Breakthrough Greater Boston, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, The Steppingstone Foundation: Growth Mindset

This post is part of a series about the workshop presentations delivered at the 2018 ACT Skills Summit.

Growth Mindset involves believing that talent and intelligence can be developed and improved through continued learning, practice, and effort.

Jennie McDonald-Brown and Lyndsea Arikian from Breakthrough Greater Boston got the session started by discussing the strategies that BTGB uses to foster Growth Mindset in their students and in their teachers. For students, the program has various practices, including “Big Ups” where everyone stops everything they’re doing to give students shout-outs for effort, improvement, and growth, as well as “Spirit Stick,” which spotlights students who are working hard to achieve the values of the program. Additionally, at the end of the summer, rather than receiving grades, students receive letters from their teachers outlining the areas in which they improved and where they have room to grow.

Teachers at Breakthrough are also given support to foster their own Growth Mindset. For teachers, there is a weekly feedback cycle where they hear about how they are doing, as well as weekly professional development sessions to build their understanding of Growth Mindset. Teachers too, in addition to students, receive growth letters at the end of the summer from their instructional coach. These letters convey the same information to teachers that they in turn give their students: which areas they showed strong effort in, and where they can still grow.

Sandra Lee from Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center then began her high school-focused presentation by asking participants to reflect on whether or not they agreed with a series of statements, including, “Youth can make major life decisions on their own,” and, “Youth can support adults.” She then described the pipeline model of Growth Mindset at BCNC, grounded in the understanding that belief in yourself leads to opportunities to grow and support others, which culminates in sharing those gains and building a community.

Sandra concluded her presentation with seven questions to ask students in order to build their Growth Mindset:

  1. What do you believe in?
  2. What does growth mean to you?
  3. How does growth look?
  4. What do you need for growth?
  5. How do you bounce back up when there are setbacks?
  6. How do you celebrate your growth?
  7. How do you continue your growth?

Jane Ventrone and Chris Parris from The Steppingstone Foundation, then presented on their explicit teaching of Growth Mindset as well as some of the strategies they use to reinforce the concept in every subject. After introducing the idea that the brain is like a muscle that can become more capable over time, teachers lead students in activities that encourage that mode of thinking, like building and testing prototypes for roller coasters in science, flipping a tarp over while a group of students is standing on it, discussing their “favorite mistake” in math, and focusing on areas to improve writing in English. These activities work together to turn “I don’t know how to do that,” into “I don’t know how to do that yet.” The Steppingstone Foundation also uses Challenges & Choices, a social-emotional course that promotes healthy adolescent development, and aPlay, an experiential learning/team building course that takes place outdoors. These two courses are especially valuable in implementing TSF’s four-step strategy for fostering Growth Mindset:

  • Identify the goal
  • Devise a strategy and execute
  • Revise strategy and retry
  • Reflect

Jane and Chris then ended their session with an engaging activity in which groups had to construct a pyramid of plastic cups, while only touching the cups with a rubber band tool, no hands allowed.

Materials from this session as well as the rest of the sessions from the 2018 ACT Skills Summit can be found here.