How I Start the School Year


For the last 2 years in a row, I have begun my school year teaching “Growth Mindset” as an integral part of my introductory writing unit. It was a good way to go since usually the summer reading essays are pretty bad (no matter what they learned freshmen year) and many students tend to feel discouraged when they first get those papers back, covered in red pen.

This year, I’m actually going to just devote my first two weeks to 1) classroom culture and procedures and 2) growth mindset.

We’ll tackle essay writing in Unit 2.

One thing I’m really excited about is the Retake Policy I and another former ACE teacher at my school introduced last year.

I feel like my grading policies now really do reflect what I “preach” about growth mindset.

Basic grading policy:

  1. ONLY assessments are included in the gradebook. That means no homework or completion or “participation” grades. Only quizzes, tests, essays, presentations. In other words, their grades now reflect only standards-aligned learning objectives – what they actually mastered.
  2. Students may choose to retake an assessment (within a given timeframe) to show stronger mastery of the learning objective. The highest grade (almost always the second one) will go into the gradebook.  *I’m still deciding whether or not to provide that opportunity only if they did not show basic proficiency the first time – i.e. earn a 75% or lower.
  3. Students must meet with me twice to discuss the mistakes on the first assessment, learn how they can improve, and create a study plan.
  4. Before they actually retake the assessment, they must submit a typed letter that shows their reflection on their mistakes, goals for improvement, and learning process.

I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful this policy was to so many of my kids last year. Poor initial assessment grades, instead of a death sentence to their GPA, became opportunities for growth and deeper learning.

Of course, I cannot force them to engage in the retake process. They must make that choice for themselves. But the ones who did experienced a wonderful transformation in their approach towards school and their own abilities.

Carol Dweck on mindset:

“You are not allowed to give up!”

Dont-Give-UpSo, my sophomores have started to read Dante’s Inferno.

And they want to die.

Well, not literally. Especially not after having gone on a “virtual tour of hell” themselves and seeing what crazy things are happening there.

But a lot of them are really discouraged. They fall into two groups:

Group A:
These kids have been discouraged about their reading abilities (or lack thereof) for so long that they kind of assumed their failure in advance. A few of them may have picked up the book and read the first few sentences of Canto 2 and then closed it with a frustrated sigh. Or flipped through it vaguely during commercials. Or raced through it in a panic this morning in the hallway when they heard rumors of pop quizzes occurring in Ms. Shea’s classroom. Or tried to make it look like they annotated when really they didn’t think too much about it.

Group B:
These kids made a much more deliberate and concerted effort. After having reviewed reading strategies from the beginning of the year, they chose a few to focus on and try. They annotated their text with sticky notes. They used the Endnotes at the back of the book. They read aloud to themselves. They read aloud to others. They summarized difficult places in their own words. They looked up Youtube videos in which the text is read aloud, with pictures, to help them aurally and visually.

But both groups struggled. And sometimes people in Group B did not do any better than people in Group A on the three pop quizzes I gave today.

I felt kind of sad. That’s the worst, isn’t it? When you actually really try, and nothing seems to come of it?

I thought, how many times has that happened to me as a teacher?

So many failures. So many disappointments.

But I did my best to frame everything carefully. I told them how proud I was of them for trying new things. I gave examples of students who had come to see me for extra help, even if it was just for a couple of seconds after school or during lunch. I told them how struggling with a text – especially with a work as great as Dante’s – is a wonderful thing. That it’s okay to struggle with it. That it’s okay to make mistakes.

I also told them: “You are not allowed to give up!”

Nope. Not allowed. Not an option. You have lots of choices to make, lots of new strategies we have learned about to try… but giving up is not one of them.

Again, Carol Dweck’s theory of “Fixed Mindset” keeps coming back.

It’s easier, and safer, to give up. To not try.

Because if you fail, you know that you did not really try anyway because the book is too hard for you and really it’s Dante’s fault that he lived in the 1300s and spoke differently and thought differently. His fault, not yours.


How can I teach them that the struggle is good? That that’s what learning is?


All the best things in life take time and effort. Love, marriage, friendship, family, faith.

But it’s so popular with so many of my students to be lazy: “Yeah, I didn’t read that!” “Nope, me neither!” “I’m totally going to fail, ha ha ha….”

Why is this?

Sometimes I just want to reach into their brains and take out the Fixed Mindsets.

It makes me so sad. I know it’s hard. I know they have so many things to do and worry about. Welcome to life. But don’t give up on it. Come see me for help. I am here for you. Don’t blame the book for your own lack of training or trying! Do something about it!

Widen your heart! See if maybe this “great work” of literature has something to give you besides a headache. There is a lot of love there. Don’t reject it because you are too tired to be bothered with it.

If you’re going through hell, keep on going.

First Days of School!

… not sure why this picture is from this website

I do not have much time to write, but I wanted to give you a quick update on my first few days of school.

First of all, I’m loving it. This is such a wonderful school. The students are so polite and kind, and everyone has been so welcoming to me. Plus, not having FOUR preps and SIX classes a day (with an “off” period usually reserved for substituting) is amazing. I have two “off” or “prep” periods! And I get to use them! And I am especially blessed because I only have 1 prep (or 1 and a 1/2 if you count my Honors class separately), and thus I have a lot more time to preparing lessons and giving more frequent feedback on assignments. It’s still a lot of work, and I am still very exhausted after most days, but it makes me wonder how I ever got through my first two years of teaching.

Second of all, I feel like this:

Okay, my kids are a bit bigger. And I wasn’t this sweet the first day of school – in fact, I hear I was kind of scary. But that’s how I felt on the INSIDE.

Third of all, I devoted my first week of class to procedures and what Carol Dweck class “Growth Mindset.” Basically, her idea is HOW we view our own intelligence AFFECTS how we are able (or not able) to use our intelligence.

For example, if you believe that intelligence is static, that you were born smart or born not-so-smart, that belief has certain behavior consequences. On the other hand, if you believe intelligence is dynamic, that it can grow and be shaped over time, that belief also has consequences.

Another example: saying things like “I am an A student” or “I am a C student” means you probably have a fixed mindset. You believe intelligence is innate and remains basically the same throughout your life. This can have serious consequences for both the “A students” and the “C students.”

So, my first bell work assignment was a survey that students took that helped them analyze their own views of intelligence. Throughout the week, we talked about the results and what they mean.

Here’s a great visual chart I gave my kids to look at:


They got pretty excited about this topic, because even though they (and all of us) have heard the “work harder” mantra and the “practice makes perfect” cliche, they had not heard these ideas presented in such a new and well-researched way. And honestly, Dweck shows us how just “working harder” is not enough. If you’re interested in these ideas too, check out this awesome website on Mindset. Read it with an open mind (pun intended). Honestly, when I first started reading about Carol Dweck’s studies in my educational psychology class, I was rather skeptical because I thought it was going to be more bland “self-esteem” stuff… but actually,  learned a lot about myself and my own approaches to success and failure.

Fourth of all, this is what my Labor Day Weekend Forecast looks like:


Very busy, with a 100% chance of a grading downpour, a 95% chance of exhaustion, and a small but rather alarming 10% chance of drowning in papers.