Math Mondays: Yet...building confidence and growth in math

Yet is one of my favorite words. Yet connotes hope, an openness to continue, and a lack of finality. 

I had a colleague once who banned the phrase I can't in her classroom. Her point was to embody an openness to possibility. I prefer yet, because to me it is more realistic... "I can't climb a v5 yet;" "I can't factor quadratic expressions yet,"" I can't do the splits yet." Yet reminds us that there is time and aptitude to learn. It has changed the mindset of my entire class.

I started the idea of yet in my class with just a big sign with the word on it.   I simply reminded students that at any one time there was something they could not yet do.  The sign is a reminder as well as a student-centered placeholder.  Students may post goals, frustrations, and challenges on the sign. For example "I don't understand logarithms, yet." 

When students master the goal, they have deep satisfaction in pulling the post-it note off. It's our living piece of ongoing work, achievement and goals. It keeps us in a growth mindset. And when a student says "I can't...", you can bet someone in class will add yet to the end.

A final thought on yet (and this might rankle some of you)... The idea of a growth mindset is that we master skills and concepts at different stages, yet in many classrooms and schools we offer homogenous fixed times to prove mastery - a unit test on a certain day or the ever present standardized tests. Even the "smarter balanced assessments" being touted with the common core have a fixed timeline. True mastery requires individual pacing, which means that it is unrealistic to think all students should master x by y time unless we aim for the lowest level achievement. I don't have the answer to this quandary, yet, but is certainly something to think about.

Math Mondays is a bi-weekly blog post (2nd and 4th Monday of each month) sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching math.  If you have questions or think there is something I should include, you can leave me a message in the comments section below or at the store in the question and answer section.