The Beginner's Mind: Learning to take risks

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As a kid, do you remember the first time you took the training wheels off and tried to ride your first bicycle?  In the beginner’s mind, it was the next step in being a big kid, and it meant being open to making mistakes and being willing to take a huge risk. 

Years later, I can remember feeling the same way when I began teaching my first yoga class.  Again, in my beginner’s mind, I had the same butterflies in my stomach.  I had the same jittery legs, a similar mindset, and those sweaty palms that showed up to accompany me on my new adventure.  I was older and wiser, so I knew I was outside of my comfort zone and had to dismiss my nerves to just do it.  Although I made mistakes that day, I recognized my own courage and bravery in trying something new. 

It’s like the first year I taught Shurley English.   Once I understood its methodology, it became like a second language to me.  Sure, I felt the butterflies…because it was new!  It was new to my students too.  They also had the beginner’s mind, and I always tried to be mindful of that anytime I taught something new. 

With practice, my students learned to speak up, to find their voice in writing, and to become competent, confident communicators!  That’s a huge deal.  It all starts by recognizing how it feels to learn something new—and with practice—to move beyond the beginner’s mind

I learned that practice doesn’t always make perfect, but practice does make progress and growth.  Being outside of your comfort zone is where the real growth happens, and that takes practice.

You have the unique opportunity, as a teacher, to create an environment that encourages students to take risks.  When your students see you work outside of your comfort zone, trying something new, they will be more likely to do the same.  Shurley English allows you to teach much more than language arts.  So, be compassionate and kind and never forget what it feels like to try something new.  Always strive to teach and learn from a beginner’s mind, and grow from there.


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Lesson Planning: Embracing the Beginner’s Mind

The beginning of a new grading period or unit of study is the perfect time to have a quick lesson discussing the beginner’s mind. Give each student a pink eraser to remind him/her that learning is about progress, not perfection.  The pink eraser serves as a reminder that it’s okay to take risks. 

  • Place an eraser on each desk without an explanation. 

  • Begin a class discussion about taking risks, being outside of your comfort zone, and trying something new. 

  • Create a bulletin board, journal writing prompt, or implement a daily/weekly share-time designed to celebrate being a beginner. 

  • Don’t forget to celebrate your growth as a teacher….you’re amazing! 

Language Arts Success: The BEST of 2018

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As the calendar year comes to a close, a teacher’s journey is still moving at full speed. (It’s true!) We are not quite to the half-way mark of our year, and we still have much to do! As 2018 comes to a close and before you begin the second semester, I would encourage you to take a moment, stop, and reflect. It is good for the mind and soul to take note of one’s progress. What successes are you seeing in the classroom? Are you on the track you had planned? Do you need to make adjustments?

To help you do so, we've assembled a list of the 10 most significant language arts stories we discussed in 2018. From study skill tips to word analysis strategies to the grammar-writing connection, these articles examine ways to ignite learning while building a solid foundation for #ELAsuccess.

We’ll be back next week to kick off another year of insight into English Language Arts. In the meantime, please enjoy the stories below, and let us know what's on your radar for the semester ahead by commenting below. Happy New Year!

Let’s Get Organized with Writing Maps!

Teaching Correct Subject-Verb Agreement

What is an appositive?

Adverb or Adjective?

What is Shurley English?

Grammar and Writing: It’s a process

Word Analysis Strategy: How to convey depth of meaning

Capitalization and Punctuation Rules: Teaching students the art of conventions

The “Perfect” Shurley Teacher

Teaching Study Skills: Tips, strategies, and checklists that work

How to Improve the Structure of Sentences

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Teaching students to vary the word order that they use in their sentences to add interest and variety is a skill that you can model as you support your students in their growth as budding writers.  Of course sentence fluency is one of the effective traits that good writers develop to improve their ability to communicate. Mover and Shaker lessons support this particular expertise as they show students how to modify sentences to shake things up a bit and move words around.  It gives them the power to make important decisions that enhance their ability to effectively communicate with their readers. As your students grow in their revision skills they will improve the content of their writing with better word choice and improved sentence structure. Our Mover and Shaker lessons are all about improving the structure of sentences as students think critically about word order.

Here is an example of how Mover and Shaker lessons unfold:

  1. The student writes their revised sentence from their Sentence Blueprint.  (To review a Sentence Blueprint lesson, click here.)

  2. The adjectives that describe the subject are moved from in front of the subject to after the subject noun which they modify.

  3. Commas are placed around the adjectives.

  4. This improves the sentence fluency by adding interest and variety to the sentence format.

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As you teach your students all of the various Mover and Shaker lessons you will be giving them tools they can use throughout their future college and career choices. You will be expanding their understanding of how the use of word order can assist them in emphasizing various points in their sentences. Additionally, it expands their learning from not only understanding the effective use of word order in sentences, but to also grow in the realization of how word order is successfully utilized in the overall composition. Why not give our Mover and Shaker lessons a try to see how they add some variety to the writing of your students?

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David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.


He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.