For many years, I began the first day of school reading books to my class about being excited and nervous for first grade. As the days progress there are even more books about how first grade might be different than kindergarten, fairly typical start of the school year literature. Two years ago I decided to change all of that. Over the summer, Molly had recommended the book A Mindset for Learning by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz–this book has had the most impact in my classroom of any teaching book I have ever read. It outlines growth mindset learning traits to use with both primary and intermediate students. If you have not read this book yet, do so!
The first stance I decided to teach my class, starting the very first day of school, was optimism. The book gives student friendly definitions to use with each stance. The definition of optimism fits perfectly with the first day of school. “When you do something new, you think “I can try” and give it your best shot because that is how your brain grows.” Many times coming into first grade, students are nervous and scared and unsure they will be able to do it. Many are just beginning to read and are intimidated by peers who are already reading. While there is nothing wrong with starting the first day of school with books about the first day, why not empower students with tools they can use for the rest of the year and their life?
We began that day coming into the classroom after the usual goodbyes to moms and dads and maybe few tears and gathered nervously on the rug. After sharing a little bit about ourselves, I introduce the definition of optimism and explain that in the text we are about to read, we are going to watch for when the character displays optimism. I do not have the picture of the text under the definition yet, I wait until after we have explored the text several times and then print a small image of the cover out to for reference. The text I used this year is Jabari Jumps by Gaia CornwallJabari Jumps is a story about a little boy who wants to jump off the diving board but is scared to do so. Again, if this book is not yet in your library, run don’t walk to get it! As we read, we stop and discuss where Jabari is showing optimism. The discussion that follows this text was very powerful. Students really saw themselves in Jabari and made connections to times they had used optimism in their own lives. Throughout the week, we revisited Jabari and the learning stance of optimism. Within a day or two, I heard students complimenting each other for “trying optimism” when they did something new.
Growth Mindset is a popular term in education currently and deservedly so. By teaching students learning stances such as optimism, we empower students to take charge of their own learning and lives.