Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Chapter 6: Shrink the Change

Chapter 6 is all about continuing to motivate that darn elephant. 

I’ve been wedding planning for about six months now, and let me tell you…motivating the Elephant gets harder as time goes on. I’m seriously considering running away with my fiancé to Las Vegas and getting married by an Elvis impersonator. Seriously speaking though, wedding planning is tough!

My Elephant was extremely motivated when the ring first landed on my finger. I searched Pinterest for wedding ideas and was delighted to call and set up appointments with prospective vendors. However, as I reach “the year of my wedding,” I find my desire to complete tasks dwindling. The wedding just seemed SO big as I looked at my checklist of things to do before August 6th. After reading this chapter, I thought of the snowballing debt concept, and tried to implement it into my planning. Instead of looking at one huge checklist, I organized it into categories like “Catering,” “Flowers,” and “Centerpieces.” I realized I only had a few things left to do before I knocked some of those big chunks of planning out of the way. (I mean seriously, if I never have to look at another centerpiece idea again…I think I’ll survive!) Doing this helped me get rid of a few bigger pieces to the planning, and it helped me realize I was “20 percent of the way to the destination, not 0 percent” (p. 128). What a feeling that is! Recognizing you aren’t completely drowning in your plans truly does help motivate. I think coming to the realization that, “To motivate change, you’ve got to plan for [those smaller milestones],” helped me get my butt in gear to finish this wedding planning (p. 136). Telling myself, “Just one more phone call and I can be done with transportation,” or “I just need to buy this ribbon and I’ll be done with the ceremony location decorations,” feels awesome!

To use a more school-related concept, this chapter had me thinking about how we spend time teaching kids things they’ll never officially use in their future. We all teach something in our subject areas where we laugh and think, “Great…how am I going to get my kids to buy in to this?!” When the authors said, “The Elephant hates doing things with no immediate payoff,” this is what I thought of (p. 130-31). Kids look to learn things they can use right this second. They don’t consider what they’ll need “for the future.” The future is a made up place where kids need to learn how to use their words and write in complete sentences. They hate that. In AIS, I spend large amounts of time expanding vocabulary knowledge. I don’t give kids definitions and say, “We’re having a quiz next Friday.” I show them one word at a time, in conjunction with videos, comic strips, and classroom activities. At the beginning of the year, every kid flips through their vocabulary dictionary and says, “No way am I learning all these words. This is impossible.” I “shrink the change.” I only give 12-15 words per marking period, and we review each separately. I don’t go in alphabetical order. I give short, meaningful quizzes, instead of massive unit tests. I break down the knowledge first, so my kids don’t have to do it themselves. Just yesterday, I had a kid tell me, “Ms. Herbert, this quiz was way too easy today.” I said to him, “Are you sure it was easy? Or was it that you learned all the words, so it seemed easy?” It’s amazing how a simple change on my part completely transforms the way my students perceive their learning. (And for the record, you never hear an AIS kid saying vocabulary is “easy.”) J

Shrinking the change is one of those concepts that makes you wish you thought of it first because it's so simple. I love the idea, and find it easy to use with kids. I just need to get better at doing it for my own life. 


  1. The way you "shrink the change" with your vocabulary dictionaries to reach that June expectation reminds me of working towards our item knowledge (letters, sounds, sight words) June goals in kindergarten. We progress monitor letter/sound fluency through a computer program. For example, students have one minute to name as many letters as they can off of a sheet or paper. For those completely unmotivated to do this (it gets repetitive), I will actually show them a graph generated by the computer program that tracks their progress. They love seeing the line going up toward the star marking their end goal.

  2. This chapter was very meaningful because it's something that we can all relate to, especially as teachers. It's extremely daunting for students to look at a huge 300 page book and think "There's no way I'm going to be able to read this whole thing!" I work with reluctant, struggling readers and most of them have never read an entire book, because the prospect scares them; they all have the mindset that they're not capable of accomplishing it, as the authors state "When a task feels too big, the Elephant will resist" (146). My goal has been to select small wins that are "within immediate reach" and "celebrate every incremental victory." Every time they read 15 pages and are able to discuss it with their classmates, I reinforce their behavior with praise. This chapter also reinforced how the journey to success can be different for everyone and that every student can't be measured by the same scale. The authors discuss the extremely shy boy who might measure success as being able to ask the grocery clerk about toothpaste (p. 143). The same thing applies to our students; we should have different goals and different steps that measure growth rather than one all-encompassing high-stakes test.

  3. I think it's important to remember too that we need to focus on what's new and different about the change we are making. In this chapter they said that it's important to remind people (in our case, students) of what they have already accomplished. So Lauren, you need to do that when you look at your wedding planning. Think of all you have accomplished already! :) And with students, as all of you have mentioned, we have to help them focus on the "small wins" to give them the hope that in fuel for the Elephant.

  4. I think that this chapter helped me look at how changes can be made gradually. Break down a larger task. With any large project or undertaking, it can help to remind people what has already been conquered. I think back to when we first started working with the new standards. A significant change. Making gradual movement toward implementing the standards helped me. My students also like to see progress they are making toward reading a certain number of words per minute. The line graph (similar to what Kylie described) can be powerful. It is nicer to feel "closer to the finish line" (p. 127) Shrink the change...powerful.

  5. you really hit on some important points regarding the benefits of shrinking the change. I responded in the other chapter 6 post about the dangers of it, but I think the whole Common Core/APPR thing is a great example of innovation overload that could have been done one step at a time in a way that would, likely, have yielded far greater success. I also wanted to note that Jen and I can empathize with your feelings of being overwhelmed by wedding planning. There are so many decisions involved in that process that I never even thought of! Earlier chapters talked about being paralyzed by too many choices. Certainly true if the change is too big.

  6. I really liked this chapter. I think, mainly, because it affirms what I tend to do naturally...but I always referred to it as "chunking" things up. In fact, yesterday I made a list of things to do during break- the list was absolutely set up like the "5 minute room rescue." So when I read this chapter (it was on the list!) I chuckled. But, I work best this way. As I read through the comments I notice that most of us do this with our students, perhaps naturally. I remember in college getting a syllabus and thinking...there is no way I can get through this, it is too much. I would allow myself some time to wallow- then I would make a list and "chunk" the tasks up.

    The research process works well for this. It may seem overwhelming to write a 5 page paper, but when you break down the tasks into manageable tasks it isn't so bad. Find one source, than a second, read the sources, annotate them, develop a thesis, and so on. I saw lots of evidence in what people are writing, that we are doing this for our students. I loved the charting/line graph example and the reading and vocabulary examples.

    The quote on page 129 made me realize that we need to be aware of this overwhelming feeling that students can sometimes feel, "The sense of progress is critical, because the Elephant in us is easily demoralized. It's easily spooked, easily derailed, and for that reason, it needs reassurance, even for the very first step of the journey." There is evidence that we are doing this for our students. But are we doing it for educators? For ourselves? I thought the reference to the Common Core and APPR was very illuminating.

    But, what made me think, or rethink, was the section on "raising the bar." "A business cliche commands us to 'raise the bar.' But that's exactly the wrong instinct if you want to motivate a reluctant elephant. You need to lower the bar. Picture taking a high-jump bar and lowering it so far that it can be jumped over. If you want a reluctant elephant to get moving, you need to shrink the change" (129). I am not sure how I feel about this? When I look at it this way I am at odds. Is shrinking the change (lowering the bar) bad? Does breaking things down into smaller tasks (which I get, and support) mean we need to lower the bar? Are these two things mutually exclusive? Or can we keep the bar high?


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