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Author: Maurice Elias
Source: Edutopia
Date: AUGUST 10, 2015

By Maurice Elias, Prof. of Psychology and Director of Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab

For students who have had trouble in school, or who have had a negative summer, it is especially important to get the school year off to a fresh start. And for all students, having a positive mindset makes learning much more likely. Here are three activities to help accomplish these goals.

Who Am I? Identity and Purpose

Now that students are back in school, it’s a good time to help them refocus on learning, their strengths, and the personal and other resources that will help them succeed. Students can fill out the grid below individually, and then pair-share, discuss in small groups, and then share with the class some of their responses. (Students tend to be most comfortable sharing numbers 2, 4, and 6 below when in larger groups.)

You may also wish to use other creative forms of sharing such as having students create a collage or chart with all of their answers to each question or the top three answers to each question. Consider also integrating this activity into any journal writing your students do.

  1. What motivates me?
  2. What are my best abilities?
  3. How do peers influence me?
  4. When and with whom am I at my best?
  5. Who are my best sources of help?
  6. How can I do more of what will best help me to succeed?

A Living Poll

Read each statement and have students move to a part of the room that you designate to represent each of the answers below based on their opinions. The three areas of the room are for those who believe for any of the given questions:

It’s mostly true for me

It’s partly true and not true

It’s mostly not true for me

1. I used to think school was pointless. But now I think school is important and I need to learn so I can succeed.

2. I used to be violent in some situations. But now I am more peaceful and would only use violence where there is a real danger.

3. I used to think that trying does not matter. But now I believe that the more I try, the more I can succeed.

4. I used to do what would make me popular with others in school. But now I do what I want and what I think is the right thing to do.

5. I used to be someone who just came to class to pass the time. But now I am someone who wants to be involved in school and learn.

After each statement (or others that you may wish to add), ask students in each area of the room to share why they believe as they do. There is great value in students hearing peers’ views about why they have turned to a more positive mindset. And it’s instructive to the teacher to get a sense of students’ views. Note that students may move to an area that they “think” the teacher wants them to.

Asking them to articulate why they believe as they do is your check — and their reality check — on whether they really do have the belief they have endorsed. You may want to end with a discussion of the challenges of sharing honest opinions.

Journaling About Beliefs and Mindset

As a supplement to the above or as an activity in its own right have students enter in their journals responses to at least one of each stem:

I used to be . . . but now I am . . .

I used to think . . . but now I think . . .

I used to do . . . but now I do . . .

There is added benefit to revisiting these activities mid-year, or even after each marking period, to see how ideas are changing (positively or negatively).


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