by Jane Foltz, Resource Teacher, Dartmouth Middle School in San Jose, CA
I’m a resource teacher at Dartmouth Middle School in San Jose, California. I teach students with a variety of learning challenges in grades 6, 7 and 8 who have mixed demographic background.
I first heard about the book Mindset on an NPR interview with Carol Dweck, which interested me personally, not just as a teacher. After reading about fixed and growth mindsets, I found myself repeating certain phrases all the time, incorporating them in my own mindset. I personally realized the importance of being willing to stretch and keep trying. These concepts have impacted me many times; I have taken classes and tried things I never would have otherwise. I knew I had to not only talk the talk but also walk the walk.
Through the book, I learned about the Brainology program and worked with my school district to bring it to my special education students. Although I discussed the concepts of fixed and growth mindsets with the kids, what really brought it to life was Brainology. After introducing it in class, I heard the kids start to use the language themselves. I saw a “lightening” in the kids immediately: their frustration lifted, and they were more willing to try things. That first willingness was a key because once a student is willing to try, I can really move them forward academically. Without this first willingness, we really can’t have traction in education.
My biggest challenge as a teacher is to coach my students through moments of failure. Kids have to learn to be okay with setbacks and not interpret them as “Oh, I’m a failure overall”. Brainology opened them up to the possibility that working hard was worth it. Many of them who had adopted a “fixed” learning style because of years of struggle and failure started to dig in and believe that they can do it. It’s not just an idea but something I’m actually seeing. I’m seeing the power of it and want to keep it alive in my classroom. Mindset and Brainology gives me a language to approach learning and language to embrace failures and setbacks. Acquiring the language helped me encourage them through the failures. For my students, holding to the concept that once we make mistakes we do learn from it helps them open their minds.
Besides language, it gives students a framework for understanding their own experiences in the classroom. When something goes right, and they really worked hard, rather than letting this moment go they say “I did it, I kept trying and it became easier”. Those moments don’t just pass. They embrace the learning process.
The growth mindset concept also makes doing homework easier. The kids understand how doing homework helps in building pathways and connections in the brain and understand why the more you use it, the stronger it gets. We discussed “neurons” a lot - they liked the word. I noticed that they made ties and connections with abstract concepts, which was unusual for them.
We did an analysis of the pre and post data and the results were very encouraging. The data showed growth and improvement, especially in kids who had started out more towards the fixed mindset end of the spectrum. I also introduced Brainology to my current sixth graders, who missed the program last year, and I can see improvements in them already, especially in their willingness to keep trying when it gets tough. I see the contrast between those who have used it and those who haven’t.
I believe that growth mindset concepts should be basic knowledge that we all have, especially kids in middle school, because they have so many challenges at that age—academically, at home, with peers. My favorite part is seeing the kids excited, and seeing them start to think about their own thinking. There is a tremendous power in that. Seeing the kids realize that they can learn and grow; that’s why we go into the profession.