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Early Childhood modeling Persistence

It’s Never Too Early to Model EF Strategies

When is it helpful to start modeling executive function strategies for students? A recent brief from K-12Dive (link opens in new tab/window) highlights that it’s never too early to start. Modeling ideal behaviors and executive function strategies when students enter early childhood education can ensure that they grow into independent learners and flexible thinkers.

The Why: Starting in Early Childhood

Educational systems and curriculum objectives often assume that young children are not yet ready to develop the capacities that will eventually lead them to direct their own learning journeys. Research and experience tell us a different story. The key lies in helping students develop flexible mindsets, which arise from periods of trial and error over searching for one “right answer.”

Today’s students will face complex challenges and uncertainty in their futures. We will need to prepare young students to become self-directed learners who know how to ask questions, solve problems, and unleash their creativity. Therefore, it is important to ensure students are equipped with the skills to understand others’ perspectives and work with their peers.

The How: Modeling for Young Students

In the K-12Dive Brief, Taína Coleman, an educational specialist from the Child Mind Institute, shares that modeling helps all students—students who need time to learn the skill and those that need to practice it. While many lessons follow the sequence of “I do, we do, you do,” Coleman adds a step to this process. After the “I do” portion where students watch her carry out a strategy, she pauses to model the steps very clearly.

The When: Opportunities for Modeling     

Three excellent opportunities for modeling in early childhood education classrooms are transitions, sharing, and persistence.

  • Transitions: Teachers can model using a clock to measure how much time is left in class and include verbal and visual reminders of what cleaning up looks like and how to get ready for the next class or activity.
  • Sharing: After reading a book on sharing, teachers can model taking turns and sharing a game, puzzle, or other activity with multiple students.
  • PersistenceResearch has shown(link opens in new tab/window) that beginning in infancy, children make more attempts to achieve a goal (such as unlocking a keychain or making a toy sound) when they observe adults around them persisting. Infants who watched adults fail at a task and attempt the task multiple times were more likely to attempt a challenging task for a longer period of time. The infants were more likely to persist when the adults around them made eye contact and spoke directly to the infants.
  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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Persistence

Modeling Persistence to Students

When it comes to students’ learning and growth, we know that persistence matters. When we think about persistence, we typically think about students’ internal motivational states. But what about external factors that impact students’ persistence? 

Research has shown that beginning in infancy, children make more attempts to achieve a goal (such as unlocking a keychain or making a toy sound) when they observe adults around them persisting. Infants who watched adults fail at a task and attempt the task multiple times were more likely to attempt a challenging task for a longer period of time. The infants were more likely to persist when the adults around them made eye contact and spoke directly to the infants. 

When it comes to the classroom, teacher influence and modeling really matter! Here are a few ways to encourage persistence among your students. 

Model Your Own Challenges to Students

When students see their teachers at the start of class, they do not see the time and detail that went into preparing for the day’s lesson. Many students may think that their teachers do not face any challenges simply because students are not witnessing them. When teachers model how they work to overcome a personal area of challenge, students may feel understood and encouraged. Depending on the context, teachers can model how they thought about a problem in a different way, or how they used a tool like a sticky note to help remember an idea. The next time students face an area of challenge, they may think back to the way you modeled your moment of persistence. 

Intervene Less

When adults intervene and take over tasks for students very quickly, students often feel less motivated to try again or try a different approach. At times, it may make sense for parents and teachers to step in and help. If time allows, it could help students in the long run to spend more time on a challenging task, to make more attempts to solve a problem, and to try a new approach. Teachers can also encourage their students to try a number of different strategies before asking for help. A strategy anchor chart for the classroom can be helpful as students learn to look to these resources as they persist. 

Praise Effort 

When it comes to praise, it is important to help students develop a growth mindsetand help them see that their effort and persistence matter. Having a growth mindset enables students to think more deeply about their areas of strength and challenge and go back into their toolbox to try another strategy when they need one.

Greater persistence has been linked to numerous positive outcomes for students, including higher graduation rates. When students see their teachers modeling persistence and they realize that their effort impacts their outcomes, they are more likely to persist.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org