Instructional Strategies, Teaching Tips and Tricks

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Case for Mainstreaming - The Growth Mindset – Plus FREEBIES!

Elizabeth Chapin-PInotti

Special Education Isn't Always What It is Supposed to Be

I’ve been tutoring a seven-year-old for about a year – I’ll call her Sam. Sam just started third grade and is in an Intensive Intervention class, but doesn’t need to be – only in Kindergarten – she was young and immature and defiant – hid under tables acted out at teachers – was the epitome of the nightmare student – except it wasn’t her fault, nor was it the fault of the teacher. I know the teacher and she is awesome – kind, compassionate and able to reach everyone – until California went from a 20 to 1 teacher student ratio to a free fall.

Picture one teacher with 30 students - all used to being in small units – most of whom are still practically babies. Now, picture 100 cats running in every direction – missing home, wanting mommy and afraid.

Visual learners – check out:

Now, picture one teacher who has to start from nothing. Lines, crisscross applesauce circles, navigating the way to the restroom with a partner, learning to read, learning to share – these things don’t just happen – they are painstakingly and lovingly taught by the angels who are Kindergarten teachers.

One may think the increase from 20 to 30 students is nothing, but for primary grades especially – ten more students may as well be 100.   

With 20 students, the Growth Mindset is natural. Encouragement, the belief in oneself, the nurturing that is “you can do it”, “you are smart”, “you are capable” that eventually transfer to the student as “I can learn”, “I am intelligent” – are mantras of most teachers, but especially primary teachers.

The concept of a growth mindset was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck and exploded with her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. The “I Can” mindset “can have a profound effect on learning achievement, skill acquisition, personal relationships, professional success, and many other dimensions of life and that mindset begins when a person is very young. This is nothing new to most teachers – only now we have a name for it – a catch phrase so to speak – and education loves its catch phrases.” (

Back to Sam. This extremely expensive Intensive Intervention class, designed for truly defiant students – is not the place for Sam to grow into the student she can be, not to mention, it is detrimental to her future. Sam is a bright articulate student who believes she is not smart – only she is and had that kindergarten teacher been able to nurture her and encourage her and teach her – Sam would believe she can and she would today, be sitting in a third-grade classroom, preforming at third grade level.

When I first began working with Sam she was in the second grade, couldn’t read, barely knew her site words and believed she was “stupid”. She described her days as sitting around waiting for the teachers to stop “restraining” the two children in her class who were truly defiant. Now, she reads and is developing socially, because someone said she could, helped her discover how and believed in her.

This Intensive Intervention classroom looks like this: two teachers, one counselor, one specialist and five students – that is four adults who could be teaching in three mainstream classes – which would lower class sizes, help mitigate behavior issues and then – the brass ring - the entire school site could benefit from the counselor – which would truly be a bonus – because in reality counselors have all but disappeared from elementary school sites.

What about those truly defiant students? How about more counseling time and teacher training to help each gain the skills of the Jedi master? What about throwing a well-trained aid or to into the mix as extra bodies when things go astray? Most defiant behavior can be channeled in good ways. The trick is to carefully take the focus off of the student and channel it elsewhere. A great article that addresses this very issue can be found at:

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