A limited view of education is that students are receptacles for knowledge. We give it to them. They take it. Deal done. A further limiting view of education is that each student has a fixed capacity for learning and understanding and it is the job of schooling to identify who has got what, and send each along his path accordingly.
As parents (and teachers) what can we do to communicate to our children that learning is a lifelong curiosity? And that their minds are like muscles that grow and change and strengthen and become flexible? We certainly can’t give our preschoolers a dissertation on Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset and expect them to say, “Ahhhh. I understand now. No worries, Mom, I will look at my shortcomings as opportunities now and persevere through the difficulties.”
Here’s one simple way you can start building a foundation for growth mindset and an ability to reflect on one’s experiences. Ask your child to observe and wonder.
For example: Walking along the sidewalk, the 5-year-old and I noticed a small garter snake in the dry leaves.
Yes, cool, son. Let’s observe. “What do you notice?”
“He’s little. Oh! There’s another one! Mom, and another one! Mom! There are like a hundred of them slithering in the leaves!”
Not quite a hundred. Maybe 2 dozen. “What do you wonder?”
I wonder why they are there. I wonder where they came from. I wonder if they are babies or mommies or daddies. I wonder if they can eat me. I wonder what they feel like to touch. I wonder if we can bring one home and make it my pet.
See? Little kids are naturals at this. And don’t all these observations and questions make sense when your 5-year-old comes across a nest of little garter snakes? Of course, little children do this kind of thing all day long. Ad nauseum, in fact.
But what about when the 9-year-old comes across a new math concept? It’s not hard to conjure up the picture of his teacher or parents just saying, “This is how it is. This is how you do it.” What if, instead, we continued to encourage curiosity and independence? What if, instead, we asked the 9-year-old to observe and wonder about something mathematical? Maybe math would be as fun as a nest of snakes!
I cannot take credit for coming up with this idea. Aside from it being the way children are, “observing” and “wondering” are an education thing these days. Google the words “observe wonder” or search them in Pinterest, and you will find a boatload of teacher tips and ideas. My favorite, because it is mathy, is Creative Math Prompts from 5280 Math: Challenging Math for Adventurous Learners. Scroll down the Creative Math Prompts page and check out the various images to observe and wonder. (When you did that, did you get a little nervous? Did you wonder if you, as an adult, were observing what you SHOULD be observing? Did you have a flashback to stressful math classes? No problem! Take a deep inhale, let it go, then do the observe/wonder thing along with your child.)
(Mathematically…I cannot say this any better than Jerry Burkhart of 5280Math does. So I will quote him, “There is a lot of talk in math education circles these days about the power of noticing and wondering. And—pardon the pun—it’s no wonder! When we ask math students to notice and wonder, we shift the center of instruction from teachers’ explanations to students’ ideas. Observing (noticing) and questioning (wondering) are simple, powerful habits that enliven and enrich every aspect of math instruction. From the teacher’s immediate vantage point, they support formative assessment, lesson and task design, classroom discourse, differentiation, and the potential for greater rigor. For the learner, they develop independence, confidence, curiosity, perseverance, problem-solving, conceptual understanding, reasoning, and creativity.” )