Picture Perfect

Standard Met: McREL Life Skills/Self-Regulation Standard 5 (Maintains a healthy self-concept)

What You Need: Picture books like The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt; The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds; and The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires

What to Do: Kali Murphy and Jennifer Morrill, fifth- and sixth-grade teachers at Colton-Pierrepont Central School in Colton, New York, introduce growth mind-set—the belief that we can get smarter through hard work and practice—by reading the humorous The Day the Crayons Quit aloud. (They use a picture book partly to prepare students to read to younger kids later.) After the read-aloud, the class identifies the characters who demonstrate growth or fixed mind-sets. Then, students select one character with a fixed mind-set and work in groups to rewrite the story so that the character instead demonstrates a growth mind-set.

In the next lesson, each student selects another picture book related to growth mind-set, such as The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds, or The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires. Once students select a book and explain their reasoning, Morrill and Murphy invite them to read the selected books aloud to small groups of kindergartners.

After they read, older students ask the younger ones questions like “What did the character learn in the story, and how did this make him or her change?” and “What traits or beliefs prevented the character from succeeding?” In addition to introducing kindergartners to the importance of mind-set, the act of teaching reinforces the concept for older students, prompting them to reframe what they have learned in simple terms.

Pop Quiz

Standard Met: McREL Life Skills/Self-Regulation Standard 2 (Performs self-appraisal)

What You Need: Copies of a mind-set quiz, such as Mindset Works’s Mindset Assessment Profile Tool; one set of 10–12 sentence strips per student

What to Do: Alissa Bornhoft prepares her students for the challenges of math class at Waukee Middle School in Iowa by discussing mind-set at the start. Before class, she makes sentence strips listing various beliefs and practices related to mind-set, such as “Challenges feel like an opportunity to learn” or “A student does not participate for fear of being wrong.”

She invites her seventh graders to take a quiz that analyzes their current mind-sets. Then, she plays Never, Ever Give Up. Arthur’s Inspirational Transformation! a video about a disabled veteran of the Gulf War who relearned how to walk after doctors told him it would be impossible. “Many students realize that it’s easy to talk about and understand growth mind-set,” says Bornhoft, “but when faced with a difficult or unfamiliar situation, it’s easy to fall back on a fixed mind-set.”

After discussing the power of growth mind-set, Bornhoft gives each student a set of sentence strips as a brief assessment. Independently or in pairs, students sort their strips according to whether they demonstrate a fixed or a growth mind-set in various classroom and life situations.

Try On an Identity

Standard Met: McREL Life Skills/Self-Regulation Standard 2

What You Need: Teacher-developed directions and reflection questions for each activity; props for activities (e.g., juggling balls)

What to Do: At Shore Middle School in Mentor, Ohio, Kristi Harper encourages students to step outside their comfort zone in her social studies classroom.

Harper asks each student to decide whether he or she is more of an artist, a scholar, or an athlete. Once the students have decided, she assigns each one to a group he or she didn’t select (a student who identified as an artist might be designated an athlete).

In groups, students complete activities related to their assigned skill. The “athletes” might juggle, walk while balancing books on their heads, or hold a yoga pose for one minute. After attempting these activities, they reflect on their mind-sets by asking reflection questions, particularly about whether they were able to maintain a growth mind-set when completing challenges that are not in their comfort zone. 

In addition to pushing students to take risks, Harper uses this exercise to frame the year’s study of societies past and present. The class examines people’s mind-sets throughout history while grappling with questions such as “Should the city of Cleveland change, alter, or replace Chief Wahoo as the Indians’ baseball mascot?”


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Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Morrill