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August 8, 2016

The Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) and Emile Elementary School in Bastrop have developed a book study program for teachers that goes beyond reading and responding—instead creating a culture-changing, high-impact professional learning community that has seen real results.

Emile Elementary Principal Jennifer Hranitzky, TLI State Literacy Liaison Jennifer Greene Gast, and TLI District Literacy Liaison Angeline Vrbsky developed the program for Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci during a summer brainstorming session. As a part of its campus improvement plan, Emile Elementary chose the book for its 2015–2016 book study.

In the book, Ricci focuses on how to implement a “growth” mindset (versus a “fixed” mindset) in the classroom. This idea comes from the research of Carol Dweck. According to Dweck’s Mindset website, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits ... [and] that talent alone creates success—without effort. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Emile teachers met monthly on Mondays after school. Gast or Vrbsky demonstrated one instructional strategy at each meeting, and teachers participated in activities in an interactive notebook for each chapter. At the end of the program, teachers had a notebook that highlighted the main points of each chapter and the staff appointed “mindset mentors” who will use their notebooks to guide new teachers through Mindsets in the Classroom.

As teachers began to put this new knowledge into practice, the effects could be seen.

“We found students who began the year below level in reading making gains and no longer pushing reading materials away in frustration,” Hranitzky said. “They have built persistence and are more likely to ask for the harder problems when given an option of choices.”

The numbers back up Hranitzky’s observations. Several areas have seen marked improvement, including the following from the first-grade Texas Primary Reading Inventory.

First Grade: Percentage of Students Scoring Proficient on the TPRI
  Beginning of the Year Middle of the Year Gain
Phonological Awareness 62% 84% 35%
Graphophonemic Knowledge 65% 85% 31%
Word Reading 18% 52% 189%
Fluency 38% 72% 89%
Comprehension 25% 66% 164%

One student in particular started the year with high levels of anxiety but later embraced the idea that her learning was tied to how hard she worked, not how “smart” she was—key to a growth mindset. By the end of the school year, she had been on the A/B Honor Roll twice and asked the teacher for paperwork to apply for gifted-and-talented screening.

Across the campus, teachers reported hearing “I can’t do this” less this past year, Hranitzky said. “Our pre-K students even embrace that they have to work hard to grow their brain.”

Best of all, the ideas from the book study and the culture it created didn’t end after the monthly meetings. Emile Elementary now holds ongoing mindset-related read-aloud lessons in the classroom and has held two family literacy nights.

“Teachers need to take their mindset seriously,” said Christina Phillips, a prekindergarten teacher at Emile. “Anyone working in the school environment can have such a powerful effect on students if only they have the right mindset.”

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative