My last memories of watching Sesame Street involve me sitting in my friends’ living room silently detesting a show I once loved but now believed was too childish. Big fluffy animals singing silly songs about letters and numbers weren’t cool anymore. I was now eight-years old and the messages being sent abruptly stopped resounding within me.
It’s taken twenty-eight years for me to be reconnected with Sesame Street. YouTube has taken over the world of online videos and finding ways to quietly engage our 21-month old twins has led us to the Sesame Street YouTube Channel. This has led us to creating a playlist of famous musicians rewriting their own songs as“educational." From Usher to One Direction to Elvis Costello, many musicians have performed on Sesame Street. They are cute, educational, and quite catchy. Best of all, my kiddos love ‘em.
One song, however, has deeply reverberated with me, and over the past few weeks I have reflected on its message and connection to teaching and learning. The Power of Yet by Janelle Monae melodically brings up the important message of fostering a growth mindset.
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You try to add but the numbers came out wrong
You tried to sing but you didn’t know the whole song
You tried to cook but it didn’t taste right
You tried to dunk but you didn’t get enough height
You just didn’t get it yet,
but you’ll make it soon I’ll bet.
It’s the power of yet.
Mark Hecker, founder of Reach Incorporated, says that we often forget about “yet”. In one of the most powerful TedTalks, he shares how the most disadvantaged have always been judged only by what they have done before and what they cannot do now. Rarely are they ever seen as what they can do or what they haven't done, yet. I began to think about teaching and how often our language focuses on the now rather than the then. How can we shift our language, so rather than saying, “Johnny does not know his 8-times table,” to saying, “Johnny knows his 5-times table and does not yet know his 8-times table?” This minimal shift changes what we are saying to children and parents from what is to what could be.
Carol Dweck, the guru of growth mindset research and Professor at Stanford University, states that “just the words "yet" or "not yet," give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence…[E]very time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter.”
At what age do we stop saying, “….yet”? We always say it about babies as I have recently learned in my conversations with other parents that always end with “….yet”.
“Are they sitting up, yet?
“Have they started crawling, yet?”
“No, they are not talking, yet.”
“Are they eating solid foods, yet?”
“Yes, they are walking, but they’re not running, yet.”
“Are they only taking one nap, yet?”
“Have they stopped breast feeding, yet?”
“No, they are not sleeping through the night, yet.”
When and why do we stop asking and answering using, “yet”? We often hear students saying, "I can't..." How can we teach ourselves and our students to say, "...yet." Dweck believes that we can begin by “praising wisely, not praising intelligence or talent. That has failed. Don't do that anymore. But praising the process that kids engage in: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, and their improvement. This process praise creates kids who are hardy and resilient.”
Many teachers in Grades 3 and 4 at Munich International School have begun the year focusing on the growth mindset and the power of yet using Jo Boaler's Week of Inspirational Math from Stanford University’s YouCubed Project. Within this week, students learn important growth mindset messages that help them develop confidence, try harder all year, persist with open and difficult problems and embrace mistakes and challenges. "All tasks are low floor and high ceiling – they are accessible to all students and they extend to high levels." This is one amazing example of how we can push our students to recognise the importance of developing a growth mindset. Here is Day 1's video on growth mindset: Day 1 Growth Mindset
I was fortunate to observe several of these lessons and the discussions were extremely powerful. The learning experiences were challenging for all, but the results help set the stage for a year of deep understanding of mathematics. When students begin to think about their understanding of mathematics based on their experiences with it rather than their ability, they recognise that we can all learn not just mathematics, but all subjects. This past week was the beginning of something important. Below are some photos from the week of inspirational math: