“I can’t do it.” “I don’t understand it.” How often have we as teachers — or parents — heard our children say similar things? In my classroom, our magic word isn’t “please” (though I certainly encourage that one as well!), it’s “yet.” By adding “yet” to these sentences, students realize that it’s not that they aren’t able to do something — they just haven’t spent the time to figure it out yet.
During the first week of school, as a class, my third graders and I talk about everything they learned in second grade, and everything they can now do. Addition. Subtraction. Spelling harder words. Writing neatly. The list grows, quickly. I ask them if they could do all these amazing things a year ago. They laugh and scoff “of course not!” We then talk about how they now can, because they worked hard, learned a great deal, tried their best, and didn’t give up.
We then generate a list of what they want to accomplish in third grade. Multiplication. Cursive. Book reports. Multi-paragraph essays. Again, the list grows quickly. When I tell them we will accomplish all of these items before June and I hear shouts of “but, we don’t know how” or “that’s SO much to learn!”
I then introduce the new magic word: “yet.” I say, they just can’t do these things, YET! We talk about how they need to be open to trying hard, be ready to learn new things, be willing to persevere through challenging lessons, and be open to doing their third grade best! Each student then creates a “Power of Yet” sheet for us to hang and refer to as a reminder of what we’re working towards.
Moving from “I can’t” to “I can’t…yet!” is a great example of how we work with students to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. While having a growth mindset is useful for learning new things in the classroom, it’s also an important skill for becoming a lifelong learner.
Instilling a growth mindset in students from an early age is a crucial goal of mine. I personally model the use of the word “yet” when speaking to my students, too; to show them that even adults need to have a growth mindset, and that learning never stops — even for adults. As the year progresses, I see students peppering in the use of the word “yet” more and more frequently and the exasperated cries of “but…I just can’t do it!” being shouted less and less.
Hearing an eight year old proclaim, “this is hard, I can’t do it…yet” or “how did she do that? I can’t do it…yet” is amazing. That simple three letter word at the end of a phrase allows them to be open minded, to be open to working harder, trying again, to knowing they can grow as a learner.
To foster a growth mindset and build lifelong learners, each Friday I ask my students to reflect on their week. My goal is to have them identify one task they are proud of, one they persevered through, and one thing they want to keep working on. Using these prompts and a feature called Student Stories on one of my favorite apps, ClassDojo, my students are able to take photos of their work, add in captions to indicate how they felt about that assignment, and over time create a digital portfolio of their achievements from class (all of which their parents can see at home too).
Reflecting on their week in this way makes them pause and think about their progress. It makes it acceptable to say that a task was a challenge for them. It makes them think about how it was hard, and what they did to successfully accomplish the work. It lets them celebrate what they’re proud of, and gives them ownership of their learning and progress.
Throughout the year, my students love to look back on their Student Story posts to see where they started and where they are now. “Ms. Benjamin, look when I could only caption it ‘it was hard.’ Now I write so much more and can say why it was hard and what I did to be successful!”
A perfect companion to Student Story and our use of the word “yet” is the ClassDojo video series on the subject of growth mindset. The videos star my students’ favorite monsters to teach topics from having a growth mindset to being empathetic. My students connect so well to the lessons taught in these videos and look forward to each new episode!
Watching a child develop a growth mindset is an amazing sight to be seen. Their confidence grows. Their willingness to try more challenging tasks grows. They begin to ask questions rather than sulk during a lesson or work time. Instead of hearing, “I don’t know” or “I don’t get it” I hear: “is writing a question mark on my whiteboard a sign of a growth or fixed mindset?” They begin to advocate for themselves, knowing that they can be successful…maybe not yet, but soon!
While the content I teach is important, I also want to ensure I do more than just teach subjects: I want to encourage my students to be lifelong learners, who are never afraid to tackle a new challenge, and who are always willing to reflect and learn from past efforts. Using the power of “yet,” I know that my students will develop a growth mindset that will help them well beyond their school years.
This piece was originally published on The Huffington Post on October 21, 2016