Just Listen: Kids Talk About Life at Home

“It’s kinda like I just had a baby,” Wedjeena told me, talking about her ten-month-old brother. “He’ll pull my homework, crumple it up. Eat it.”

As the winter holidays arrive, adults tend to think of youth as the receivers of our largesse. It’s easy to forget that many youth go home from school every day to shoulder the responsibilities of adults.

Whether it’s babysitting, doing household chores, or translating for non-English-speakers, their contributions matter enormously to their families and their communities outside school.

But they may be invisible to their teachers. What would you do differently if you knew the work that these four students are doing out of school? How might you celebrate and build on their strengths?

Take 5 minutes to listen to what they say. Then pass their voices along, and let us know what you think!

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Just Listen: Put Kids in the Learning Picture

Kids recognize on a gut level what cognitive science has shown: you can’t separate emotion from learning.

Carla knows she’s going to tune out when a teacher “follows all the rules” and “has no emotion.” And when a teacher shows lively interest, she realizes “we’re obviously going to have fun in this class . . . and we’re actually going to learn.”

Fun might seem like the wrong way to measure whether learning is happening. But the science makes clear that (along with other emotions, and not always happy ones) it can actually help material stick in our minds.

We can see Garlyn light up as she talks about learning the craft of beading with a group of her friends. We can hear Thomas’s pride at creating a graphic novel in his English class. It’s pretty clear that these students are excited by the learning process itself—because it’s fun.

At first it seems like Wilson is explaining a routine problem on distance and displacement. But then something changes. He imagines himself into the picture—and we can see his mind catch fire.

What can a teacher do with this, in planning for Tuesday?

Take 10 minutes to watch the full series of nine short clips. Then—especially if you agree with how Arielle sums them up at the end—please pass along what these kids say to others!

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Just Listen: Kids Talk About Growing Through Mistakes

At first, Allan was too shy to say anything at school, because of his limited English and strong accent. “But with time, that gets boring,” he told me. “So even though it was embarrassing, I would just ask” —and his curiosity led him to learn.

Mistakes are hard on adolescents, who are especially sensitive to the judgments of others. But taking a risk on something turning out wrong can be the smartest thing they ever do.

Through a mistake Garlyn made in her math class, “I got to learn something that we didn’t get to yet,” she said. “Which is pretty cool.”

If anything, Michecarly reflected, the mistakes he made in building a model house for geometry “gave me inspiration to do better.”

And other kids came to similar conclusions about their slip-ups in life as well as school—as long as supportive adults were helping them through.

Take a few minutes to watch all eight Just Listen videos on growing through mistakes. And if any of their ideas speak to you, please do pass them on!

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Just Listen: Just-Right Learning Challenges

“I usually like a challenge,” Kenneth told me. But like other students, he looks to teachers to set tasks he expects he can reach.

That’s a key factor in motivation, it turns out. Too easy is just boring, students say—but too hard, and they won’t have the confidence to try. Part of that confidence, one student said, comes from his mindset going in. Success builds on success—and a teacher can help.

“They see what you’re able to be,” Arielle explained, “and they just make it so much bigger.”

“I’m still growing right now,” as Farhan puts it. “I’m grasping a new identity.”

Take 10 minutes to watch the full series in which students talk about just-right learning challenges. If what they say makes sense to you, please share it with others!

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Just Listen: How We See You, How You See Us

How do kids see their teachers, and how do they imagine their teachers see them? “I think about how they were as a kid,” one student mused. “If they thought the same way that we think, what they would do about certain things . . .”

If you’re a teacher looking for a midterm boost, Just Listen! Who you are and what you do matters to students and their learning. That’s backed up by research, but nothing beats hearing it from the kids.

Take a few minutes to watch the rest of this 8-clip series on how students view teachers and how they think teachers view them. If what the kids say makes you think, send it out to others!

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Just Listen: Kids Talk About Their Struggles

Sometimes, Elijah told me, “people just don’t wanna come to school.”

Boredom, distraction, feeling invisible, staying on top of the work—students told me that these are among the struggles they face daily, even when they value their education.

Recognizing and respecting the challenge is half the battle. I hope you’ll want to share these clips with others!

Take 10 minutes to watch the full series “When Kids Struggle”

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Just Listen: Students Tell What Makes Them Care

“It was cooler than a regular document that you’ll see in a textbook,” Amanda told me about a historical document she handled during her museum internship. “This is something I really wanna do and learn more about.”


In fact, kids usually care more about learning when they have some kind of stake in what they’re doing. Where does that stake come from? Just listen to the variety among these students’ answers!

Take 10 minutes to watch the full series.

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Just Listen: When Kids Think About Their Thinking

Thinking back on his development, Elijah remembers imagining, “I’m always gonna think this way.” But not much later, he said, his perspective had changed—and it was writing that made that happen.

Reflection and self-assessment play a big part in any student’s growth as a thinker and a person. Here, students talk about developing a new awareness of themselves in relationship to others, in school and life.


Take 10 minutes to watch the full series — and if it strikes a chord, please share it!

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Just Listen: Kids Talk About Getting “College Ready”

Just listen to what kids have been telling me about what it takes to get them “college ready”:

I’ve been in the field gathering students’ voices for the last few months, on a range of subjects having to do with their learning. Several times a week I’ll be posting a taste of the Just Listen clips that resulted.

Singly or together, these insights from youth give us a powerful look at what goes into motivation and mastery. If any of these ideas speak to you, please share them freely with others!

Take 10 minutes to watch the full series on college readiness

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Just Listen: Kids Talk About Getting "College Ready"

Just listen to what kids have been telling me about what it takes to get them “college ready”:

I’ve been in the field gathering students’ voices for the last few months, on a range of subjects having to do with their learning. Several times a week I’ll be posting a taste of the Just Listen clips that resulted.

Singly or together, these insights from youth give us a powerful look at what goes into motivation and mastery. If any of these ideas speak to you, please share them freely with others!

Take 10 minutes to watch the full series on college readiness

Sign up to receive future posts by email