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Culture of Low Threat

Smart To Show What You Know

“Put your hand up if you don’t understand and need more help,” says the teacher. Who does that? Who actually raises a hand, and in that vulnerable moment lets the whole class see that they don’t get it? Who will take this risk? Well, not the average person, that is for sure. We, as humans, young or old, hide what we don’t know. We fake it tilwe make it. There is just too much at stake to identify what you don’t know when you think that everyone else is so much smarter than you. The brain shuts down rather than opens up when threat is on the horizon.

Changing The Culture

A Profound Learning classroom has to attack the deeply embedded mental model that only some people are smart, and if I make a mistake, I am in trouble. Anxiety creates a chain reaction in the brain with a quickening heart and tense muscles. Over the years, schools have done much to reinforce this negative mental model. Tests, red pen markings of wrongdemands to come and see me’ or names on the board, have kept students hiding what they don’t know. “The most learning conducive classrooms are those that are low in threat yet high in reasonable challenge” (Brain Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom by Judy Willis (2007) Alexandria, Virginia ASCD).  Punishment in any way has to be avoided when learning is on the line.

Thumbs Up – Thumbs to the Side

So how can we convince our students that they are smart to identify what they do not know? Profound Learning helps to make the learning environment safe for all. Beginning with group responses helps to engage students in the courageous journey of identifying what they don’t know. When a teachers says“Use a thumbs up or thumbs to the side to show me your level of confidence to do this on your own,” students gain confidence in seeing that they are part of a group with both signals represented.

SMWYK – Show Me What You Know

Identifying what you don’t know is the only smart thing to do if you are going to close your gaps in learning. That’s why you’re smart in a Profound Learning classroom when you engage in a SMWYK! This pre-assessment gives the students an opportunity to identify what they already know about a concept and what they will learn as they go. It is a gentle, but very effective tool to set the stage for setting personalized goals.

Growth Indicators

Allowing students to use a growth indicator to self-assess their learning gives visual representation of gaps in learning. Growth indicators reflect a degree to which students understand. It is not just check’ for right and ‘X’ for wrong. Learning is a continuum and when students understand this continual progression, they are more ready to identify areas that need support.

Self-assessment and reflection is an element of Profound Learning. Smart people find what they need to learn, set goals to close any identified gaps, and move forward with confidence. That’s the environment for success.

2 thoughts on “Culture of Low Threat”

  1. I’m encouraged to read this and thankful for Master’s staff and teaching strategies! I remember these very struggles as a kid.

  2. Thanks Pam for your comment and for reading the blog. We all have a few memories of exposing our ignorance at school and feeling bad about it. We are striving to make our school a safe and caring place for everyone – teachers, kids and parents.

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