Three education switches

Last week, I reviewed the book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” (2010) by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It all comes down to the idea that “Big changes can start with very small steps. Small changes tend to snowball” (page 255).

I want to highlight three of the education “switches” mentioned in the book. In these examples, teachers and students achieved big improvements from small attitude changes.

* Two grades ahead: First grade teacher Crystal Jones was dismayed by the skills gap among her students at an Atlanta, Georgia elementary school. Some students had never been to school, and they were all on different levels. But she boldly challenged her students: by the end of the school year, you’re going to be third graders! She gave them an ambitious goal that appealed to their emotions. She created a culture of learning in her classroom, called her students “scholars,” and encouraged them to share what they learned with their families. By the end of the school year, over 90% of the kids were reading at or above a third grade level.

* The brain is like a muscle: In 2007, three college psychology professors, Carol Dweck, Kali Trzesniewsi, and Lisa Blackwell taught a group of seventh grade math students a new way of thinking. For just two hours over eight weeks, students were taught a growth mindset: that the brain is like a muscle, it can be developed with exercise, and working hard can make you smarter. While the grades of students who were taught generic study skills declined slightly, the grades of “brain is like a muscle” students actually improved over the school year.

* A new grading system: At Jefferson County High School in Louisville, Georgia, 80% of the students lived in poverty and only 15% went on to college. New principal Molly Howard wanted to make a change, starting with a new school identity: all students were college-bound. She increased assessments and tutorial programs, and created a new grading system: A, B, C, and NY (Not Yet). Students and teachers were motivated, test scores went up, and the graduation rate increased.

Would any of these small changes work in Hawaii’s public schools? Do you know teachers who have helped their students make great achievements?

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