“When a child has lost hope in the belief that he or she can achieve, there is no educational prescription or program that will light the lamp of learning.”
-Dr. Kevin Sheehan and Jessica Ryan
In writing, and in life, a growth mindset is paramount. When writers talk about those terrible first drafts and the idea that you “get it down, then fix it up”, there is a sense of hope that what I write today can be improved, revised, and made into something worthy of reading. In our classrooms, most of us have students who come to us believing they cannot write. How do we help them believe they can be, and often already are, writers? How do we teach a growth mindset, along with all the other aspects of writing that require explicit instruction?
Dr. Kevin Sheehan and Jessica Ryan’s new book, Growing a Growth Mindset: Unlocking Character Strengths through Children’s Literature (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) aims to teach students specific aspects of a growth mindset through children’s literature. I had the opportunity to contribute a lesson to this book, on the dangers of being a “natural”, using the book Noel the First, by Kate McMullan, as the mentor text. 15 books and lessons are shared, as well as an introduction to using positive psychology with children and a final section that brings everything together, providing additional resources.
Jessica Ryan, the co-author of this book, is an elementary school teacher in the Lynbrook School District and an adjunct professor at Molloy College. Jessica took some time to answer my questions about teaching writing with a growth mindset.
KS: What did you learn about yourself as a writer and a teacher of writing from your experience co-authoring this book? What are the implications for your teaching?
JR: I have helped guide my fourth grade students through writing hundreds of books in my teaching career using the Writer’s Workshop model; however, this was the first time that I was able to see it come to life from the perspective of a writer! The process is very similar, but instead of being able to switch to a new genre after a few weeks, this was truly a labor of love! My co-author (Kevin) and I extensively worked to develop a resource for teachers and parents to understand and teach the positive psychology constructs of growth mindset, grit, hope, happiness, and character strengths through children’s literature. We utilized each of our strengths to collaborate on this book.
While I have created class anthologies, I have never had students co-author pieces. I think this would be an interesting venture in the classroom. I would like students to co-construct a piece for an authentic purpose. Imagine the possibilities!
KS: How does using literature to teach growth mindset connect to student writers?
JR: After field testing these lessons with my class, I noticed something interesting happen. I started to see lessons of growth mindset embedded within their writing. I read personal narratives that had messages of the importance of grit in the face of obstacles and poems that reflected on mistakes as opportunities for growth.
Reading stories and having purposeful discussions with these growth mindset messages provided my students with an anchor to make connections. The lessons and experiences transcended past the book discussion and activity into their writing. While I have always used mentor texts as model for writing, this new perspective added to the voice of my students across the curriculum.
KS: How can teachers incorporate the ideas of growth mindset in their writing instruction?
JR: Teachers need to create a culture of grit. As writers, students need to show passion and perseverance towards long-term goals. The process of making personal student goals allows the writer to take ownership over their learning. This requires the mindset that even though failure could be looming, it is vital to take risks to grow.
I can’t think of a grittier process than revising. By encouraging students to revisit pieces and to try to refine them, you are asking them to be resilient in realizing their pieces aren’t perfect. It takes a lot of perseverance to continually try to improve something you’ve worked diligently on.
KS: You collaborated with Dr. Kevin Sheehan to write this book, as well as contributing authors who shared lessons. What are your reflections on writing with a partner and what implications does that have for teaching students about writing partnerships?
JR: One of the positive psychology constructs we address is character strengths in the form of synergy. This focuses on the power of combining your character strengths with others. This book is really a testament to that. Many master teachers contributed powerful lessons to Growing a Growth Mindset: Unlocking Character Strengths Through Children’s Literature. This highly collaborative effort allows for a variety of perspectives and lessons. Without Kevin’s strength of perspective, the vision for this book wouldn’t have been possible.
The idea of synergy is also essential to writing partnerships. The implications are that it’s important for students to pair up with someone who has different strengths. By reading other student work, they are able to recognize some positive attributes (“glows”); in addition, students are able to make constructive criticism (“grows”) to help improve the piece. This is brought to life in Angela Abend’s lesson using Going Places as a vehicle to apply the concept of synergy in the Marshmallow Challenge.
KS: Anything else you want to share about the experience of writing a book?
JR: Surround yourself with hope creators who have vision when starting a new venture. Kevin worked to spread ripples of hope for teachers and parents; this research showed that with the right tools and training, it is possible to grow a growth mindset. My encouraging colleagues at Waverly Park were able to put these ideas into action while piloting the lessons. As Megan Pavlick eloquently stated in her chapter on unleashing strengths, “If others show appreciation for one’s strengths and passions, it is more likely that they may serve as hope creators when life gets challenging.”
- This giveaway is for a copy of Growing a Growth Mindset: Unlocking Character Strengths through Children’s Literature. Many thanks to Jessica Ryan for donating an autographed copy for one lucky reader.
- For a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post by Friday, March 31, by 11:59 pm EST. I’ll use a random number generator to pick a winner, whose name I will announce at the bottom of this post.
- Please be sure to leave a valid email address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, I will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your email address will not be published online if you leave it in the email field only.)
- If you are the winner of this book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS- GROWING A GROWTH MINDSET. Please respond to my email within 5 days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response is not received within 5 days of the giveaway announcement.