Serve It Up!
Lesson for Students Becomes One for Me

One thing I love about a new school year is that it is always a time of new beginnings, a time for growth! I have both students who are new to middle school and READ 180 as well as some who are returning to the program to continue their growth in reading. This year my school system moved from the READ 180 Next Generation to Universal. With great excitement, I looked forward to this great change. Another blessing for my classroom has been the addition of a Promethean Panel. 

As fantastic as all of this sounds, with any change there are challenges to be faced. My own growth mindset has been tested and stretched! Exciting opportunities have led to moments when I have had to choose working hard, persevering, and sometimes failing along the way. I found myself missing my old friend "Next Generation" for the very reason that it was familiar. I had taught it so long, it came easily. Between a new curriculum and a new presentation mode to adjust to, I let my students know that I would be learning right along with them. It took me a while to be able to move through the motions of presenting the "Do Now" and the sentence frames to prompt the use of academic language. I clicked first one place and then another sometimes having to start back at the very beginning. Needless to say, my lessons were not flowing as seamlessly as they should. Some days I actually returned to using the good ‘ole chalkboard that is still on one side of my room.

The Getting Started workshop in Universal introduces the growth mindset and was just what I needed! Although I have always considered myself to have a very strong growth mindset, facing these challenges brought on discouragement. I yearned to go back to my old familiar ways. Being stretched is sometimes painful. Then it dawned on me that my students who struggle with reading feel this way every day. I identified so strongly with my students at this point. For the first time, my epiphany led me to understand that I must do exactly what I was asking my students to do. I had to consciously choose to change my "I can't" to "I can't YET!"

Earlier this summer, I attended the Growth Mindset 2.0 breakout session at the Model Schools Conference by Mawi Asgedom. He stressed the importance of not only identifying and understanding the growth mindset but making application of it. Mawi shared the "Can Do/Not Yet Circles" activity. This involves making two circles one inside the other.

All the things that can already be done should be written in the "Can Do" circle. 

All the things that cannot be done YET go in the "Not Yet" section.  These are goals, hopes, dreams, etc. 

Mawi states, "The Growth Circles reveal what success and failure really look like. Success is any time you take action to grow your Can Do circle--even if you don't reach your goal. Failure is when you do nothing to expand your Can Do Circle."

My students and I went to work on our circles during the small group rotation time. After a time of brainstorming to get the ideas flowing, the students came up with many things they could already do and things they could not do YET. This activity produced many great conversations with my students. Not all of their ideas actually wound up on their papers, but in addition to realizing what a growth mindset was all about, our new relationships began to be forged. Students felt they could share some of their deepest challenges. Maybe they could sense that for the first time, I "got it." I knew how difficult it was to keep trying when everything seems to go wrong. Here are a few of the circles that grew out of our discussions:

As educators we must be willing to take on new challenges. Becoming too comfortable with what we have always done leads to amnesia of how hard it is for our students to overcome their own difficulties in reading and in life. As we transparently share our challenges with our students, we can become real examples of what a growth mindset is all about. Then together we can set out on a new year which will end in success as our "Can Do" circles enlarge. As for me, I’m starting to find tricks and shortcuts that make the Promethean Panel a welcomed addition to my classroom. Universal is guiding me to lead my students to use academic language, the language of power, and growing their vocabulary as we learn about real heroes who stood up for their beliefs. This painful stretch is beginning to feel wonderful as I allow Universal to become my new best friend.

Altavista, Virginia

Students in Ruth Willis's READ 180 class know that she sets high expectations for growth in reading, and they work hard along with her to reach those expectations, and on many occasions, surpass them. Her caring spirit helps nurture struggling readers, and her belief in them helps build their confidence in their abilities. In the first year of the READ 180 implementation, 91 percent of Ms. Willis's students showed gains greater than 100 points in their Lexile levels, and that growth continues each year. After spending two years in her READ 180 program, many students have gone on to pass statewide assessments and become confident, fluent readers.

"I challenge my students to set goals, and we celebrate their successes--daily, weekly, every chance we get," said Ms. Willis.

"Amazing, exciting, engaging, dynamic and driven are the words that come to mind when I think about Ruth Willis," said Altavista Combined School Assistant Principal Michelle McBride, who nominated Ms. Willis for the award. "Her loving and caring spirit help to nurture struggling readers as they enter her room, and her belief in each of them helps to build their confidence in their own ability to be successful readers."

  • I'm glad I'm not alone! Each day gets better and better. Change has not been easy, but I know it will be worth it.


    Oh, Ruth, how I can relate! I have taught NG for about six years and we just upgraded to Universal too. I have missed my good ol' trusty NG as I also have really, really struggled with the technology and presentation of it all. The mindset intro was just what the students, and especially their teacher, needed! I think about it when I'm struggling and think to myself, "Practice what you're preach, Mrs. Sinner...growth mindset!"

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