Sunday, April 26, 2015

Just change one word

Ever found yourself describing a student or a class to another colleague as "low ability"? It's a shortcut we use more frequently than we may realise, even if said in the most caring, well-intentioned way. Early in my teacher education at Sydney University, I was very fortunate to be given a very simple and powerful idea: change one word.  Replace the word "ability" with "achievement". 

The result may surprise you. Here's my favorite example: next time you hear yourself saying: "Let's save that (interesting, challenging) activity for the high ability class", change it to: "Let's save that (interesting, challenging) activity for the high achieving class". Wow! Would you really want to do that? Changing one word isn't about being politically correct - it's about altering our mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. When done with awareness, changing one word can make a real impact in your classroom and your school.

It's approaching five years now since I graduated from Sydney University, and this simple idea continues to pay dividends in my teaching. So it seemed only fitting to make it the topic for my presentation at our alumni conference, SUSMAC 2015. 

With thanks to Judy Anderson and Maria Quigley for organising the conference, and to Eddy Woo for his work to make the conference available on the internet.

For a full set of videos and notes from SUSMAC 2105, featuring a keynote from Andrew Martin, and over 20 short presentations from teachers and preservice teachers, see:


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