As I think about the upcoming school year I have decided to change the order a bit. I am going be sure to include the most important word that students can learn very early in the process.  This is a word that launches student achievement.  It makes them feel like they belong.  It makes their practice more effective.  It keeps them focused.  It extends their timeline.  It can make them hopeful.  That word is yet.

Occasionally we hear students in language classes say, “I am not good at Spanish,” or “I do not speak much Spanish” or “I can’t do that.” One way I used to handle that was to lightly remark, “Well, it’s a good thing you are in this class then!” and go on.  But when we attach the word yet everything changes.  The previous low effort and low esteem phrases become “I am not good at Spanish…yet” and “I do not speak much Spanish…yet”  and “I can’t do that …yet.”

Yet changes the tone.  Yet re-frames everything. Yet acknowledges the inadequacy of the present situation but also extends the expectation that things will change. Yet shows students that they are on a journey–a journey worth  taking. Yet gives us hope.

In his fascinating explanation of how we develop skill, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle cites a study where beginning music students were asked how long they would be playing their instruments. Students had predictable different timelines.  Some, those with a short-term timeline, said just this year.  The mid term timeline students were defined as those that said they would probably play all through school.  But some students said they would be playing their instruments their whole life.  These were the long-term timeline students.  When the practice habits and achievement of each group was analyzed an interesting tendency appeared.  The student with the long-term timeline achieved at the highest levels with the same amount of practice as the other two groups.  The long-term timeline students were not getting more practice, just more valuable practice. They were getting quality repetitions.  The sense of belonging presumably impelled them to focus more.  The future image of your competent self is so much more powerful than just putting in time. They had hope that they would play and play well in the future.  Somehow, they had picked up the yet, as in “I do not play well…yet.”

I have seen the same thing happen to students that pick up the yet on their own, but I am going to communicate overtly the sense of hope embodied in the word yet to my students this year despite my past failings and insensitivity and despite the fact that I am not the teacher I want to be…yet.

Bryce will be discussing how to establish rapport and maintain positive order in two Classroom Management presentations at the upcoming 2013 NTPRS conference in Dallas even though he does not have all of the answers to teaching…yet.