Why Your “I can…” Statement Should Sometimes Be “I can’t…yet.”

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Don’t laugh. I’m going to make the argument that you should let your students respond to their “I can” statements with an “I can’t.”  Many schools, in an attempt to standardize procedures across content and grade levels, have begun using “I can…” statements as content objectives (learning targets, lesson targets, learning objectives, or lesson objectives- take your pick of verbiage).  These content objectives translate extremely well to formative assessments as a turn and talk or ticket out the door.  But what happens when the student required to write the prerequisite “I can…” on the top of their paper, actually can’t? Do we encourage them with all of the optimism in our hearts to believe in that statement and hope that mere faith alone will clarify any misunderstandings and result in growth?  Or do we allow students an opportunity to authentically evaluate their own learning and with a growth mindset, identify those areas in which they need to improve? I would argue that building metacognition means being able to identify the weaknesses in your own learning and articulate them to instructors who can help to strengthen those areas.  We ultimately want students to own their own learning and that means being able to identify when they need help and to ask for it. I believe anytime a student says or writes an “I can…” statement, there should be a “because” that follows.  We cannot eliminate the burden of proof when it comes to learning. “I can…” is not a mantra but a frame for thinking. Thinking that must be articulated, defined, and refined. And when that thinking goes awry, “I can’t…yet…because” can be just as powerful a frame, if it encourages students to be reflective of their thinking and progress, to externally expresses internal frustrations and confusions, and garners them the support and clarification they need from educators to continue to grow.

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