Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8

Fall-Down-7-Times-Get-Up-8

I’m trying to put my finger on what makes Debbie Silver’s book, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8, so inspiring.

There are a few books I’ve read in my teaching career that gave me an about-face: the ideas were a lightning bolt that utterly changed the way I taught. For example, when reading Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle (so many years ago), I was introduced to writer’s workshop for the first time and my classroom was never the same again. Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 is not like that – it’s not about making a radical change in education. Silver doesn’t introduce anything mind-bogglingly new, but she does something that I find even more difficult – she brings abstract educational theories down to a level that we can understand and implement. Her book is indisputably one of the most motivating educational books I’ve read in a long time.

Many of the ideas she writes about are concepts that teachers are probably familiar with, that they’ve studied in education classes, and that they’ve thought about over and over again in the past. But it’s the way Silver organizes them, the techniques she suggests, and the examples she uses that give difficult theories a fresh twist and make them seem doable. We often read about educational theories only to think, “yeah, okay, but how do I do this?” Debbie Silver takes these concepts and shows us how to put them into practice in our classrooms. I loved her book so much, that last year I decided to use it in our weekly professional development in TCFL’s secondary school. As anyone who works in high school will tell you, motivating teenagers is not an easy task. “How can we inspire these kids?” is a question that comes up repeatedly in our staff meetings.

We started our series of workshops with an introduction to the book, using the ideas from Chapter One. After that, groups of 2-3 teachers chose a chapter to teach to the others, and in our weekly professional development meeting, we discussed the ideas they presented. It was  a phenomenal learning experience. After the training, I observed a chemistry class in which the kids were on-task, engaged, and obviously enthusiastic about what they were doing. When I discussed the class with Dennis, our chemistry teacher, he said, “Hey, it’s what we’ve been learning in professional development. That stuff really works!”

So what “stuff” is Dennis talking about?

  • Keeping lessons in the students’ zone of proximal Science class 3development (ZPD). Dennis used to “challenge” kids with extremely high-level reading material and complicated experiments. Now I saw him using simple experiments to teach complex concepts, challenging his students with questions that made them go deeper into their own thinking.
  • Helping students realize that to get good at something, persistence is key – sometimes you’ll fail and that’s alright, because failure is often a necessary step in learning. As students struggle with a difficult math exploration, it’s tempting to give them the solution, but instead I often hear the teacher say, “This is a tough problem. Keep thinking. What other possible way could you solve this?” When the group groans, he smiles and says, “You’re almost there; don’t give up.” When they finally discover the solution, the feeling of accomplishment is palpable.x aeon 13 math class 2
  • Silver tells us that students often attribute their grades to “luck,” with the work being “too hard” or “too easy” for their natural ability, instead of realizing that the effort they put into their work can make all the difference. Since our book study, I’ve heard teachers making a concerted effort to let students know that their effort (or lack of it) is the reason behind their success or failure. “Jane, I can see that you worked hard on your revisions. Your essay has improved a lot since the first draft.”
  • Silver also gives techniques for helping students develop a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. We’re taking her advice and making efforts to avoid labeling kids with comments like “you’re so smart,” or “you’re a great artist,” and instead we’re concentrating on giving effective feedback that will help them grow and improve. We’re modeling the skills we want them to learn. For instance, rather than just telling them to study more, we’re actively teaching them the study skills that many of them don’t have. We’re also pointing out the progress they’ve made over time.
  • In Chapter 6, Silver discusses the downside of rewards. In our school we’ve always focused on internal motivation, and we avoid stickers, stars, and pizza parties as rewards for good work. However, we realized that in spite of ourselves, we often use praise as a form of reward. We’re reminding ourselves to refrain from saying, “Wow! Nice work!” and instead to give effective feedback like “The strong verbs you’ve used in this piece make it so much more interesting,” or to ask questions like “How did you come up with this opening paragraph?”
  • All teachers want to help their students become independent learners, but in order to do so, we need to give up control… which can be one of the hardest things to do. Since our book study I’ve seen teachers give students choices in what they study and how they present information. They empower kids by allowing them to manage their time and by letting them know that they trust them to do their best. I hear teachers saying things like, “I don’t mind who you choose to sit with, as long as you’re able to get the work done,” or “Of course you can write the information as lyrics to a song. What a creative idea.

As teachers implement these methods, they’ve seen students respond quickly and positively. A weak math student decided she could learn math and became one of the most involved kids in the class. A failing student who insisted that he hated school, came in to my office to tell me that he’d changed his mind, school wasn’t so bad, and he was surprised to see that he could do the work. Power struggles between certain students and teachers disappeared. By giving us concrete techniques that we can use on a daily basis, Silver has empowered us in our teaching, giving us the tools to be more successful.

It’s true: “That stuff really works!”

P.S. Our elementary teachers are in the midst of doing a book study of Fall Down 7 Times, Get up 8 and are loving it!

8 Comments

  1. NIkki asked us to paint something and then share it. It was really interesting the way I felt after she gave exaggerated feedback to one of the group saying “This is amazing, you are an artist, this is incredible!!!!”… She did it on purpose, but we didn´t know that at the beginning…So I said to myself “there´s no way I am going to show my stupid drawing….” Taking the place of students is really revealing, I realized how awful a student might feel when we give that kind of feedback… UNFORGETTABLE….

  2. As an Elementary teacher, I find this perspective interesting and revolutionary at the same time. It is a challenge to put this into practice as I always thought and also learned while studying Education, that giving positive and healthy feedback was to say “Wow! Great Job!”

    I’ve always been concerned with the emotional state of my students, but as I studie this book along with my colleagues, I realized that this kind of feedback has been a poor short term strategy. This book is not only giving me a new perspective regarding a long-term effective education but it is also giving me the opportunity to identify the fixed mindset I grew up with and pushing myself to a wider mindset instead.

  3. This book has really been an eye opener for me. As teachers, we know that we need to provide our students with specific feedback, but the truth of the matter is that when it comes down to it, most of the time we are saying, “good job” or “I knew you could do it.” But what a child really needs is specific feedback about the work they did and it is something that we must be constantly thinking about or we will just revert back to those pointless “good jobs.”

    What I loved most about the chapter that I presented (Chapter 2: Zone of Proximal Development) was that it reinforced the importance and effectiveness of independent instruction time. It’s not enough to just teach a lesson and sit down while the students do the work. Each child is at a different “step” in their development. They are all begging for us to push them “just the right amount” where they feel challenged and are able to complete the task at hand. This is where independent instruction comes in. Where we guide the children to achieve the SPECIFIC goals they have been striving for.
    This book provides realistic examples and ways to apply the techniques in our classrooms.

    HERE’S TO FALLING DOWN 7 TIMES AND GETTING UP 8!!!

  4. This book has helped me to see how easy it is to lose track of our real objective, to help develop young minds into secure and active learners. After reading and studying it, I find myself thinking about what I tell the kids and what kind of feedback I give them and sometimes, I have to stop myself from saying the typical “Wow, great job!” or “That’s amazing, you are so talented!”

    I believe every human being should read this book, not just teachers.

  5. I really enjoy the way Debbie Silver expresses her ideas: based on her personal experiences along with the research that supports her conclusions. This has reminded me to do the same… analyze my own personal experiences and compare them with what is said about a topic.

  6. Spanish comment followed by English translation – please scroll down if you don’t speak Spanish 🙂

    Es interesante como este libro toca a cada uno de manera diferente. En mi caso, a medida que escucho la exposición de cada capítulo, reflexiono cómo el manejo de la conducta y de las actitudes, por parte de los adultos influye en los hijos, en los alumnos… No obstante al llegar al capítulo 7, el cual considero el eje de todo el libro, (Autonomía, tiempo y fluir), mi reflexión se fue tan lejos… que me tocó e hizo que me formulara una gran interrogante en mi cerebro que me acompaña en todos los momentos, en especial en aquellos en los que tengo que modelar una actitud o una conducta; ¿Cuán autónoma soy para enseñar a mis alumnos o a mis hijas, a ser autónomas?

    Aprendí desde hace tiempo, que no puedes dar lo que no tienes, entonces tras cada lectura, empecé a autorrealizarme miles de preguntas relacionadas con los temas del libro, por ejemplo, ¿Cómo funcionan los reforzadores en mí? ¿He sido manipulada y/o sobornada para dar lo mejor de mí misma? ¿Cuáles beneficios obtuve por todo lo que hice? Cuál tipo de control me impulsa a tomar decisiones en la vida, ¿el interno o el externo?… en fin como adulta, estos temas me invitan a ejercer la introspección, a autoencontrarme , y también a detectar y evitar distractores que me alejan de mi propio ser … justo lo que quiero fomentar en mis hijas … ¿ coincidencia? … ¡NO!, porque yo quiero que ellas aprendan a levantarse las veces que sean necesarias en su vida.

    It’s interesting how this book touches everyone differently. In my case, as I listened to the presentation of each chapter, I reflected on how my behavior and attitude as an adult influences the children, the students… But when I reached Chapter 7, which I consider the axis of the whole book, (Autonomy, Time and Flow), my thinking went very far… it touched me and made me formulate an important question that I carry with me at all times, especially in those moments when I’m going to model an attitude or behavior for my children: I want to teach my children to be autonomous through example…But, then I ask myself, how autonomous am I?

    I learned a long time ago that you can’t give what you don’t have. After each reading, I started to ask myself thousands of questions related to the book’s topics, for example, How do enhancers work on me? Have I been manipulated and / or bribed to give the best of myself? What benefits have I gotten for all I’ve done? What type of control drives me to take decisions in life, internal or external? Finally, as an adult, these topics invite me to exercise introspection to find myself, and to detect as well as avoid distractions that keep me from my own self… just what I want to encourage in my daughters… coincidence?… NO! Because I want them to learn to get up as many times as necessary in their lives.

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