Fiske Students, Parents, and Educators Learn Transferable Skills

Growth mindset movements may share a common foundation, but in practice, they can be a bit like snowflakes: no two are alike! Mindset interventions are teacher-led movements, and we love learning about new and evolving strategies developed by educators on the ground.

Julie Verret, music teacher at Fiske Elementary and elementary band leader for all of the Wellesley, MA School District, wrote to us describing how a growth mindset helped her band students tackle a challenging piece of music. Julie applied the malleable mind concept to her music students because of multi-year, school-wide growth mindset work led by the principal. Verret introduced the idea that a musician's brain can grow with effort and practice. To put this concept into action, Julie and her 4th and 5th grade students worked on a piece of music that would typically be played at the middle school level.

"When they received the piece, some were excited to have such an awesome challenge," Julie wrote. "Others thought [it] was going to be impossible." Although her students reacted to the challenge in different ways, Julie and her class developed a number of strategies to help achieve their goal. Using the growth mindset as a foundation, the group aligned to tackle the task together, with help from the following set of tips:

  • Isolate the tricky bits.
  • Practice slowly and carefully so you don't learn it wrong.
  • Take a moment to mark missed notes and rhythms.
  • Don't practice the whole piece at one time; instead, work on 8 measures at a time.
  • Use a metronome every time.
  • Step away for a few minutes if you get frustrated.
  • Listen to the piece and follow your part.

Julie's class followed these strategies together, and every student worked to master the challenging piece. According to Julie: "They now cheer when I ask them to take it out so we can work on it. Not one child felt it was beyond their abilities because they used the strategies." And so, the band played on!

The band worked on the piece from October to May, even adding additional practice days! Julie's class improved until they were ready to perform it for the whole school. This story is inspiring for many reasons, but a key takeaway is how the students connected the learning strategies to their growth and improvement, and focused on these strategies together in order to surpass what some perceived to be the limitations of what a 5th grade band could do.

To inspire other children to face challenges, Julie assembled a bulletin board with visual representations of the music, photos of the band members, and descriptions of the strategies used. Visual boards and displays are a great way to capture growth mindset experiences. It preserves a great memory, and helps build your school's culture as one that embraces and values learning. And Julie has seen its effect first-hand: it has sparked the curiosity of several younger students, who are now interested in playing an instrument!

What's also exciting about Julie's list of strategies is that we can see how these habits can be applied to a variety of learning situations. We can all learn to become learners by isolating the tricky bits and stepping away when we get frustrated. Julie's school deepened their growth mindset practices through their own extended learning with the Mindset Works Mindset Maker. We are really proud to partner with such an inspiring school!

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