Get Back Up Again

Notes from the Classroom

cant yetFor the past two years, Loon Lake Elementary, where I teach, has really been trying to elicit a growth mindset in our students. We remind them we can always get better at something, and we need to work hard and not give up. We have been focusing on this in cross-grade-level monthly meetings, called Teams, as well as in individual classrooms.

Having a growth mindset carries over into all aspects of the classroom. Knowing that, here are a few of the growth mindset tools my kids have been exploring this year.

The Power of “Yet”

The word yet is a little easier for my kindergarten students to understand than the phrase growth mindset. When my students say they cannot do something, we always add on the word yet. We then talk about what we can do to get better. This really hits home with them.

We completed a sheet (posted above) about something they cannot do–yet–and what they could do to practice and get better. This elicited some great discussions about, for example, how they might not be able to read a certain book, but that they can read some things. And if they keep working on reading strategies, they will get there.

Class Dojo also has some wonderful videos that open up a great dialogue about having a growth versus fixed mindset. One in particular is about the character Mojo, who wants to give up at school because he isn’t “good” at it. The video chronicles how Mojo’s friends help him learn that in school you can’t give up when you don’t succeed the first, second, or third time.

STEM Lessons

A favorite lesson by all has been “Save Fred.” Fred is a gummy worm whose boat (a small plastic cup) has capsized with his lifejacket (a gummy lifesaver) stuck underneath it. The students are not allowed to use hands but are provided several paperclips to save Fred by getting his lifejacket on.

This lesson really drove home the importance of persevering. Students were extremely frustrated they couldn’t use hands and that the gummy worm was larger than the hole in the lifesaver. They had to keep trying. They also had to learn to work together and communicate ideas well.

We also tried the “Marshmallow Tower” challenge, where they were given twenty spaghetti noodles, one yard of masking tape, one yard of string, scissors, and one large marshmallow. Student groups were asked to create the tallest tower to support the marshmallow at the top of the tower within a time limit of eighteen minutes. This was even more challenging than saving Fred. But we noticed that, with encouragement, students did not give up. However, they were extremely frustrated when towers fell repeatedly.

We decided to bring home the point that while you need to try again, you may need to change up your approach. We also wanted to encourage all group members to participate. So we revisited this same lesson, with the addition of straws and pipe cleaners. We started off discussing what students noticed had or hadn’t worked the first time around. We also talked about how to include everyone. Then we showed students the new materials and challenged them again. They were very excited about the addition of the new materials and came up with creative towers and new ideas. Additionally, they stopped to plan first and gain ideas from all group members, instead of one person trying to take charge.

Lessons from Theatre


The script. Click the image to open a larger version in a new window.

My kindergartners, along with our Second Grade Buddy Class, worked on a growth mindset Reader’s Theatre about Rapunzel, created by Whimsy Workshop. The storyline is about how the Prince comes to save Rapunzel, but when he says let down your hair, Rapunzel has just cut it off. The play reveals how they don’t give up, and that they try other ideas to save Rapunzel. The students loved performing for others, as well as the followup STEM challenge of creating a way to save Rapunzel. This further brought home the point that even if you don’t create something that works the first time, you should tweak it and try again.

Try Everything

I know that this isn’t something we can do all of the time. But if we encourage students to have a growth mindset and keep trying, they’ll be more likely to succeed and enjoy school. If students aren’t succeeding and want to give up, that is when we really need to bring them back to having a growth mindset.

Finally, remind them it’s OK to fail! A wonderful book I recently read and highly recommend, Rosie Revere Engineer, by Andrea Beaty, has a great line: The only true failure can come if you quit. Now more than ever we need to bring that home to our students!

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team and is part of starting a coding club at her school this year. She is in her eleventh year of teaching, with nine in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

Teaching Elections: Part 2

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_114757342A few weeks ago I wrote about using the election in our classrooms. I said it was important to respect our students’ beliefs and try to keep our own political opinions out of the classroom. I suggested that focusing on skill development was key.

That was a lot easier before the election.

Now, after the election, I’m left wondering how to respond to my students. Some are upset and worrying about their futures in a country that doesn’t seem to value them. Others are excited and certain that now is the time America will finally rise to its full potential. It feels like focusing on skills would be artificial at best and probably just insensitive when they’re trying to process all of this.

As an adult who is highly engaged in political conversations, and as an educator who wants to help my students respond to this divisive election, what is my responsibility now? I still think it’s important to respect their beliefs and stay as neutral as possible, but tonight I’m wondering if focusing solely on skills is enough.

A Moment for Grit

Sometimes, answers pop up in incredibly unlikely places. Tonight, my answer, I think, is coming from Trolls. Not internet trolls–I’m talking about the fuzzy-haired singing ones in the recent Dreamworks movie. I took my four-year-old and seven-year-old to see Trolls last weekend, and throughout the whole movie, I kept thinking that the main character’s life perspective–keep trying, get back up again, etc.–was eerily reminiscent of a book pretty popular in education circles these days: Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. As the main character sang her way through all kinds of problems and, ultimately, succeeded because of her grit, I chuckled to myself about the parallels. The cartoon was like a commercial for grit–just with glitter.

Truth be told, I’ve always been a little skeptical of the whole “grit” concept. It seems a little shallow to look at a student drowning in problems and say, “Hey! Keep tryin’, buddy!” But, really, what other choice do we have? We want our students to be resilient. We want our students to respond with relentless positive action when they are faced with challenges. And, regardless of whether you saw this election result as a positive or negative, there’s no denying that this election has been challenging. This has been a rough fight, arguments have turned personal and people on both sides are hurting.

So perhaps this is the time when Language Arts teachers ask our students to respond with a little grit. Perhaps our response needs to be: What is your response? If your side won, what do you think we need to do to move forward? If your side lost, how can you stay engaged in the process? If this whole thing left you totally disillusioned and disengaged, what can you do to get back in the game?

Tomorrow, my AP Lang. students are comparing two texts. One is a speech given by Booker T. Washington during the Reconstruction Era. He believed African Americans should “cast down their buckets” where they were. He wanted them to accept low- or no-skill jobs and work their way up slowly in society. Another text is by W.E.B. Dubois, responding to Washington’s suggestions. He had a totally different response: seek higher education, demand opportunities. We will examine those two responses to a complicated, contentious time. Both men responded to a challenging time not by throwing up their hands in despair or gleefully skipping off into the sunset. They dug into the challenge and offered a way forward.

After we study the texts, I think the question for my students will be an obvious one. In this contentious time, what will you do next? What is your way forward?

If we ignore the outcome of this election and hope it will go away or that time will heal the wounds in our country, we are missing an opportunity. Before the results, I thought we could zero in on skills and use politics as our base. I still think that works. But today I’m thinking that we need to see political topics as a challenge for our students as well. The Common Core State Standards require us to teach students to “Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media in order to make informed decisions and solve problems.” Focusing on skills helps with the informed decisions part, but giving them space to write, talk, and think about how to solve problems is key to helping all of us move forward.

Hattie Maguire (@TeacherHattie) is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her sixteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition, AP Seminar and doing Tier 2 writing intervention. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.