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Monthly Archives: July 2015

5 Picture Books that Promote Growth Mindset

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5 Picture Books that Promote Growth Mindset

The Tweet pictured above captured a conversation between my sons, Anthony (8) and Alex (6). Both kids have been raised in the same household, have shared experiences, and have heard the same messages growing up, with one exception.  Alex’s kindergarten curriculum included lessons designed to promote growth mindset.  He would come home from school very excited following these lessons.  He recounted a teacher sharing her experiences while learning how to ride a bike.  She fell off of the bike, and shouted, “I quit!”  She then tried to ride the bike again and was successful.

Alex goes on to explain (in his 6-year-old words) that there are “ropes” in your brain. “The ropes make connections to the little things in your brain, and when you are a baby to 7, you have so many because you learn so much. The little things talk to each other. And, when you say ‘I quit,’ then your brain doesn’t get strong.”

In Mindsets in the Classroom, Mary Cay Ricci informs us that “When students believe that dedication and hard work can change their performance in school, they grow to become resilient, successful students.”  What Alex described is actually the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt. In chapter 8, Ricci describes similar lessons in which the students become the neurons and practice building connections.  Connections (the ropes in Alex’s recounting) become thicker with practice and thinner when students give up.

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When teachers provide students with the perspective to view failure as part of the learning process and the language to express these feelings in words, kids can start to adopt a growth mindset. Even those that begin with fixed mindsets can change their beliefs about learning. Children’s literature provides a safe, low-risk context in which students can express their beliefs about mindset. If you are looking for recommendations for your students, look no further than the following five books. They have shared characteristics, such as characters who persevere, learn the value of positive self talk, and come to understand the value of creativity and originality.

5 Picture Books that Promote Growth Mindset

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Students of all ages will be inspired by What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada. All of us have had the feeling at some time or another that our ideas are not good enough or that people will think they are silly or worthless.  The main character in What Do You Do with an Idea? helps his idea grow and change until he can’t imagine life without it.  This book would be an amazing addition to classroom libraries at all grade levels.

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Peter Reynolds gets growth mindset. And he is able to capture the essence of growth mindset in ways that even the youngest children can understand. In The Dot, young Vashti is discouraged by what she thinks is a fixed ability to draw. How does her teacher respond? “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.” This one little dot steers Vashti down a path of growth, in both confidence and ability, providing an example of effort triumphing over ability.

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Ish is a fantastic read-aloud to follow The Dot. Unlike Vashti, Ramon loves to draw, until his brother insults his work, causing Ramon to doubt his talent.  Good thing that his sister Marisol sees things from a different perspective.  She carefully smooths out all of the drawings Ramon has crumpled up and hangs them in her room.  Make sure to pick up a copy of this masterpiece by Reynolds in order to find out the meaning of “ish.”

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The main character in Ashley Spires’ newest book, The Most Magnificent Thing, has an idea to make something special.  She builds.  She toils.  She tinkers.  She gets angry.  She gets frustrated.  Nothing that she builds turns out exactly the way she envisions, even though the neighbors all find her inventions to be useful. Finally, after numerous attempts and failures, she creates exactly what she had pictured… the most magnificent thing.

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In Extra Yarn, Barnett brings us the story of Annabelle who thinks her town is dreary, cold, and colorless.  Annabelle knits a sweater for herself when she finds a box of yarn.  With the extra yarn, she knits one for her dog… and then her classmates…and then the townspeople.  Soon enough, the whole town is covered with her colorful creations.  Annabelle is met with resistance along the way, but she perseveres with her vision, even when faced with naysayers.

All five of these books would spark conversation in the classroom about two things.  In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck differentiates between beliefs and mindset for (1) intelligence and (2) personality. (All teachers and parents should take the brief quiz on pg.12-13 to assess whether you have a fixed or growth mindset in each category.) When students believe that effort outweighs ability, the culture of classrooms can change.  The climate of schools can change.

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Alex synthesized the lesson mentioned earlier by sharing that “You have to keep practicing and trying. If someone says, ‘I can’t do it,’ you say, ‘I can’t do it…YET.'”

I hope these books promote discussions about growth mindset in your classrooms and households.  I’d love to expand this list with your suggestions.  Please feel free to leave a comment!

The book is in your court…!

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For more examples of what others are reading, be sure to head over to the IMWAYR link-up at Teach Mentor Texts, hosted by Jen Vincent.

Crossing America for a Cure- Al DeCesaris Bikes for Niece Jenna & SWS

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Crossing America for a Cure- Al DeCesaris Bikes for Niece Jenna & SWS

Jenna, Anabelle, Lynn, Paige, Keegan, Stella, Karli, Paul, and Liliana

These children, and all others, affected by Sturge-Weber Syndrome served as the inspiration for Al DeCesaris’ book and adventure- Crossing America for a Cure: A Bicycle Journey of Inspiration and Hope.


Jenna, Al’s niece, was born on June 13, 2004. Doctors indicated that the discoloration on the right side of Jenna’s face was bruising from childbirth. When the “bruising” didn’t go away and doctors discovered glaucoma in Jenna’s right eye, Al’s family knew that Jenna was suffering from something much more complicated. After many months and many tests, Jenna was diagnosed with Sturge-Weber Syndrome (SWS), a rare neurological disorder that can lead to seizures,  developmental delays, and learning disabilities, among other complications.

The Decesaris family has organized many fundraisers over the years to raise awareness and help fund SWS research efforts. But Al took fundraising to the next level by spending 45 days biking 3,088 miles from Santa Monica, California to Ocean City, Maryland. The only person I know who has taken a longer journey in our family is Marco DeCesaris, Al’s grandfather and my great-grandfather. Full disclosure- Al and I are second cousins. Although we grew up in different parts of the state and only see each other at the occasional family reunion, as I read Al’s book, I could tell that we had a set of shared values, values that could have led to the (crazy!) idea of riding across the United States for a cure.  I mean, who does that? It seemed fitting to describe Al’s journey in relation to Marco’s journey because it is this kind of decision in life that reveals one’s character for all to see.

Marco DeCesaris- Al’s Grandfather; Jenna’s Great Grandfather

The Philadelphia Passenger List for the S.S. America- 1913

Marco DeCesaris’ journey began in a small fishing village, along the Adriatic Coast, in Abruzzo, Italy. It was a place without many opportunities, and America looked promising.  In 1913, at the age of 17, Marco left his land, his home, and his family and boarded the S.S. America in Naples with a final destination of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He went on to raise a family of 10 children with his wife Ida and was eventually joined by his mother and sister. To take a risk like this in order to offer your family a better life is courageous and selfless.  Without him, we would not be living the lives that we are. And although Al and I never got to meet him, I like to think that we were raised with values that span generations.  I haven’t seen Al in many years, but from reading his account of crossing America for SWS, I could see the following themes emerge.

Put family before yourself. Al made this journey to raise awareness for SWS. He sums it up nicely on pg. 120-121 when he writes, “Although my family and I have hosted other charitable events, we have never done anything like this… I chose to take on this 3,000+ mile journey for Jenna and all those suffering with Sturge-Weber Syndrome, to give them hope, to inspire others to get involved, to create awareness, and to raise funds to further the efforts to find a cure. And, by the grace of God, we’re making it happen, one mile at a time.” Al had little experience on a bicycle (less than 10 miles a day) until about 3 weeks before he began his ride for SWS.  He was hardly an expert in this area! However, when you have a tight-knit family like his, this doesn’t deter you from taking on a challenge that will benefit your loved ones.

With risk comes reward. Because of the fundraising efforts from Jenna’s family, doctors have been able to find the cause of SWS, which is a major step toward finding the cure. Funding is critical in order for research to continue. During his journey, Al encountered a pretty high level of risk.  From poorly maintained roadways to construction sites to a myriad of animals literally nipping at his heels, Al was taking risks to spread the word about SWS. He began each day not really knowing whether he would make it to his next destination (weather, flat tires, detours!).  At times, he was even unsure about where he would be sleeping that night!  His sister Ida helped plan the route and found lodging wherever he ended up. I can’t imagine leaving behind a predictable daily routine to take this kind of risk!

Al raised over $75,000 with this endeavor.  However, more research is needed in order to find a cure. To learn more about Sturge-Weber Syndrome or to support the cause, visit:

Crossing America for a Cure

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Ida and Jenna on WBAL discussing the latest breakthoughs in a cure for SWS.

In Crossing America for A Cure, Al will take you through the highs and lows of the American terrain, as well as the mental state that it takes to complete a ride such as this.  He includes pictures of each state, friends and family that were able to help along the way, and, of course, the children for whom he was riding.  The diary-style format enables readers to chart Al’s progress in days and miles. If you are interested in riding vicariously through Al, pick up a copy of this book.  Proceeds benefit the search for a cure for Sturge-Weber Syndrome.

The Book is in Your Court…

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