book reviews | prevailing

how educators can grow little minds better

August 5, 2018


I love reading books. For years I’ve considered reviewing books. Shyness and inertia stalled me. This year I applied for and been accepted at a couple of book review sites. Here’s my first review on how educators can grow little minds better.

Educator’s Quick Reference Guide to Growth Mindsets, by Mary Cay Ricci (Prufrock Press, Inc., 2018)

I received a free physical copy from the publisher because I’m a reviewer for LibraryThing. This is one in a series titled “Educator’s Quick Reference Guides to Classroom Success” that includes guides to curriculum compacting, differentiation, and grit in the classroom.

my senses and sensibility

When I received the guide about growth mindsets, what immediately struck me was the feel and look.

The publisher chose to laminate the eight pages. Though lamination ups the cost, the decision means the guide will last and might be shared around. Nice choice.

Author Mary Cay Ricci, who cites her three books on mindsets in the references, stuffs these pages with lots of information. To accommodate all that content, the designer uses an itty-bitty sans-serif font for the body text. The text looks nice, but it’s hard to read. Not great for a busy classroom teacher.

Sometimes book, or in this case guide, design hampers instead of supports clear communication. Let me give two examples.

Near the bottom of page 3, my eye is drawn to three words in large, bold serif type in three separate boxes. The boxes go left to right from a white background to a light green background to a green background. Seems like readers should understand these words as a progression from left to right. In fact the three concepts—perseverance, resiliency, and grit—overlap and all fall under “The First Step to Cultivating Psychosocial Skills.”

At the top right of page 2 (near the gutter, where the pages are stapled), there’s a small figure designed to look like a clipboard with a checklist. This figure conveys the “four components of a growth mindset learning environment.” It’s clever to outline the material presented on pages 2–4 visually. But the four are in the wrong order, going from first to third to fourth to second. Kind of confusing.

And here’s an instance where I believe design drove content. This guide features only one inspirational quotation in big, blue italic text, which is fine. Except… I cannot figure out what basketball legend Michael Jordan’s words are doing in a guide for educators.

Am I being picky? Sure. Truth is, the publisher made me picky (OK, pickier) by laminating this guide.

them’s the rules (or not)

Ever since Stanford University professor Carol S. Dweck published her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, people have written about her groundbreaking thesis of fixed versus growth mindsets. (When I googled “growth mindset in education,” I received more than 34.1 million results.)

Ricci attributes the theory to Dweck at the start of the guide and cites her book in the references. After reading Ricci’s stilted writing, I wondered if she was trying to copy the way Dweck first shared mindsets.

I borrowed the tenth-anniversary updated e-book edition from my public library. Though an academic and researcher, Dweck writes as if she’s chatting with a friend. Here’s one of my favorite paragraphs from her introduction:

A little note about grammar. I know it and I love it, but I haven’t always followed it in this book. I start sentences with ands and buts. I end sentences with prepositions. I use the plural they in contexts that require the singular he or she. I’ve done this for informality and immediacy, and I hope that the sticklers will forgive me.

I rejoice in Dweck’s anti-grammar declaration. As a recognized leader in her research field and with tenure and a chair at Stanford, Dweck could take the chance to talk with instead of lecture to her readers.

Perhaps Ricci felt she needed to communicate to educators as if they were in a continuing education class. She makes sure to dot her I’s and cross her T’s. I just wish Ricci had imagined her readers as fellow teachers in the lounge clambering for her great tips on mindsets for the classroom.

quick take

This guide supplies a sufficient overview of growth mindsets tailored to the school setting.

Reviewed by Erin Michaela Sweeney. A version appears on LibraryThing.

One way I prevail is to try to do something every day that brings me joy. Reading books—and now reviewing them—does for me. Sometimes just thinking about and anticipating that joyfulness puts a smile on my face.

Quick! List three things that bring you joy. Keep it small and manageable. Share your list in a comment or just let me know how you feel.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. 1, Reading aloud to my grandchildren …and my husband. 2.Teaching a good yoga class and feeling the peaceful composure on my students faces. 3. Sharing a wonderful meal with my family. Thanks for the well thought out review Erin

  2. Carolyn: All your peacefulness is coming at me through your words. Thanks so much for sharing! Erin

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