I Can, We Can, You Can!

“When people tell me they will give it a try, I say don’t bother, you have already decided to fail. It takes more than a try, it takes commitment. A commitment is a promise you stick with, no matter what.” Dr. Joel Fuhrman from Eat to Live pg. 10

Many schools use the “I do, we do, you do” method also know as the gradual release of responsibility or scaffolding. This method of gradually turning the learning process over to students is powerful. It provides the much-needed explicit instruction and modeling needed in the learning process. Yet, I’ve come to change the wording a bit in my work with students to: I CAN, WE CAN, YOU CAN.

By focusing on what we all can accomplish, rather on what we can do helps to put an even more positive spin on the process. The fact that I can do something is more powerful that the mere fact that I’m able to do it. The word CAN adds a layer of empowerment. It gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing that I can be successful at a task.

Our students need that same feeling of empowerment and success. By helping them realize they can accomplish the new learning provides them a feeling of satisfaction. Too many times we ask our students to do things:

  • Do your homework
  • Do this project
  • Do this activity
  • Do your chores
  • Do this, do that ….

Asking them to constantly do tasks can put up barriers and take the joy out of the learning process. As a learner, I’m much more inclined to take on a difficult task when I have the belief in myself that I CAN accomplish it, rather than completing it because someone told me to do it.

One of my favorite parts of my position as an instructional coach is to get into classrooms and model strategies for teachers and work with students. As we set up these lessons and the debriefing sessions, we focus on what the students can accomplish. We draw upon student successes to build new learning both for ourselves as educators and for the students.

This week I had two successful experiences in classrooms. In one I modeled a Matched Set as part of a PWIM unit on living things. This consisted of a Read Aloud, a Talk Aloud, and a Writing Talk Aloud. The end result was to empower the 1st grade students to take part in an interactive writing activity where they would use the author’s attributes of a clear main idea and supporting details along with a sequencing text structure. Knowing that the students had a lot of prior knowledge on the life cycle of pumpkins, the lesson was set up to show case that prior knowledge. The Read Aloud was built around the life cycle of an apple and the Writing Talk Aloud was built around the life cycle of a monarch butterfly. This culminated in a whole class interactive writing activity on the life cycle of pumpkins. The students were excited to become authors. Writing as a community of learners provided them a safe environment to be able to write at a much more complex level. The gradual release of responsibility set them up to feel empowered. They were so proud of what they accomplished!

We hear a lot about the barriers in education. The media seems to focus on what is wrong or what we aren’t doing right. We CAN overcome those barriers by creating bridges! I recently had the opportunity to take part in an activity called “Barriers or Bridges: A Matter of Perspective and Attitude” at the Iowa Staff Development Council’s Becoming a Learning School Conference. This activity can be adapted in a variety of ways. The bridges serve as what we CAN do to accomplish or even overcome something. The activity could be used with a school staff as they embark on creating meaningful change. I also think it could be used with students. I’m currently thinking of tying it to a series of writing lessons with middle school students. (What barriers are they experiencing in writing and what are the bridges that could impact their success?)

As I look ahead to upcoming demonstrations, I will continue to focus on empowering students on what they CAN do and draw upon their strengths to take all of us to higher levels of learning. I learn just as much from them as they learn from me!

This video sends a clear message of empowerment. Enjoy!

How do you empower students? Let’s share ideas!


  • Aviva @grade1 29 Oct

    I think that empowerment is really important too! I love reading about what you’re doing to give students this feeling of “yes, they can do it!”


    • Kathy Perret 29 Oct

      Thanks, Aviva! I appreciate your kind words and support!

  • Erin Olson eolsonteacher 13 Nov

    Love it! We must empower our students, and this can be done through modeling, through collaboration, through choice, through options. Great post!

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