By Dr. Dorinne Dorfman, Principal
Last year Christine Hertz, a literacy interventionist in Worcester, VT, published A Mindset for Learning with Heinemann Press. She and co-author Kristi Mraz have completed a second book on elementary education and will produce videos in conjunction with its publication in two classes at Champlain Elementary School. Participating classes include Ms. King’s first graders and Ms. Malik’s fourth and fifth graders. In this interview, Ms. Hertz explains this new work.
Dorrine Dorfman (DD): Tell us about your project about Champlain and beyond.
Christine Hertz (CH): We have a new book coming out in February 2018 and one of its primary goals is to help teachers create classroom communities of caring, engaged citizens. We believe that, in addition to fostering students’ academic growth, schools and classrooms can foster students’ social and emotional growth. For years, we have been developing strategies to cultivate students’ empathy, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. We believe in teaching the whole child – academic, social, emotional and physical – and we believe that there are joyful, engaging ways to teach skills such as self-regulation and resilience while also developing more traditional academic skills like reading, writing and mathematics.
DD: You have already published a book with Heinemann, A Mindset for Learning. At the same time, you are a classroom teachers and a literacy specialist. Why did you write this book? What would you like every teacher and parent to know?
CH: Carol Dweck is a researcher, currently at Stanford University, who has pioneered a great deal of work around the idea of growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that we can learn anything with support, hard work, and thoughtful strategic instruction. We found that theory to be powerful in our own lives and even more powerful in our classrooms. In fact, Dweck has found that children with a growth mindset outperform children who do not think of themselves and their learning this way. We wrote A Mindset for Learning to give teachers and student specific stances (optimism, flexibility, resilience, persistence, and empathy) to use when they are faced with a setback. We would love every parent and every teacher to model their own learning journey – their own journey of growth – for their children. We’re never perfect, but we can always be making progress.
DD: How did you decide to choose Champlain for the video?
CH: Champlain has a wonderful reputation for being a welcoming, inclusive community that values developing students both as learners and as citizens. We have heard many glowing things about your students, families, and faculty and we are thrilled to have an opportunity to visit.
DD: What will students learn in the lessons taught at school?
CH: Students will learn about big concepts such as perspective taking, flexible problem solving, and risk-taking. We will also be teaching strategies such as self-talk, storytelling, and reflection. At the same time, we will weave grade-appropriate literacy skills into the lessons. For example, during a read aloud, students might learn about empathy while simultaneously deepening their understanding of character development. These lessons will be interactive, engaging and student-driven.
DD: You believe strongly in project-based learning, yet literacy is your specialization. What does one have to do with the other?
CH: We believe that teaching and learning should be rooted in what is authentic and important to students. Project-based learning allows students to engaged with a problem or an inquiry that stirs their curiosity and their drive for learning. Literacy is a vital tool for both conducting that project, but also for communicating its outcomes to the world. Project-based learning allows students to use the literacy skills they are acquiring in an authentic, purposeful way. For our youngest students, that might look like raising money for hurricane relief as a class. For our older students, it might look like more individualized, longer-term projects.
DD: What do you look for in an elementary classroom? What would be going on that tells you that children are receiving an excellent education?
CH: First and foremost, we look for strong relationships between teachers and students. Relationships are at the heart of teaching. We look for teachers who are compassionate, responsive, playful, and constantly trying to outgrow themselves and what they know. We look for students who are not afraid to make mistakes, to challenge themselves with what we call “just right risks,” and to dive into the messy process of learning. We look for collaboration, critical thinking, and that certain hum that exists when students are learning and happy.