Last week, in an effort to help my students move into a mindset of behaving as scientists (curious, principled, researchers) I was reminded of Ron Ritchhart’s 7 Languages of the Classroom. Specifically, the Language of Identity. As Ritchhart says, in order for someone to see themselves in a new role we have to give them a new identity. Or, I would add, to help them see a part of their identity they may not have clued into yet.
So for us in Grade 2, it was Scientists. The students are inquiring into interdependence and human impacts on the planet. I knew the students were moving into a part of their inquiry where they were going to be very ‘hands-on’- going out into nature to observe, touch, note, and analyze what they saw. I wanted to help them to tap into the Scientist part of themselves and to think about how this role may differ from the other roles they play as 7 and 8-year-old children.
As you can see in the photo below I wrote “What does a Scientist do?” on the board. This was quick and to the point. I wanted to see what their schema for this was. They chatted amongst themselves for a minute then began calling out. I loved their ideas.
What I love so much is how most of their ideas are related to approaches to thinking and attitudes. Honestly, I thought they would give more subject-specific ideas. I told the children that this next phase of their inquiry would really call upon them to act as Scientists so we decided to circle in blue the parts of what Scientist “do” that they feel they already do. Again, they chatted and called out their ideas. Only “dig dinosaur bones” wasn’t circled in blue.
Following this discussion, the students walked out the door, clipboards, and pencils in hand, to head to our school’s garden to begin looking for evidence of living things. My hope and intention were that they left with a clear idea of what part of their full, complex and capable identity they could tap into and use in this work. My guess is that this is not always the message these young people receive from the world. My hope is that the extra few minutes to tap into identity paid off in the students seeing their work as a piece of something larger than our class or school.
I think when many of us learned about the Language of Identity we loved it right away and it was so easy to apply. We started saying, “You are Scientists. You are Mathematicians. You are Designers.” I believe this in and of itself is worth a lot. But, as always, we can do more.
What can we do to make the Language of Identity more metacognitive or more reflective for students, rather than just the words the teacher says?