Saturday, August 22, 2015

Growth Mindset, Motivation and Digital Writing

My passion for growth mindset teaching and learning began a few years ago when I read Dr. Carol Dweck's book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  One of my biggest struggles as a Writer's Workshop teacher is watching my learners who don't like to write.  No matter what I tried, there were always one or
two students who were not motivated to engage fully in the workshop process with the rest of the class.  If I did not have 100% participation, I felt like I had failed. I discovered that my struggling learners may very well have a fixed mindset about writing.  Until they believe and understand they are in a safe environment where mistakes are encouraged, and with hard work and perseverance they can succeed, they can't change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset about writing.

Last year, I decided to make it my mission to integrate growth mindset teaching into my Writer's Workshop class.  Fortunately, I discovered Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci early in my journey. Ricci's book was an excellent resource as I began introducing my students to the idea of growth vs fixed mindsets and perseverance. We start each year with personal narratives, so I shared my own story of perseverance and the fear I had of cycling with my family that summer. They had so many questions about my experience. They returned to their notebooks and wrote their own stories of perseverance and couldn't wait to share.

Another way we kicked off our year as growth mindset writers was to decide how we would be "Brave as a Writer this Year in Writer's Workshop?"  We listened to the song Brave by Sarah Bareilles first to get the students excited about the concept. The words to the song have a very powerful message (See my previous post). Each student posted their goal to our Padlet as a reminder and we revisited them often.


One of my favorite, quick, and what I believe to be the most effective growth mindset strategies I used last year, was what I called my "daily dose of growth mindset".  Each day I started workshop with a quote or image on the screen for students as they walked in the room.  It became the topic of conversation each day and the transition to our mini lesson. I especially like the one above for many reasons... but most importantly I can proudly say J.J. Watt attended the Pewaukee School District. This is an example of hard work and perseverance at its best, but in the words of J.J., "rent is due every day".  It motivated us to get to work, and for those who weren't totally motivated, it was hard to argue with J.J. Watt on the board.  I noticed students would push themselves, and each other, a little bit harder than I had seen in past years. I also noticed students using the mindset language in pair shares.  Students would also share and email me quotes or images they found on their own and asked if I would share them with the class. Priceless.  

Mentor texts with a growth mindset message was also a wonderful way to inspire my writers and I could teach my mini lesson in the process.  JoEllen McCarthy has put together a great set of mentor texts to help teachers start their own classroom library. I have used over half of these already in my classroom and my students love them.  Peter and Paul Reynolds Going Places will always be a top pick.  Another must have text in a growth mindset classroom is The Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak, PhD.  It is important for our students to have an understanding of their own brain and how it works.  My writers and I read The Fantastic Elastic Brain together and reflected on how their own brains can stretch and grow

Reflecting on growth, celebrating success, and learning from our mistakes was all part of our process this past year in Writer's Workshop.  I had students set growth goals for our Fall conferences and present them to parents.  For our Spring conferences, students created digital portfolios which were completely student-led conferences. When students and I would meet for a conference during workshop, we would end each conference by setting a growth goal for our next meeting. I would make note of it in my Confer app and the student would keep the slip. When we met again, we would check the goal and celebrate the perseverance, or discuss what we needed to work on in order to meet the goal for next time. This strategy worked well because students had the sheet in their binders as an accountability tool and something to work towards.  I also made sure it was an achievable goal that could be measured the next time we met.  Other goals we set were mid-unit growth goals.  These became crucial for me to get a pulse of where my writers were truly at as we moved through our units of study.  It was powerful to watch the improvement in the posts as the year went on.  My students were not only becoming better writers, literary essayists, and journalists, they were able to communicate and reflect their own growth and learning the more time we spent together as a group.  This was true for the celebrations at the end of the units too.   Research-Based Celebration and Reflection   Theme-Based Celebration and Reflection

The group communication, collaboration and support was key to our growth mindset success. Each year in Writer's Workshop I have my students create their own personal learning networks. Their personal learning networks might be students in the class, teachers and parents.  PLN's can be anyone who will support them in their learning journey. My blog on Student PLNs  will share my resources and rationale for this powerful process at all grade levels. The reason why this is crucial for growth mindset is because students need to know they have a support system in place to help them persevere. They also need a group of "like learners" in their PLN who will challenge them.  When you create PLNs, you need to remind students to pick people who will push them and tell them the truth about their work and take the time to help them be better. I will never forget when I was at Teacher's College and Colleen Cruz, author of The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, told me to be "sharp" in one-on-one conferences. She was right. Our students need our honesty about their writing if they are going to improve. Start with a compliment, but then we need to be sharp and teach.

These are just a few of the mindset activities I used with my students last year.  You will find these and many more on my website. I will continue to share as I try new ideas with my students this year.  Mary Cay Ricci also came out with a book of Ready-to-Use Resources for Mindsets in the Classroom, which I highly recommend.

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