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The Growth Mindset Coach & A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Growth Mindset Coach– I’m currently participating in a book study of The Growth Mindset Coach (Available through Amazon–  by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley. I actually got to meet Heather (@HeatherHundley3) at the Intensive Instructional Coaching Institute with Jim Knight in November– and what a knowledgeable, sweet person she is! Of course, my friend & colleague, Jeanne and I made sure to point out to Jim that we were sitting with a published author (there may have been squeals of delight)– ultimately, he purchased a copy of the book for himself and even gave a few away as prizes! Outside of this personal connection, I have been noticing lots of growth mindset-themed bulletin boards throughout many classrooms. I’m interested to hear to what extent teachers are utilizing and encouraging growth mindsets in their classrooms– do you believe it is having an impact? Here are just a few small “teacher traps” that can make a big difference, even if you aren’t explicitly teaching growth mindset–

  • Be Mindful of what you Model— Annie and Heather give the example of a young adult believing that she “wasn’t a math person” and how that may have affected her outcomes in math as a student. It made me think a lot about how teachers will sometimes model this type of negative self-talk when saying things like “Don’t mind my drawing on the board, I can’t draw” or “Oh, I’m terrible at math” when speaking in front of students. It is easy to model a fixed-mindset without even realizing it! Annie and Heather remind us to “think about the brain like a muscle. Lifting weights and exercising muscles makes them stronger, right? In the same way, exercising our brain makes it stronger– when we learn new things, our brains actually become denser and heavier.”
  • Learning to Give Effective Praise— Also mentioned is providing effective praise and feedback to students that will promote a growth mindset. They say, “Another trap that teachers can fall into is offering nonspecific praise. You know the kind of praise we’re talking about: those short, laudatory phrases often featured in glittery script on stickers, like “You’re Awesome!” and “Great!” The problem is that these phrases don’t provide much feedback to the student– What are they doing right so they can do it again? Here are a few suggestions from the book:
    • You’re awesome! — You’re putting awesome effort in on this fractions assignment.
    • Good work! — Good work writing a detailed essay.
    • Well done! — Well done on your dance recital. I can see that you’ve practiced a lot.

The book includes many more useful “nuggets” but also is set up in a friendly format. It walks teachers through the process of teaching students about growth mindset month-by-month– including lesson plans, activities, strategies, and more.

A Series of Unfortunate Events Idea– Is your silent-sustained reading period in a rut? Binge-watching Netflix shows is now the thing to do whether you are a middle-schooler or adult, right? So, why not take advantage of that idea to engage students with texts? I’ve been watching A Series of Unfortunate Events lately (which is really fantastic) and “oohing and aahing” over how much I enjoy Neil Patrick Harris in the role of Count Olaf– he is equal parts despicable, hilarious, and downright perfect! My thought is this– why not have students in your CONNECT create a cast list for their favorite, or even current, book? Here’s how I’d put it together–

  • Read a passage from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to your class that provides some character description.
  • Watch a clip from the show and talk about the similarities and differences between the literary and film characters.
  • Now, students will choose a book (past or present).
  • Prompt: Pretend that this book is going to be made into a Netflix show and you get to choose the actors and actresses that will play the parts of these characters..
  • List the qualities that would make that person great for the job, any physical or wardrobe considerations that may need to be made, voice, hair, etc.
  • This could be done in their reading journals, set up online as a Google Sheet that everyone adds to, or just a good ‘ol handout.
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I have… Who has…? & Words to Know Vocab Preview strategy

I have… Who has…?– Have you tried this vocabulary activity before? I am amazed at how engaged students are while participating, as well as the flexibility to use it in any content area (math… art… you name it). Here’s how it works–file_000-4

  • Students have cards that state an answer and pose a question on a particular topic.
  • Students state their answer and ask a question out loud– for ex. “I have primary colors. Who has the combination of any color plus black?”.
  • Another student then says, “I have shade. Who has the combination of a primary and secondary color?”.
  • Students have to listen to the question asked and provide their answer when asked. Get it?

Try timing it. In a colleague’s social studies classes it is truly a competition to see which class can get through all of the vocabulary the fastest– it is intense! Students love it! In 6th grade math a teacher in my building uses it as a brain break with math facts. One quick note– this activity can be a little “unsafe” for your introverts or those that are struggling with content– be sure to create an environment where it is okay to answer out loud & provide supports, if needed. Have fun!

Words to Know– Vocab Preview– This came through in an e-newsletter from Kristina Smekens this morning. The post explains that before reading students need to be aware of critical vocabulary. The problem is that explicit vocab instruction can take loads of time. Her recommendation is to follow this 4 step process–

  • Provide a simple explanation by completing one of the sentence stems recommended by Dr. Robert Marzano.
    …is someone who…
    …is something that…
    …is a concept that…
    …is the idea that…
  • Tie the word’s meaning to a kid-friendly example. Relate the term to the students’ lives at home, in school, or within pop culture.
    An example of this is…
  • Connect the word’s meaning to the text. Explain how the word will be incorporated into the author’s ideas or the story’s plot.
    In this text, you’ll be reading…
  • Assess students’ general understanding. Before reading the text, have students explain the word to a partner(This is the part that I liked the best). Ensure they have a working understanding of its meaning before reading.

My thought was that this was a great way to introduce vocabulary in any content area under any circumstance, not just before reading. Here’s an idea–

For example, “Today we are going to work on anaerobic exercises such as sprint relays. Anaerobic is the idea that you will work really hard for a short time and then have a short recovery before doing it again. Think of this like a drag race between race cars– it is quick and intense, unlike the Indy 500 which takes a long time at the same pace. Today we will be doing some quick, intense, anaerobic movements. Turn to your neighbor and explain anaerobic exercise to them.” Then, move on with the lesson. Do a quick check for understanding like “thumbs up, thumbs down” to a few examples, like “are burpees anaerobic?” and “is a 5k run anaerobic?”, (and a break!) before moving to the next movement. Then finish the period with an exit ticket asking students to come up with their own analogy for anaerobic exercise.


Posted in Uncategorized, Learning Maps, & Is it Worth it?– When attending our corporation PD day last week, one of the teachers attending a session that I was in about utilizing technology to DI asked about a formative assessment tool that allowed for more than multiple choice questions. I know we, and especially our students, enjoy Kahoot & Quizizz because of their game-based formats. The problem is that we are restricted to the format of multiple choice or true/false responses. I think might be a good compromise.  Though the game-based format is sacrificed, it does give teachers a chance to formatively assess electronically in more formats– students can type responses & even draw (which is always more fun, right?!). I love the fact that they have some pre-made “assignments” ready for you to use such as, “Draw something learned from class today.” or you can create your own. Though the fun of a little classroom competition or cute memes is great, I think this would be a great way to add variety and get more explicit answers from your students. 

Learning Maps– I wanted to let you know how a few teachers in my building are putting them to use.

  • A special education teacher in my building has been using maps with her special education students that are struggling with content. She guides them through creating a map to make connections and see the “big picture”.  
  • Take a look at some examples from Alison Oppenheimer’s Honors E/LA class on Twitter– @MissOCG1. She first had students create a map of something that they were already an expert on to learn the process of mapping. Then, students utilized maps to build background knowledge on content that they didn’t already know– setting them up for their next unit. Here is an example–mindmap-oppenheimer
  • Jeff Peterson has been looking into learning map apps & websites for student use. Is there one that you use that isn’t listed here? Please pass along any that you have found useful. Here are a few that he has come across in his search so far:

Is It Worth It?– I ran across this on Twitter from @EpicReads this morning and it really got me thinking about it’s potential classroom uses. The idea is to pose questions about books that spark discussion. For example, this morning’s post was “You get to go to Hogwarts, but you can never use any magic. Is it worth it?” Book related questions such as this would be great for Connect– pose questions already created by @EpicReads, create your own, or have students come up with them. Then it got me thinking about how this type of discussion prompt could be great in any class. In art class for instance, “You are an incredibly talented artist, but you are too afraid to share your artwork with the world. Is it worth it?” or “You have the ability to find out all of the secrets behind Mona Lisa, but the painting will never be displayed to the public again. Is it worth it?” Maybe pose a question as a thinking prompt before introducing new content. Or as journal entry prompt for bellwork. I’d love to hear other content-specific ideas you might have!


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A few strategies… with differentiation in mind.

The focus of our district professional development day this year was differentiation of instruction. When I was in the classroom I felt like this was the area that caused me the most anxiety when completing my evaluation portfolio in the spring. I’ve always known I should do it, I thought I might be doing it, but I never felt like it was a strength of mine. As an art teacher, providing choice and adapting project requirements or topics were really my go-to strategies.

Now, with our district implementing the PLC process, differentiation is something that we are forced to think about when planning. Before, I felt as though differentiation was always something that happened “on the fly” when I noticed a student or students struggling. I also was very good at giving that kiddo that was finished early time to read their book of choice or work on other homework until the rest of the group caught up.

Here are a few ideas that I’ve collected, specifically for answering Q3, that my be helpful if you’ve been feeling the same way–

  • Chunking: Chunking content can be incredibly helpful for students that are slow to process or struggle seeing the “big picture”. Giving students smaller bits of info to process at a time makes learning more manageable. Another thought is to guide students through the process of chunking information themselves. Working with them to break down, categorize, rank, or sort information could be a way to help them work through the content.
  • Non-Linguistic Representation: Asking students to create visuals, body movements, or  utilize manipulatives to represent content is a great way to help students process, while for some it provides a challenge once concepts are understood– know your students to decide whether this fits them or not.  A Spanish teacher in my building recently taught students phrases for “on top of”, “below”, and other directional words. While reciting these phrases, students moved a piece of paper above their heads, next to them, down towards the floor, etc. to physically represent the words.
  • Memorization Tricks: I recently attended an AdvancEd workshop on working with students from poverty. The presenter spoke highly of the work of Eric Jensen and his memory pegs system. Students create personal connections with words to be able to remember them easily. Not only is it a great parlor trick to impress your friends– but it really does seem to work! Teachers that attempted this with me the other day were able to remember the words in order within 2 minutes.
  • Different Voice:  If a student is struggling with a concept or skill, think about having that student watch a YouTube video of someone else teaching that same information. Or if you team, like we do at MSN, send that student to see the same lesson taught by your grade-level counterpart. Sometimes just hearing the information from someone else, even in a slightly different way, can help.
  • Learning Maps: Jim Knight (my instructional coach colleague Jeanne & I like to call “The Great and Powerful Oz”) presented  in October at his Intensive Instructional Coaching Institute on learning maps. Maps help students to create connections while also grasping the “big picture”. Jim recommends creating these for each of your units and having students complete them along with you– creating a living document that can work as a study guide, as well. A special education teacher in my building has her students create them when struggling with content. They “map out” information to help them understand. Creating maps to wrap my brain around content is now kind of “my thing”.  Here is a look at my whiteboard while thinking through NWEA reports–



Though some of these strategies can be adapted for use with Q4, when students already know it, I will send some ideas your way in the coming weeks. Enjoy!