Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Are You an Introverted Teacher in an Extroverted Classroom?

introvertchalkboardWhat is your workday like? How do you spend your time at school?

Ask the average non-teacher how a K-12 teacher spends their time each day at work, and they will likely picture that teacher in a classroom, lecturing or reading aloud to students sitting quietly in rows of desks, or sitting at their desk grading, or eating lunch in the teacher’s lounge, quietly reading a book or writing notes.

They would likely not describe teachers immersed in the noise of multiple small groups of working students, continually managing the personality dynamics within each group. They would not imagine teachers trying to grab five minutes of prep time after school in which to transition to any number of meetings: PD workshops, meetings with administrators, LMS tutorials, or team-building adventures. The general public would not picture teachers leaving school early in the evening or late at night on a regular basis, having put in a full day of interconnected, collaborative, public group work.

But that’s the new reality for most teachers. Group work is not just for students anymore. Teachers are also encouraged—or forced, depending on their point of view—to work in teams, get input on their teaching or their group work from multiple teams of colleagues or administrators, work collaboratively to create lesson plans and learning paths, and generally be available to anyone and everyone who has a stake in the teaching enterprise.

All of these activities are supposed to support teachers, and often they do. But for the introverted teacher, the ever-increasing social load can be very difficult to endure.

In his article “Why Introverted Teachers are Burning Out,” Michael Godsey puts it this way:

…41 percent of teachers leave the profession within five years of entering it. Teacher attrition among first-year teachers has increased about 40 percent in the past two decades—a trend that’s coincided in part with the growing emphasis in classrooms on cooperative and student-driven learning and on “collaborative overload” in general.

…I remember, as a new teacher, the overwhelming number of interactions that were ostensibly designed to help me—support classes, beginning teacher programs, department meetings, union mixers, “Back to School Night,” constant public introductions, and administrative observations. I remember desperately yearning to just quietly study Hamlet and read my new students’ papers.

What does it mean to be introverted?

Introversion is different from shyness: generally, shy people want social interaction but are too afraid of being rejected to attempt it; introverted people want less social interaction than the average person. Introverts don’t hate company; they just want it in small doses that they control. Most people are not complete introverts or complete extroverts: we all fall somewhere on a continuum. But as a rule of thumb, introverts need time alone to recharge and are exhausted by constant company, while extroverts are energized by social interaction and unmoored by too much time alone.

Introverted teachers, as Godsey puts it, are “drained by the insistent emphasis on collaboration and group work” that characterizes modern teaching. This collaborative overload means that introverted teachers do not get the time alone they need to recover from the workday, and therefore become exhausted and burned out faster than non-introverted teachers.

Collaborative overload is not restricted to the teaching profession, of course, but it has tended to attract quiet people who prize teaching for its opportunities to work one-on-one with students, read and speak thoughtfully, and spend time focused on internal tasks like grading papers.

Why isn’t this introverted teaching style honored? If, as teacher Abigail Walthausen says, different student learning styles are supposed to be valued, why aren’t different teaching styles given the same respect? Why can’t a teacher’s preferred zone of social interaction be acknowledged, if not always honored? Why must all teachers be extroverts?

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, puts it this way:

Most schools are designed for extroverts. So if you picture the typical classroom nowadays: when I was going to school, we sat in rows. We sat in rows of desks like this, and we did most of our work pretty autonomously. But nowadays, your typical classroom has pods of desks—four or five or six or seven kids all facing each other. And kids are working in countless group assignments. …and teachers have to be extroverted like that, too, going from group to group for group talk instead of one on one.

…Solitude is crucial to creativity. Solitude matters.

Because the push for extroversion comes from so many directions, it can be hard to figure out a solution to the problem. The demands on teachers come from administrators at the local, district, state, and federal level. Content providers push certain types of classroom interaction, and therefore teacher performance by offering more options for group activities than solo assignments. Teacher’s unions and parent associations add to the mix.

If you’re an introverted teacher, how do you make it through each hyper-social day, and how do you recharge?

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How to Build Motivation in Your Classroom

Ican'tSometimes, as teachers, we have a tendency to blame the student for a lack of motivation. Have you ever checked off “lacks motivation” or “lacks effort” on a progress report? Yet we all experience times when we just are not willing to do what is being asked of us. The following resources will help you understand what enhances and hinders motivation to learn.

Failure and fear of it saps motivation. Nobody likes to fail, but an optimistic attitude helps us learn from a poor performance. In Discovering Psychology, program 12, “Motivation and Emotion,” discover how optimists are more likely than pessimists to succeed in challenging situations because they tend to reflect and try again. Teach students to understand that sometimes disappointment and failure are part of the learning process.

Another obstacle to motivation is perceived irrelevance of the topic. Neuroscience research tells us that we learn best when we are interested in what we are learning and see a connection between our studies and our lives. Find out why in unit 2, “The Unity of Emotion, Thinking, and Learning,” of Neuroscience & the Classroom.

Our environment also plays a role in how we feel and act. Create classroom environments that engage students using tips from The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice, program 12, “Expectations for Success: Motivation and Learning.” Watch how teachers ask questions instead of dispensing information, invite students to investigate and arrive at their own conclusions, provide opportunities to work on real-world problems, and involve students in helpful competition using cooperative grouping.

What does motivation look like in your classroom? Share in the comments.

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Let Us Help You With Your Resolutions!

NewYearsResolutionsYou’re quickly approaching the 100th day of the school year, and you’ve decided to refine and refresh your teaching methods as you enter the long stretch from January through June. So far, many of your students are coming along nicely, but others are struggling. So you resolve to make a few changes to get all of your students excited and invested in learning. What resolutions will you make?


Can’t think of any? Using our resources, here are a few ideas you can try in your classroom:

Grade writing papers more efficiently.

Grading is often a tedious task. Resolve to make it a faster and more useful exercise. In Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers, Dr. Robyn Jackson outlines how to use color-coded rubrics. This format is faster for teachers because they spend less time writing the same comments and grading becomes more objective. Students can also immediately see which components of their writing need improvement.  Shuttle into 15:16 of the video program to watch this rubric in action.

Differentiate instruction.

How do you meet the needs of diverse students in your class? Literacy expert Dorothy Strickland discusses key elements of effective instruction that build on student diversity in session 7 of Teaching Reading 3-5. In session 6, “Differentiating Instruction,” of Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop, you will learn how to apply research-based principles in early literacy.  Studying multiple writing genres? In workshop 5 of Write in the Middle, Mary Cathryn Ricker explains her philosophy on teaching multigenre writing so that it engages students: “I know that there are some students at the middle level who are very nervous about poetry, downright scared of poetry, and I want to make sure that they have a style of writing or a form of writing they’re going to be comfortable with.”  Also, watch as Jane Shuffelton customizes a lesson for different levels of learners in her high school Russian class.

Incorporate standardized test questions into routine assignments.

With more and more teacher performance ratings tied to standardized testing, it’s no wonder that many teachers resort to teaching to the test. But that needn’t be so. You can easily tie standard test questions into your regular class assignments. In workshop 4, “Research and Discovery,” of Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades, Kathryn Mitchell Pierce explains that when students engage in critical reading beyond just literal recall of what happens in a book, they have skills which give them confidence to correctly complete a standardized test.

Communicate more often and effectively with parents.

You can do this by setting up a parent listserv for your class and by sending a weekly newsletter about what’s going on in your class, including specific projects, instructional practices, and materials that your students are engaged in throughout the year. There’s a good template for a parent newsletter in session 8 of Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop.  In Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades, workshop 7, “Social Justice and Action,” Laura Alvarez talks about keeping parents informed by involving them in the actual lesson.

We’d love to hear about your resolutions for your classroom in the comments below.

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International Creativity Month: Invite Your Students to Play

artisticlightbulbThe beginning of the year is a time for resolutions and reflection. January is also International Creativity Month. Make a resolution to incorporate opportunities for students to flex their creative muscles into your lessons. Let them write, paint, dance, compose, brainstorm, and most of all, play!

Start from the beginning by learning why creative play is so important to a young child’s healthy development. Watch The Whole Child: A Caregiver’s Guide to the First Five Years, program 11, “Creativity and Play” to learn about the connection between creativity and self-worth and self-expression.

If you’re familiar with the link between music and mathematical ability in children, gain more insight with the documentary “Surprises in Mind,” which looks at children’s innate mathematical creativity and how a specially designed math program boosted students’ confidence in their mathematical ability and enjoyment mathematics.

Brain researchers have found a connection between creativity and dreaming, as explained in the brief clip “REM Sleep and Dreaming,” program 15 of The Brain: Teaching Modules.

Creativity is essential to teaching, just as it is an integral part of students’ learning in subjects across the curriculum. In Looking at Learning…Again, Part 2, workshop 5, “Infusing Critical and Creative Thinking,” Dr. Robert Swartz discusses the role of creative thinking in the learning process. Then see examples in the footage of Virginia Williams’s 4th-grade science class in Brookfield, Massachusetts.

Find ideas for creative learning experiences in the following resources:

Art Through Time explores creative expression through different cultures and historical eras. For example, program 7, looks at functional art used in domestic life around the world. Have students watch the video and then design and/or make their own useful art.

High school arts teachers will discover new ways to foster creativity with The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers. In workshop 5, watch how teachers foster respect and build confidence in students in a variety of arts lessons, including improv.

Draw ideas from Dr. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s interesting creative writing exercise based on truth and lies in Developing Writers.

The documentaries of American Cinema can serve as the basis for creative writing assignments. Students learn all about screenwriting in the related Cinema interactive.

See models of creative integrated arts units at the middle school level in Connecting with the Arts: A Teaching Practices Library, 6-8. In “Can frogs dance?“, a science teacher and a dance instructor ask students to compare human and frog anatomy.

How are you adding creativity to your lesson plans this year?

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How to Teach Global Awareness

Globe in palmAs world populations become increasingly connected, teaching global awareness is becoming more important. Many jobs focus on issues that affect global communities and require mindfulness about the similarities and differences of life experiences around the world. Prepare your students for participation in our international community now by integrating global awareness into your lessons using Annenberg Learner resources. Teaching global awareness in your classroom should feel seamless, no matter what subject you teach.

Literature and Language Arts

Part of living in a global community is learning strong conversational skills that include valuing each other’s strengths, listening well, and explaining thinking clearly. Ms. Bomer models these behaviors as she guides her 5th graders in thoughtful discussions of the text they read. See Engaging With Literature, program 2, “Voices in the Conversation.”

Find teaching strategies for reading works by American authors with diverse ethnic backgrounds in Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades.

Enhance students’ understanding of literary texts using cultural artifacts that provide background knowledge for the stories they read in Artifacts & Fiction.  For example, in workshop 6, “Cultural Geography,” students compare photographs and excerpts from Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street to understand cultural divisions in contemporary Chicago neighborhoods.


Fourth graders in a bilingual classroom use a Valentine’s Day card exchange to work on mathematical concepts and problem solving skills in Teaching Math: A Video Library, K-4, program 42. The students respectfully communicate in Spanish and English during the lesson. Use the cards as an opportunity for students to share expressions in their native languages.

Talk about genetic resistance as a global issue, and provide case studies. Against All Odds: Inside Statistics, program 29, “Inference for Two-Way Tables,” focuses on the research of the series host Dr. Pardis Sabeti. She uses statistical tools to examine possible genetic resistance to deadly Lassa fever in West Africa.

Integrate global awareness into lessons exploring the mathematical concepts of connectivity and networks, from Mathematics Illuminated, unit 11. This unit provides insights into various ways life is connected, from social networks to ecosystems. The video starts with 16th century poet John Donne’s concept that “no man is an island entire of itself.”


Essential Science for Teachers: Life Science, session 7, is about energy flow in communities. Define community and examine energy flow within a community.  Take these lessons a step further by providing students opportunities to explore energy flow among organisms in communities around the world.

Read about our earliest common ancestors to learn what makes us all human in Rediscovering Biology, unit 9, “Human Evolution.” Anthropologist Ian Tattersall explains how modern humans developed and migrated from Africa to populate the globe.

Teach students how demographers study human population dynamics by tackling questions on how population growth affects the environment and whether or not urbanization is a threat to humans’ quality of life. Go to The Habitable Planet, unit 5, “Human Population Dynamics.”

More resources from our collection that can be used to support global awareness in your lessons:

Art Through Time: A Global View

Invitation to World Literature

Bridging World History

The Economics Classroom, workshop 5, “Trading Globally

Economics U$A, unit 27, “International Trade

Human Geography: People, Places, and Change

Social Studies in Action Library, grades K-12

The Power of Place: Geography for the 21st Century

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Celebrate Diversity in December: Teach Spiritual Literacy

SSAction_celebrationsoflightDecember, a time for holidays and observances of different faiths and cultural traditions, is also Spiritual Literacy Month. Broadening your understanding of religions and cultures from around the world and throughout history can give you a better understanding of students’ diverse backgrounds and help you promote respect in your classroom. Learn about the history and traditions of many religions and belief systems using the following resources:

Between 600 BCE and 1200 CE, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam continued to develop as their followers spread out to new communities. Bridging World History, unit 7, “The Spread of Religions,” discusses the political, cultural, and intellectual influences on these religions in motion.

In program 8, “Celebrations of Light,” of the Social Studies in Action K-12 Library, watch as Eileen Mesmer teaches her young students in Salem, MA the traditions of St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Mesmer relates these traditions to a Cherokee legend about the winter solstice.

Compare early communities around the world and their spiritual and moral connections with nature in Bridging World History, unit 5, “Early Belief Systems.” Shinto, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and the ethical and philosophical codes of Confucius and Greek thinkers are discussed.

More resources related to spirituality and cultural practices around the world:

Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ program 9, “A First Impression of Judaism

The Western Tradition, program 11, “Early Christianity”

Out of the Past, program 7, “The Spirit World” (Mayan culture and spirituality)

Art of the Western World, program 2, “A White Garment of Churches—Romanesque and Gothic”

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices, program 22, “Happy New Year!”  (Japanese New Year’s celebration customs)

Artifacts & Fiction, unit 8, “Ceremonial Artifacts” (Native American culture)

Standardized Testing: What’s the real issue?

kidstakingtest[OP-ED] The 2015 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores are out and stoking debate over all the usual questions we have in the U.S. about standardized testing. Why did the NAEP scores fall for the first time since 1990? What’s the role of Common Core influence on the scores? Can we accept Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s explanation that the scores are not cause for alarm? Do the lower scores mean that we need more testing or less?

What’s unusual in all this testing debate is that it’s rarely about education. Instead, it’s more often about:

Politics: You can’t talk about standardized tests without tying them to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, and even Louis CK. Testing is about being a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative or libertarian.

Questioning: We demand that the U.S. always be ranked as a world leader in education, but we refuse, for the most part, to do what many other nations to do get that status. We criticize our standardized tests for racial bias, failure to assess or value non-cognitive skills, and for forcing teachers and students to devote too much time to test prep. In many Top-Ten nations ranking, this kind of criticism does not happen. In the top four nations—South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong—cramming for national exams is pretty much a way of life, and the content of the tests is not questioned. If students do badly there, they blame themselves.

National pride: We feel that if other industrialized nations use standardized testing, then the U.S. should not. It’s just like solar power or electric cars: all you have to say is “that’s how they do it in Finland/France/Germany” and many Americans will be immediately turned off. We like to go our own way, and don’t want to admit anyone else does anything better than we do. If Japan dropped its standardized testing, more Americans might support it here!

In the end, we see that Americans are deeply conflicted about the idea, purpose, and execution of testing itself, which makes it hard for us to evaluate any test results with an objective eye. As we try to make sense of testing—what we need to compete and what we want for our students—we should always remember that the U.S. is unique in many ways when it comes to education. We are one of the few nations committed to educating our entire population, for free, for 12 years. We are one of the few nations with the goal of offering equal education to all our students. And we are one of the few nations determined to be in the top ten nations for education that has a radically diverse, extremely large, constantly changing population.

According to the 2014 Pearson Learning Curve index of the top ten education ranking of nations, the top five are demographically very homogenous (South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland). The bottom five include three relatively homogenous nations—the Netherlands, Ireland, and Poland (the U.K. and Canada are the other two). All of the top ten are all small nations; Japan has the highest population at 127 million. It’s easier for small and demographically homogenous populations to use standardized tests because they believe that their students all have roughly the same demographic background and therefore same access to opportunity. There’s no question of racial or ethnic bias.

The U.S. is big (318 million at the last census) geographically and population-wise. It is famously not demographically homogenous. We struggle to live up to our goals and principles by delivering high-quality education to everyone for free. Too often we fail. But we always keep trying, and that’s why we criticize and question our standardized tests. That will keep going on until we’re sure they are basically fair because all students have the same chance of doing well on them.

We just need to remember that the tests aren’t really the problem, and we need to keep working on what matters to produce a well-educated public.

For a deeper look into how differences in curricula, textbooks, and teaching practices around the world affect student learning in mathematics and science, go to Looking At Learning… Again, workshop 8, “The International Picture.” Educators, experts, and administrators discuss TIMSS results and point to weaknesses in the U.S. educational system.

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Why Do We Write?

The 2015 theme for the National Council of Teachers of English’s National Day on Writing is #WhyIWrite. We all write for different reasons, whether journaling for personal reflection; researching topics of interest; gathering information to inform or persuade others; sharing personal perspectives through stories of our lives, families, and communities, and more. The following resources provide lesson plans and strategies you can use to inspire your students to become life-long writers.


Elementary School Resources

Teach students to identify writing modes that best fit their ideas, and allow them to choose topics, like their community, that have personal meaning. See Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5, workshop 2, “Reasons for Writing.”

Teach young students how to respond meaningfully to their peers work and provide an authentic audience experience. See Inside Writing Communities, “Conversations Among Writing Peers.”

Middle and High School Resources

Middle school students are often focused on themselves, and the self can be a great starting point for motivating students to write. Teachers in Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers, workshop 2, “Making Writing Meaningful,” start by encouraging students to share their personal stories in writing. Gradually, students expand their writing to reflect how forces in their communities impact them. See them in action here.

Have you wanted to try a multigenre project with your high school students but not sure how to start? After studying various examples (a list is included in the resource), allow students to create a multigenre piece around the theme of community. Go to Developing Writers, workshop 4, “Different Purposes.”

Hear famous authors like Leslie Marmon Silko, Ernest Gaines, and J. K. Rowling discuss where their inspiration comes from in In Search of the Novel, “Authors Notes: Part III.”

Share four videos from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines with students to show how professionals use writing in their specific fields. Hear from an epidemiologist, a biotech startup, a documentary filmmaker, and a sports journalist.

How are you helping students develop purpose in their writing?

How to Incorporate the Arts in All Subjects

PuppetsArt is a valuable tool for students to learn how to express themselves, work through a process, work cooperatively, and gain respect and understanding for others. How can we teach the arts in all subject areas so that students benefit from the learning opportunities that art affords them? For more ways art instruction benefits students, read “Ten reasons why teaching the arts is critical in a 21st century world” by Elliott Seif.

Below are examples of the arts blended with other curriculum areas, helping students to draw out a deeper understanding and appreciation for both familiar and unfamiliar concepts.


See art as a tool to make meaning of our relationship with the natural world in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Seventh graders combine science, dance, and language arts as they compare the anatomy of a frog and a human and then debate whether a frog can join a ballet company. Connecting With the Arts Library, program 11, “Can Frogs Dance?” has the video and student materials.


Mathematicians understand symmetry differently than the rest of us, as a fundamental aspect of group theory. Learn more in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 6, “The Beauty of Symmetry,” which includes a symmetry interactive. Students can manipulate a wallpaper design to practice common geometric motions such as rotation and reflection.

Language Arts

Students explore Greek myths using puppets in Connecting With the Arts Library, program 2, “Breathing Life into Myths.”

Artifacts & Fiction, session 1, “Visual Arts,” shows how visual art, paired with literature, can be used to enhance students’ understanding of the predominant culture and historical setting of a work of literature.

World Languages

Latin students learn the difference between translating and interpreting the language using music and literary works of Mozart, Vergil, and Cicero. See Teaching Foreign Languages K-12, program 24, “Music and Manuscripts.”

In Teaching Foreign Languages, program 29, “Interpreting Literature,” students discuss “Dos caras” (Two faces) by New Mexico author Sabine Ulibarri. They act out scenes and make comparisons to a painting by a local artist.

In program 27, “Interpreting Picasso’s Guernica,” students write and deliver radio newscasts interpreting the scene in the famous painting.

Social Studies/History

Fifth graders in The Arts in Every Classroom, program 6, “Teaching Visual Art,” view portraits, looking beyond the face for historical cues. They continue the lesson by creating new portraits that reveal clues to the lives of their subjects through clothing, expressions, and background.

Use the Focus In tool with middle and high school students to analyze photographs curated by topics such as “Protest and Politics” and “Economies and Empires” in Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. Also, hear a photo editor at National Geographic and a professional photographer discuss their work in the video “Story.”

Music and Art

Start a music program at your school based on the El Sistema program or borrow ideas from the programs presented in our new series The Power of Music: P-5 Teaching Inspired by El Sistema. The El Sistema philosophy presents music making as a collaborative process—one that teaches individual self-confidence, creates caring citizens, and builds cohesive communities. The program includes ideas for teachers of all subjects, not just music.

Watch art, dance, and theater teachers use scaffolding as they help students gain knowledge and fundamental skills while fostering creativity and active self-directed learning in The Art of Teaching the Arts, workshop 2, “Developing Students as Artists.”

Additional Resources:

To learn more about why arts education is important and how to connect the arts with big ideas in other subject areas, view Connecting With the Arts, program 2, “Why Integrate the Arts?”  and program 5, “What Are Connecting Concepts?”

These ideas just scratch the surface of all they ways arts instruction can be incorporated in other curriculum areas. Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments.

Breaking the Mindset Barrier

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Image Copyright: Dmitry Guzhanin

One of the staples of American storytelling is the tale of the underdog athlete who became a superstar through relentless practice. Countless magazines have told the story of Boston Celtics basketball legend Larry Bird, discounted in adolescence by coaches, dedicating himself to hours and hours of daily practice. Alone on a shabby outdoor court, Bird would shoot and shoot and shoot, day after day, week after week, month after month until—voila!—he became a superstar. Even after he was a pro star, Bird would spend hours alone in the Boston Garden practicing his shots—before team practice even began. This is what made Bird “Larry Legend.”

Bird’s not the only one, of course; we love stories about athletes who drill and drill from sheer love of the game and a burning desire to become the best they can be. We tell our own young athletes that they can achieve anything if they really want it badly enough. Before the U.S. women’s soccer team won the 2015 World Cup, their captain Abby Wambach made an inspirational video in which she repeatedly said that the team could win the cup if they wanted it: “we’ve just got to believe.”

…so why don’t we have the same approach to academics? Why don’t we tell students that they can achieve any academic goal they want, from understanding math to writing lab reports to analyzing literature, if they want it badly enough? Why don’t we tell them it will take hours and weeks and months and even years of practice and failure, practice and incremental improvement?

Instead, we tend to tell students, directly and indirectly, that school is not really designed to help them set and achieve goals through unlimited practice. We tell them that school is about doing a little practicing, and then taking a test that does two things: permanently end practice of the skill that was tested and put a permanent label (a grade) on the student’s skill level.

When we test students after limited practice, we’re telling them that they have a set ability in a certain subject that can’t really change much no matter how much they practice. When we study a unit for two weeks and then test students on it, we’re saying, If you can’t master this in two weeks, you have a problem. Everyone should be able to master this in two weeks.

Tests and test grades tend to send the message that everyone is somehow born with a set amount of academic potential—a mindset—and they need to spend the rest of their school years managing (or concealing) that limitation. It’s like an academic caste system: a few lucky students are gifted; the rest are “average” or “struggling”—and they always will be. The first few tests students take that seem to “confirm” that they are forever stuck at one skill level kill all initiative. While athletes can be made, we send a message that mathletes (and others) are strictly born. See “What does this mean for me?” at the Mindset website and Reading & Writing in the Disciplines: Big Ideas in Literacy for more on this harmful and unfounded message.

In the mindset system, school is not about working hard until you achieve a goal, no matter how long it takes. It’s about struggling to achieve a goal on someone else’s timeline. The whole point of our inspiring sports stories is that the athlete took things into her or his own hands: they decided how long to practice, when to practice, and, crucially, why they were practicing. They were tested only after they felt they were ready to present their skills to a coach or a team. As Bird put it, “I really don’t count my shots. I just shoot until I feel good.”

Unfortunately, school calendars and state standards don’t allow this kind of flexibility. Students have to show mastery of a certain (large) number of learning objectives and state standards by the end of each school year, each term, even each quarter. They can’t “shoot until they feel good” on that kind of schedule.

Students aren’t the only ones who struggle with this, of course; teachers have to teach on someone else’s timeline (the one assigned by their state standards). They are required to test their students regularly. Few teachers have the option to simply stop testing and allow unlimited practice. But there are ways to reinvent testing so that it is as much a part of practicing as it is an assessment of practice; see Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections for a real-world test case.

The section gives one example of how testing and grading can become tools you use to help your students develop skills. They can become part of your ongoing formative assessment of how their skills are developing and part of your teaching process, rather than an interruption of teaching and learning. When students see that testing and grading are a measure of their existing skill level, they resist both. When they see that testing and grading are a prompt to their developing skills, they embrace them as part of a collaboration with the teacher that will help them advance. Test until you feel good!