized that I have not allowed my students enough time to brag about their success stories because we have been so fixated on challenging ourselves.  

To give my students an extra boost of energy, I decided to teach the Can Do, Not Yet lesson that is outlined in Empowering English Learners for Classroom Success by asking my students to think about all of the things they Can Do.  I told them to keep it as general as they want, or, if they wished, they could make it specific to academics.  It was my intention to allow them to share anything they wish with the class, and I didn’t want to set any limitations.  

When working with English learners, I always like to give the students sentence frames to help guide the conversation.  I also like to give the students an example from my life that they will not be able to use in their conversation or writing.  

I started off by saying, “Today, it is our goal to talk about all of the things we can do.  It can be something we can do at home, in school, in a sport, or anything else you wish to share.  Our conversation starter is on the board. I will read it first. Then, we will read it together.”

I read the conversation/sentence starter which said, ‘I can do many things. One thing I can do is ____________.’  In the blank I inserted one thing I can do that I worked really hard to accomplish, which is to speak French. I was raised speaking Arabic and English, and my love for learning new languages emerged in middle school, which is when I decided to pursue a third language.  I decided to use this example to show my students that this activity can be anything we want it to be.

    Now that I explained the activity and modeled it for my students, it was time for them to engage in conversation.  We completed an active turn and talk in which my students stand up in two lines, each line facing one side of the room.  They each shared their Can Do statement with the person standing next to them, listened to that person share their statement, and then walked up to the next student in line.  

These active turn and talks are effective because the students are stand and are aware that the entire line is waiting for them to share so that everyone else can rotate.   I walked around and listened to students share their Can Do statements and was amazed at their conversations.  Samples of their Can Dos are listed below:

  1. I can read a chapter book.

  2. I can cook with my mom.

  3. I can skip.

  4. I can do my homework without my mom’s help.

  5. I can fix computers.

  6. I can swim.

  7. I can brush my teeth by myself.

After having these conversations, I asked the students to complete the Can Do, Not Yet circle template from Empowering English Learners for Classroom Success.  In the inner circle, the students listed one thing they can do and were encouraged to add more.  After a few minutes, the class gathered back on the rug for a second active turn and talk.

This time, the students had to talk about things they are not yet able to do, but wish to do one day.  I modeled this again by using a sentence frame and an example from my life, “I am not yet able to _____________, but with hard work I will get there one day.”  The example I used was, “I am not yet able to do a handstand in yoga, but with hard work I will get there one day.”  The students, once again, completed a beautiful active turn and talk where they discussed some of the things they are not yet able to do.  They returned to their seats where they listed those things in the outer circle that is labeled Not Yet.  I explained to them that they can keep these templates and revisit them every month to see if they can move one thing from the Not Yet outer circle to the Can Do inner circle.

After completing this activity with my students, I realized that it is equally as important to brag about your successes as it is to create a plan for things you wish to work on.  We often get so lost in the next project that we forget to be grateful for the many things we can do in our lives that were at one point challenging. This lesson can be applied to any group of students or adults.  We can always take a step back when feeling fatigued, stuck, or simply down and make a list of all of the things we can do to give ourselves back the energy and drive we lost for a moment.

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