Everyone is capable of mastering any competency when given the appropriate amount of time and support. This is a fact supported through a variety of research, including Ericsson and Pool’s book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.
“If we can show students that they have the power to develop a skill of their choice and that, while it is not easy, it has many rewards that will make it worthwhile, we make it much more likely that they will use deliberate practice to develop various skills over their lifetimes.” — Ericsson & Pool (2016)
When we talk about each student having the appropriate support, we mean ensuring that they are not only receiving the right amount of support, but also that they are receiving the right type of support. Each student brings their own unique interests and experiences into the classroom, so it is imperative that teachers not only acknowledge these differences but also utilize them to support the student’s growth. By embracing difference in the classroom, everyone benefits from the exposure to different perspectives and gain a broader appreciation for the world around them. Clifton and Nelson (as cited in Lopez & Louis, 2009) note that “strengths develop best in response to other human beings,” so our classrooms need to see differences as a variety of strengths for success, rather than weaknesses for failure.
Strategies To Implement
1. Build Community
Before teachers and students within a class can see each and every person as an asset to the group, they have to be comfortable with that group and feel like they belong. This means a natural step to developing asset-based dispositions in the classroom is cultivating a safe and inviting classroom environment that is vigilant towards preventing deficit-thinking. Often, students feel as though they do not have any strengths because they don’t feel that their talents count as strengths. Teachers should encourage students to share and discuss any and every strength they have - even if it might not make sense in the current context. Martin (2018) recommends that teachers dedicate a portion of their class time to allow students to share something with the class. As students get to know each other and become more comfortable, teachers should encourage them to talk with each other and discuss their strengths. Additionally, classrooms should take the time to actively acknowledge and celebrate each individual in the group’s successes. To further solidify this culture of positivity and asset-based dispositions, teachers can also encourage students to look for deficit-based assumptions and call them out - even if it is the teacher wrongly making those assumptions (Klein, 2017).
2. Reframe Problems
Sometimes, our students’ greatest strengths can be hidden within their most problematic behaviors. Reframing is a process of looking past someone’s actions as “problematic” or “undesirable,” and seeing them as an exhibition of their capability. Teachers that can shift the paradigm see new opportunities in their students that others overlook, while also remedying perceived behavioral problems which are really the side effect of other social-emotional needs.
The student that has to constantly be asked to stop talking? Maybe they aren’t getting enough socialization at other times throughout the day. Take advantage of their talkativeness and have them lead a class discussion.
The student that is constantly walking around the class? Maybe they aren’t getting enough physical activity during the day. Take advantage of their restlessness and have them pass-out or collect papers, or even run an errand.
According to Molnar and Lindquist (as cited in Weiner, 2006), reframing consists of four steps:
- Describe the behavior in factual and observable terms.
- Identify how the behavior is a strength.
- Create a new, positive perspective on the behavior and individual.
- State this new perspective to the individual and act on it.
3. Encourage Self-Reflection
When we are practicing deliberately, the goal of our time is to focus on our deficits and figure out how to close the gap between them and our expertise. Focusing on the things that we have missed is a very natural process, and it is something that we teach students to do in school from an early age. This is especially true in skill-based classes, such as music. The benefit of this way of thinking is that it makes our students extremely effective at pinpointing exactly what they didn’t do well on so that they can make adjustments and improve. Unfortunately, this has the side effect of students not being able to describe what they did do well on, which leads to many students having no concept of what they are good at (Lopez & Louis, 2009). The students have trouble seeing the forest through the trees, if you will. As educators, we need to take the time to talk with our students to encourage them to focus on what they did well on so they can see their strengths beyond their deficits. From there, students can work together and set goals that solve the problems in their understanding of the world, and then learn from the parts of the world that they don’t understand (Klein, 2017).
Responsive Pedagogy Practices
My class puts me in a unique position to leverage my student’s interests and culture though a universal medium - music. Everyone has their own taste in music, and music has plenty of subgenres to fit every nuanced taste. It is one of aspects of our lives that is most influence by our culture and family. The following are two practices that I utilize with my students so that they can share their personal interests with their peers and embrace their peer’s interests.
1. New Music Fridays
Each Friday, we have a dedicated time in class for students to share the new music they are listening to. Students can suggest any song for the class to listen to and the only limitation is that it must be a “clean/radio-edit” version. The student tells us what they enjoy about the song musically, and then the class listens to about a minute and thirty seconds of each song. There is a mutual understanding that we do not have to like the genre of music someone picks, but we will be respectful and listen for what their peer enjoys about the song. More specifically, I tell them that they never know when they might really enjoy a small aspect of a song they hate. I find this activity to be great because it not only aligns with our content standards, but it also helps build our community. It comes to full fruition when a student suggests a more atypical genre (such as Japanese jazz), which receives some subtle groans at the start of the song but ends with those same students that groaned enjoying it.
2. Broad Projects
Since there is such a wide variety of genres, it would be all but impossible to teach every students how to compose in every genre (especially when they are just starting out). To help remedy this issue, I approach everything in our class from a place of being genre agnostic. When we talk about the different topics and content areas, we do so in a way that can be applied to all genres, and then I encourage the students the explore on their own how it applies to genre they listen to most. This comes to full fruition in our projects which have generic rubrics focusing on the overall skills I assessing, but still maintain enough flexibility for each student to be able to write or analyze in the genre that they most connect with. It is great because it not only gives them the flexibility, but it also allows students to discuss and understand each other’s projects on a common ground.