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Setting the Stage: Instilling the Growth Mindset in our Students from the Start

My co- teacher, Courtney Zaleski and I teach an inclusion 7th grade class.  In order to set the stage for the year, we teach them that mistakes are not only OK, they are necessary:

Ask an adolescent how they feel about making mistakes and they will be very honest (sometimes brutally so).  This year, on the first day of school, we asked our students to write down their thoughts on a post it note and compiled their responses on chart paper titled “making mistakes.”  The students are then asked to stay and read their classmates’ comments.  Words like “dumb,” “foolish,” “angry,” and “bad” were common responses.

No wonder so many kids don’t take academic risks.  Who wants to feel like that?

As the students returned to their seats, we handed them each a personalized envelope.  Inside, they found a pink eraser, a pencil with “Think Different” inscribed on it (“Think Different” is our class name), and a Maichin Welcome Back Letter. We asked them to open the envelope and read the letter silently.

This year I was sure to take note of the students’ faces and behaviors as they read.  Eyebrows went up in surprise, small smiles came to faces; I even noted some tense shoulders begin to relax. 

After they read, without discussion, we provided them with a different color post-it and asked them to tell us again how they felt about making mistakes (Maichin Making mistakes lesson.PDF). 

Their responses changed.  Many of their responses even had the beginnings of a “growth mindset” ring to them.

Of course, this is only the beginning. It takes time and practice to become comfortable with taking risks and valuing mistakes, but the door has been opened for them to at least feel that it is OK. The change in their responses is evidence that they noticed that mistakes are a part of learning.   The process is what makes us smarter.

Even scientists say so!

Jennifer Maichin is an educator from Minneola Middle School in New York.  Read More about Jenn's work here!



  • Lisa Blackwell
    Lisa Blackwell Tuesday, 09 October 2012

    Jenn, I really wish that you had been my teacher in JHS!

  • Guest
    Emily Barnes Thursday, 18 October 2012

    I'd love to see this lesson plan and read the letter, but the links aren't working for me!

  • Guest
    Sarah Thursday, 18 October 2012

    Links are working for me either. :( Would love to see it!

  • Guest
    Stephanie Thursday, 18 October 2012

    I appreciate the ideas on integrating Mindset concepts. The links to Welcome Letter & PDF on Making Mistakes didn't work. Suggestions?

  • Guest
    Linda Friday, 19 October 2012

    Links from this page did not work for me either but at this address they do:

  • Guest
    Emily Diehl Friday, 19 October 2012

    Yea! The links are working now. Jen's resources are so helpful. Try again!:D

  • Guest
    AJ Hepworth Friday, 19 October 2012

    Think different...such an appriorpiate name and your students are fortunate to have a whole minded teacher as yourself facilitating them in the learning process. Recognizing their shoulders relaxing certainly is a clear sign that they are going to be more willing participapants in your class and allow themselves to make mistakes...which we all do and are a more important part of the learning than often our success stories.

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Guest Friday, 01 July 2016