This past weekend I wrote a post — Reading Logs — Part Two (or “How Students Can Grow Their Brains”) — sharing some  research and reflections on helping students see that it is in their self-interest to read at home each night. In that same piece I shared a lesson I was going to use  in my ninth-grade mainstream English class that I hoped would let students see that intelligence is not innate, and that when they read each night they literally helped their brain grow by creating and strengthening neurons.

It was one of those lessons that I thought was either going to be a huge success or a total fiasco (and I certainly have had my share of the latter).

I can happily report, however, that it definitely exceeded my expectations — so much so that, after sharing what happened with a number of my colleagues, it looks like some colleagues may be trying it out in their classes.

I stuck pretty much to the plan I laid-out in my previous post — with a couple of exceptions.

One change occurred at the start.  I began with the question I had originally planned:

“Some people say you’re born with a certain amount of intelligence – you’re either smart, average, or below-average — and that’s just the way it is and always will be.  Others say we’re all pretty much born with the same amount, and that people who work harder at learning just become more intelligent.  Take a minute and think about those two perspectives.  Write down which one you think is right and why.”

However, even as I was saying it, I had doubts that students would get “it,” and I was right.  So I quickly rephrased  and put two questions on the board — asking them to choose one and explain why:

Option One:

Yes, I think the brain is like a muscle and the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.

Option Two:

You are born with being however smart or dumb you are and that’s the way it is.

One would expect that most students would choose Option One and that’s what happened.  However, and this is where I gained an incredible insight:

The students in class who faced a number of academic challenges and who I’d lay odds have been inappropriately and inaccurately labeled “dumb” in the past all chose Option Two.

The other change was that I asked students to write a short reflection at the end of the lesson sharing what they thought of it.  They universally liked it, and the video that actually showed neurons forming made a huge impact (the link to that video is in my previous post).

One of the students who initially said that people are either born smart or dumb wrote the headline of this post:

“Now I know my brain is growing when I read every night.  It creates neurons.”

Here are some other examples:

“This was interesting because the more you learn, the bigger your brain muscle will get.  Now I know how to exercise it.”

“I liked it because it showed how you learn and your brain grows.”

“It was interesting to watch because now I know what happens when I learn.”

“I should start using my brain as much as possible.”

“It was interesting to learn about brain cells and what happens when you learn.”

Of course, we’ll see how much impact this will have over the long-term.  But I’m hopeful, and will continue to refer to it throughout the year.

(“This Is Your Brain On Learning” tells about a follow-up lesson to this activity.)

I’ll also be modifying the lesson so that it’s accessible to my English Language Learners, and will share that when it’s completed.

(Alice Mercer has posted an excellent post describing a lesson she’s done with a similar purpose. I highly recommend that you take a look at Is your brain grass or a glass?)

You might also want to see The Best Articles On The New Study Showing That Intelligence Is Not “Fixed.”