CSTA Classroom Science

Encouraging asset-based mindsets through student-centered reflections in the Science classroom

By Clara Garay

As an instructional mentor, I meet with novice teachers weekly where we take time to plan, analyze student learning and identify high leverage practices to support student growth. 

During my weekly meeting with Leslly Avendaño, Transitional Kindergarten Teacher at Stella Elementary Charter Academy in Los Angeles, California, we began our mentoring meeting with a routine check-in prompt. I asked my mentee to complete the following sentence, “Today a student did (blank), and made me remember that…”  

The teacher thought for a moment and thoughtfully responded: “Sometimes when students are having a hard time, it’s not personal.  Something outside is going on and I need to remind myself to talk to them and give them space, provide assurance, comfort, and kindness.”

She smiled and then explained that one of her transitional kindergarten students was acting out and had said ‘No’ when asked to return to the carpeted area.  Noting this type of behavior had been a trend in the last week, the teacher tactfully approached the student, saying:  “I feel sad when you say no to me.  Do you want to talk about it?” “I miss my dad,” said the 4 year-old student, who was struggling to make sense of his dad’s absence at home.  

My initial thoughts focused on the kindness in this teacher’s approach and in her skillfulness in tapping into her student’s feelings and the antecedent to his behavior.  She was effectively using restorative practices, strategies that focus on managing conflict and in restoring relationships in communities, in her transitional kindergarten classroom and showing an asset-based mindset. 

After this mentoring meeting, I reflected about the long-term impact a teacher's words and methodologies have on student social emotional development and on their overall perception of school.  This student is beginning to understand that his classroom is a brave space for him to express his feelings and that his teacher was in tune with his emotions.  All because his teacher approached her interaction with him with an asset-based mindset.  

As a mentor and coach, my goals are to create safe and brave spaces with my teachers where they feel free to express their thoughts, ideas, concerns and emotions.  I strive to carefully listen and be in tune with the expression of language coming from my mentees and skillfully tend to their needs. As an educator, I intend to cultivate strength-based mindsets in my mentees where they learn to see their students as individuals, who need to be listened to and who need personalized approaches to their education.

What does this look like in practice?

  • Providing opportunities for teachers to reflect on their practice
  • Encouraging teachers to name their emotions during meetings
  • Tapping into teacher’s why for teaching 
  • Eliciting student-centered conversations
  • Emphasizing strengths and competencies of teachers and students 

Beginning meetings with student-centered prompts is a definite start to supporting asset-based mindsets.  Potential prompts include:

  • Recall your most memorable student.  Why was this student so memorable?
  • What do your students excel at? What are they good at?
  • Where do you see your students at the end of the school year?
  • What did you appreciate about your school day today?
  • What was something that happened in the classroom today that went extremely well?  Why did it go so well?
  • Describe a student-interaction from today.  What did you learn from this interaction?
  • What did you learn from your students today?
  • List your student's strengths. List your strengths. How do your strengths complement each other?
  • What do your students contribute to your classroom culture?
  • What would you like to share about your day?

As Science teachers we develop lessons that engage students in sense making around complex scientific phenomena. Every day we invite students to think like scientists, create and modify scientific models, and support claims using evidence based arguments. This paradigm shift in learning Science requires a collaborative partnership in the classroom where the teacher knows and builds on student strengths, and where students productively engage in complex sense making.

Therefore, an important component of building and cultivating asset-based mindsets is genuinely tapping into who our students are and discovering their strengths and potentials. We cannot teach students that we do not know. As we get to know our students it is essential that we uncover tidbits about their cultures, backgrounds and interests and intentionally weave in opportunities to engage our students in self-reflection about their learning and curiosities.  Reflection questions that help build and strengthen student mindsets about their learning include: 

  • How would you describe your strengths?
  • What did you understand the best from today’s lesson?
  • How did today’s lesson help you understand the phenomena better?
  • Think about today’s lesson.  What are you still curious about?
  • If you would have done one thing different today during class, what would you have done? Why?
  • What part of your scientific model most clearly illustrates the phenomena?
  • Which component of your scientific argument do you like the most? Why?  

Author: Clara L. Garay, Lead Instructional Mentor at Bright Star Schools, Science Education Consultant, and a member of CASE.



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