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My co- teacher, Courtney Zaleski and I teach an inclusion 7th grade class. In order to set the stage for the year, we teach them that mistakes are not only OK, they are necessary:
Ask an adolescent how they feel about making mistakes and they will be very honest (sometimes brutally so). This year, on the first day of school, we asked our students to write down their thoughts on a post it note and compiled their responses on chart paper titled “making mistakes.” The students are then asked to stay and read their classmates’ comments. Words like “dumb,” “foolish,” “angry,” and “bad” were common responses.
No wonder so many kids don’t take academic risks. Who wants to feel like that?
As the students returned to their seats, we handed them each a personalized envelope. Inside, they found a pink eraser, a pencil with “Think Different” inscribed on it (“Think Different” is our class name), and a Maichin Welcome Back Letter. We asked them to open the envelope and read the letter silently.
Jill Balzer, Principal at Charles Patterson Middle School in Killeen, TX, on how Mindset transformed their school culture
Charles Patterson Middle School is located in Killeen, Texas which is also home to one of the largest military institutions in the world, Fort Hood. Our student population is diverse; 44% are Active Military, 40% are economically disadvantaged, 38% are African American, 31% White, 27% Hispanic, and 4% Asian/Pacific Islander. The wide array of social, cultural, and economic backgrounds provides the students and teachers at CPMS with unique opportunities. With this variety in life experiences and an annual mobility rate of over 40% comes the constant search by our staff to look for ways to improve the quality of our students’ lives. We believe that this is best accomplished by giving them tools that they will be able to take with them wherever they may go.
Located in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, Lenox Academy offers an academically accelerated program for middle school students in grades 6 through 8. Yet, while the overwhelming majority of our students exceed New York State standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics, a deeper analysis reveals a disturbing trend. We discovered that as the curriculum became more challenging over the course of middle school, many of our high-achieving students retreated from putting forth effort. The result was that academic performance actually declined over the three years for a large number of our students.
Reading about the work of Dr. Carol Dweck and her team at Mindset Works, we were able to more clearly understand the nature of our dilemma. Students who retreated from putting forth effort, we now realized, were exhibiting the characteristic fixed mindset. These were students who, for the better part of their young lives, had been praised for intelligence based on their performance in school and on NY State standardized exams. Acceptance into Lenox Academy brought more praise for intelligence—but when the accelerated curriculum began to present the kinds of challenges they had not previously encountered, they retreated.
While teaching in California, I had a unique teaching assignment: Honors English 9 and Reading 10. So my school day went from thinking about how to hold "high-achieving" students to a high level of challenge in an honors environment to actually doing the same thing for "underachieving" students in a remedial environment. I loved the challenge and experience of watching non-readers become successful readers, writers and speakers while also pushing the higher performing students to stretch themselves to reach greater heights.
At times though I was discouraged by the underachievement of all of my students, as well as by my colleagues' messages about them. Colleagues told me to be happy with the honors students work when I KNEW they could do better. Or to accept the Reading students sub-par efforts when I ALSO knew they could do better.
Mindset in Action: Jennifer Maichin, from Mineola Middle School, NY, shares her experience, tips and classroom activities to introduce students to the growth mindset
I always wanted to teach. I dreamed of inspiring and empowering every student who entered my classroom. I imagined all students walking into school highly motivated and eager to learn. Reality of course was different. Mindset not only helped me get the class I always wanted, but also reminded me why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place.
For the past 16 years, I have had the privilege of spending my school days teaching 11 through 14 year olds with learning challenges. These students are interesting and unique and, yes, they are challenging to teach. People sometimes ask me: “How do you do it? Do you feel successful? Do you feel like you actually get through to them? What motivates them? What is the best way to engage them and get them to want to learn? Why bother? They don't listen anyway...”
How, then, do I get through to them?