A few years back I was talking with a colleague after a staff meeting. I mentioned that I had recently had a breakthrough with a student who had a multitude of “gaps” in their learning.

This student was in an upper elementary grade level but had a very early primary understanding in all subject areas. It was initially very overwhelming! Instead of thinking about all of the things the student didn’t know I instead started with what she

*did*know and decided to use that strength and climb up from there.My colleague let me know that there was an academic term for this switch. Where I had initially become overwhelmed by need I was in a “

**deficit**” mindset related to the student. When I stopped and instead focused on what she did know I had switched to “**asset-based thinking**“.It’s a simple swap with a BIG payoff!

Let’s look at how this mental shift can play out when deciding how to best support a student who isn’t yet showing proficiency on the math strategy of making a ten to add.

If I want a student to use this strategy they would solve a problem like 8+4 by thinking about how 8 + 2 makes a ten and then 2 more makes a total of 12.

There are SO MANY skills that go into this strategy!

- Knowing that addition means we are putting 8 and 4 together
- Knowing that numbers can be decomposed
- Knowing the partners of ten and that 8 + 2 makes a ten
- Knowing that 4 can be decomposed into 2 and 2
- Knowing that 8 + 2 + 2 will get the same result as 8 + 4
- Being able to carry out each of these decompositions
- Being able to successfully put numbers together

In deficit thinking, we might approach this problem by saying

*“I have a student who can’t use the make a ten strategy. I used blocks, I used number bonds- they just don’t get it!”*

When practicing asset-based thinking I am going to break this skill down and start with what my student DOES know… and move on from there!

Continuing with the hypothetical, problem solving with an asset-based mindset may sound like this.

*“I know my student is able to add two numbers together by counting-on. They also know all of their partners of ten. My student has a lot of the skills that are needed to use this strategy- let’s keep building! The next step is being able to decompose single-digit numbers but they aren’t fluent yet. No wonder blocks and number bonds didn’t work- we are missing a foundational skill! I will work with this student on decomposing numbers to ten because that is the next skill they are ready for.”*

The next time you have a student who seems stuck, don’t worry about all of the things they don’t know. Break the skill down, notice what your student

**is**able to do and work off of that strength to take the single next step!**Pin For Later: **