High Yield Strategies – Empower Learners

I had the chance to return to Leander, Texas to be part of their 20th year Continuous Improvement Conference. I was there last year and I wrote about their focus on seven student learning behaviors.  This year’s two day conference offered over 300 staff development learning opportunities. Each session descriptor identified which of the seven student behaviors the teacher learning could impact.

Leander’s Behavior #4 is High Yield Strategies: Students understand and use a variety of learning strategies and tools to help them learn.

My current thinking is that the concept of “learning strategies” might provide the ideal way for teachers to communicate the teacher-learner partnership. Student achievement requires the student doing the learning… perhaps the best way to describe the teacher’s role is one of teaching and coaching the learning strategies.

One of my workshops at the conference was on effort. I discussed the need to build students’ belief in a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset of ability. Students become empowered when they understand that success will come with gaining the necessary strategies: reading strategies, math strategies, music strategies, soccer strategies, study strategies, etc.

I often illustrate this with the example of a classroom observation where a Kindergarten teacher read a story to the class and then asked questions. When a little boy gave the correct answer she responded saying, “Oh, you are so smart”. I thought, “No, he isn’t smart. He must have been using one of the listening strategies the class has learned and practiced.” Had the teacher responded that way she would have reinforced the boy’s effort and informed the rest of the class that they could be successful with use of the strategies.In the classic marshmallow experiment by Walter Mischel, four year olds were challenged to not eat a marshmallow placed in front of them in order to be rewarded with another marshmallow.

The study found that:

The low delayers, the children who gave in to instant gratification by eating the marshmallow, were more likely to have behavioral problems in school and at home. On average, the children who could wait 15 minutes to consume a treat had an SAT score that was 210 points higher than those who did not delay consumption.

But look what happens when kids are taught strategies.

Professor Mischel  found that when he and his colleagues taught children a simple set of mental tricks—such as pretending that the candy is only a picture, surrounded by an imaginary frame—he dramatically improved their self-control. The kids who hadn’t been able to wait sixty seconds could now wait fifteen minutes. “All I’ve done is given them some tips from their mental user manual,” Mischel says. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.

I’m thinking that school leaders working as coaches and PLC facilitators might engage teachers in exploring these two questions:

What strategies do your students need to internalize to be successful in mastering the desired content or standard?

What experiences or actions do your students need to have and practice to develop the needed strategies?

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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