March 6, 2015

Giving Students Authentic Reasons to Read

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In a post titled Sending Children Off to Do Big Things, we wrote about how exposing children to picture book biographies can help them better understand the connection between mindset, passion, and effort. In this post, we introduced readers to the Heart, Head, Hands and Feet Lesson from Reading Wellness which utilizes the following graphic organizer:

Student HHHF

Since sharing this post, as well as some of our favorite titles for Heart, Head, Hands and Feet in a post titled They Grew Up Reading and Writingwe have heard from several readers by way of email and recently, a school media coordinator from North Carolina shared these reflections with us about using Heart, Head, Hands and Feet with a teacher beginning a unit on biography looking to “push” her students. This teacher reported exciting results which made us wonder how this lesson has gone for others who have tried this with their students.  We’d love to see pictures of your graphic organizers and hear stories from the classroom if you have them.  If you’re not familiar with this lesson, you can find more information about it in this document as well a more comprehensive list of titles that work well with this lesson.


Looking forward to hearing from you!











Hot off the Press: Downloadable READING WELLNESS Study Guide

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Reading Wellness Study Guide

After many requests for a Reading Wellness study guide, we are very excited to share with you the results of our efforts. We really wanted the finished product to support your close reading of the text, so we didn’t simply do a paint-by-numbers routine, but rather tried to make the study guide a complement to the book. In addition to the usual elements of a study guide, such as discussion questions and quotes from the book, this guide includes a number of non-traditional options, such as an anticipation guide, magnetic poetry, a Mad Lib, and more. In an effort to stay true to the philosophy of Reading Wellness, the study guide also includes opportunities to practice wellness, such as reminders to breathe, stretch, and appreciate.

Because we wanted to get this study guide into your hands as quickly as possible, we have it available now in draft form (download below). Over the next few weeks, it will go through the editing and publishing process with Stenhouse. In the meantime, please bear with us if you encounter formatting or other editorial issues. We will let you know when the more polished version is available from Stenhouse.


Download a copy of the study guide for Reading Wellness.

Mindset’s Hold Over Achievement

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After listening to several subtle (and many not-so-subtle) hints from her twelve-year-old son, Nathan,  about being interested in playing soccer, Kim signed him up for a team.  A month separated soccer sign-ups and the beginning of the season and during this time,  Nathan worried–a lot. He worried that he’d be on a team with kids who have been playing since age three.  He worried that his lack of skills would be really obvious to the coach and that he’d spend the season on the bench.  He worried it wouldn’t be as fun as it looked.  He worried so much that by the time his first practice rolled around, he had himself convinced that soccer was a dumb sport, he had never really wanted to play it, and what was Kim thinking signing him up for a team, anyway!? He wasn’t going to go.

Kim and her husband took a solid, unified stance: “You’re going.”  They told him that he had to play for the eleven weeks for which he was registered.  They explained that, after he tried it (for eleven weeks), if he decided that he never wanted to kick a ball again, so be it. But for now, he had committed to playing, so he had to put on his cleats and report to the field.

Needless to say, Nathan was not happy!  After some angry words and several passive aggressive tactics aimed at delaying the inevitable, he acquiesced.  He got in the car and headed to the field. The mood was heavy and Kim and her husband wondered if they had made the right choice. After all, they try to listen to their children and pay attention to their interests.

When they arrived, Nathan stepped out of the car and looked at the field. Seeing the empty nets and the wide open space shifted his posture.  He turned and said, “I’m just going to keep telling myself that I really like soccer.” (Incidentally, “Tell yourself a different story” has become common language in our households, as we have worked to help our children develop growth mindsets.)

He put on a brave face and introduced himself to the coach and listened intently to what he had to say.  He dribbled and kicked and threw the ball back in bounds. He came home sweaty and energized.

Interestingly, since Nathan began telling himself a different story about soccer, getting ready for soccer practice feels like celebration.  Now, he’s enthusiastic, and this enthusiasm shows in his body and his language.  What’s more, he’s really learning how to play soccer. And, not surprisingly, his growth mindset is helping him get better at it, too.

As parents, and as teachers, helping children negotiate their reluctance about things that are hard is a substantial part of our work. Given the many things that we must teach children, this mindset work may seem rather small, however, to us, we feel like helping children embrace things that are difficult is among one of the most important life skills we can teach.  Like Nathan who is getting better at soccer because he shifted from “I’m not going” to “I’m just going to keep telling myself I really like soccer,” children stand to make huge gains when they understand that mindset can have a powerful impact on achievement.

Reading Wellness by Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris

In Reading Wellness, we dedicate a whole chapter to explicitly teaching children about the habits and language of growth mindsets. In a lesson called “Leaning In/Leaning Out” we help students explore mindset by looking at a series of images that  make them say either “Oh yea” or “Oh no!” From there, we help students closely and carefully read images that depict people leaning into or away from various activities, such as cleaning a toilet or reading a book.  We  teach children to look carefully for evidence that supports their thinking.  From there, we read aloud an anchor text, such as Ish by Peter Reynolds or Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully, which describes characters who lean in and out.  As we read, we discuss how the characters’ posture influences the outcomes they are working toward. (For other titles that work well for teaching mindset, see pages 49-50 in Reading Wellness).

As children learn new things, inevitably, some of those things will be difficult. Reminding students what happened when beloved characters leaned in, along with asking students to reflect on whether they are “leaning in or leaning out,” can have a profound impact on how students approach new challenges. While mainstream conversations want us to believe that improving student achievement boils down to addressing “this skill” or “that strategy,” we believe such deductions are far too simplistic. To us, looking at the bigger picture of how people learn is just as important and investing at least some time in teaching children about the powerful connection between mindset and achievement has the potential to pay huge dividends.