Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer Reading #2: Switch

Wow, this week has passed rather quickly. It's the last week of holidays before we head back to school to prep for students to return. (But, don't be jealous if you have already returned to work; in order to make up for the late start of school this year, we are shaving off holidays during the school year, ie. the buffer days that used to exist in between terms, which I would have probably rather kept.) Since I am nursing a foot injury (plantar fasciitis on both feet, sigh...), I did some planning, read some books, and hung out with the hubby*. It is so luxurious to be able to have lunch and coffee dates with my husband during the week! I love it.

*The hubby works from home.

Anyhow, I thought I'd jot down some notes about Switch, which is written by Chip and Dan Heath of Made to Stick fame. Switch is a book about how to initiate change in other people or in a system, when people's natural inertia is to resist change. I wanted to read this book because I think that as teachers, we are constantly trying to change our students' approaches and attitudes towards their learning. In our minds, there is a vision of what an ideal student does, and we are striving to move all of our students a bit closer to that model. For example, for me, an ideal student is always actively engaged and reflective of their learning. They are always asking questions and trying to draw connections between topics. They are risk-takers, communicators, and they have a deeply rooted growth mindset. The ideal student does not necessarily always enter the class with all of the skills from previous classes ( fact, sometimes they can be missing significant skills...), but they have a big, open heart, ready to take on feedback and to re-tool their learning processes as needed.

The book outlines a deceptively simple framework for initiating change, and then it illustrates the use of this framework through a variety of almost unbelievably successful stories. The framework is basically this:

* Motivate people emotionally. In order for someone to change, they have to want to change. You don't motivate people using numbers or research, because our intellect is not what causes us to change; you have to find a way to give them a vision and trigger their emotions. Sometimes, this can mean helping them to envision or build a new identity, because we tend to behave in a way that we wish to see ourselves. (This is a silly example, but have you ever wanted to buy something from a store that looks really stylish, but whose clothes are not very flattering on you? You're subconsciously trying to assume the identity of the type of person who would shop at that store, and you're shifting your behavior to match that identity. Another example is how Geoff and I started composting. In Seattle, it's part of our collective identity because the city provides infrastructure and even a small financial incentive to compost, as compost-collection costs less than regular garbage. Now that we have grown to see ourselves as composters, we can't seem to break the habit of looking to compost everywhere, even when we're away traveling. It has changed our behavior permanently!)

* Give clear directives and "shrink the change". Once you get people on board emotionally to change (which, I know, isn't easy), you have to give them clear, achievable, and black-and-white goals in order for them to get started and feeling successful. The example given in the book is that instead of telling someone to "eat healthy", to say instead to "drink 1% milk." This clear health directive has completely shifted the way America now consumes milk. When you script these directives, think in terms of something immediately achievable, although you can link it to a longer-term vision that it will hopefully pave way to. Give the brain a reason to follow the change and give it also a clear path to follow.

* Follow the bright spots. Change is hard and change takes time. Instead of focusing on what isn't working, look for what is working and highlight those consistently. Find ways to duplicate the success until it creates a positive momentum. For example, are 70% of the kids turning in their projects on time? Praise those kids and ask them to share what strategies are working for them to help them stay ahead of schedule.

* Shape the path. Are you making it as easy as possible for people to create and maintain the change? For example, if your students are not in the habit of doing homework, are you posting homework online and giving them organizers in order to help them ease into the habit? Are you finding ways to create a positive group culture wherein the norm is to do homework? If the change you wish to see is kids volunteering to speak in class, are you providing a structure wherein it's the norm to speak up?

I liked the book, but what I would like to hear is what other teachers think are challenging changes to institute in their classroom, and how we can use this framework as a lens to help us think about transitioning students into more successful learners over time. For example, one incentive that I want to try this year is the ability for the class to earn "homework passes" by showing consistency in completing homework. It's not so much the homework that I care about, as much as I care about them doing and thinking about math consistently outside of the classroom and really attempting problems when I am not there by their side. I figure that if I start with an incentive system, over time the learning will hopefully become its own reward, and I can wean them off of "homework passes." But, in the mean time, it can help me to shrink the change from "be a more proactive learner" to "try your homework", to help the kids who don't already have good study habits to start to build them.


1 comment:

  1. I want to think about this for my students who aren't used to being successful. Thanks.

    But I have to say that, for me, data *can* give me a very motivating emotional charge. I have seen figures that show how remedial math (and english) courses at community colleges are keeping so many students (especially students of color) from making it through. Acceleration programs can make a huge difference. That excites me, and makes me want to do all I can to bring those programs to my school.