Classroom Strategies

Getting Students to Lead the Learning

Start with a growth mindset

In January 2018, I attended Ryan Doetch’s “Enhancing Students’ Success in MATH By Developing a Growth Mindset” workshop. If you get the opportunity to attend one of his conferences, do it. It is by the far the most impactful conference I’ve attended in my 16 years as an educator. 

The day after the conference, my students created a brain map. After crumpling their papers, they saw that all the little lines symbolize the brain growth stemming from making a mistake. This helped them understand that mistakes are expected, inspected, and respected in our classroom. This has become an activity that I now use during the first week of school every year. 

My Favorite Mistake

Our class often does an exercise called “My Favorite Mistake” where I look for common errors in student work. Using anonymous (but actual) examples, the class tries to identify the mistake. The class is prompted with questions like:

  • What in this problem am I happy to see? 
  • What do you think I like about this answer?
  • How do you know that it is the wrong answer?  

This activity reinforces the message that everyone makes mistakes and it’s important to learn from them.  

Let Them Fix Their Work

Do you cross out or circle incorrect work? When grading papers, I only highlight the questions they got right. If their answer is incorrect, I just leave it blank. Students in my class have the opportunity to look over their work and make changes. Without providing them with any further teaching, many are able to fix their own mistakes. Students feel a sense of pride when they can find their mistakes and know they have improved their grade. If they cannot fix their mistakes, then I know where I need to provide additional support to them.  

Build Student Confidence

At the end of each day’s math lesson, students graph their learning on a student-created anchor chart. This gives students ownership of their learning, as well as an opportunity to reflect on the essential learnings for the day.

With a growth mindset and growing confidence in their learning, students start participating more in our class discussions. Students have conversations with each other and share their ideas. THEY AREN’T AFRAID TO MAKE A MISTAKE! They learn it is okay to try different strategies and use the ones that work best for them. When students come up with a way to solve a problem, we name it after them. This encourages other students to want to try their classmate’s strategy on future tasks.       

Eliminate Hand Raising

I’m sure you’ve noticed that the same handful of students raise their hands to participate during a lesson. The students around them begin to rely on them to do all of the work and just sit back and let them answer. To stop this trend in my classroom, I eliminated hand raising. When posed with a question, students put up one finger close to their chest to show me they are thinking. When students have an answer they want to share, they put their thumb up. If they have multiple ways to explain their thinking, they put up an additional finger for each way (this is a great way to extend the thinking of higher-level learners). In doing this, I found this strategy engages learners of all levels. All students feel they have a voice and chance to share with this strategy. 

Let Students Do The Teaching

Once you have created a classroom culture where students have a growth mindset, are confident, and truly believe it’s okay to make mistakes, you are ready to let the students do the teaching. When I see students using a strategy that will be helpful for the rest of the class, they become the teacher that day and teach their classmates their strategy. I find the class to be highly engaged when listening to their peers teach instead of always listening to me. It motivates them to want to try new strategies and to teach the class. It’s so rewarding to see your students exhibiting confidence and helping their classmates as they teach their peers.    

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About the Author: My name is Kara Rossi. I was born and raised in Bristol, Connecticut and for the past 16 years I have been teaching in my hometown. The majority of my teaching years have been spent in 2nd grade, but I've also taught 1st and 5th grade. I currently teach at Greene-Hills School. We are a Kids at Hope School. My goal for all of my students is for them to believe in themselves and know they are capable of exceptions. When I'm not teaching, I enjoy spending time with my family and working out.