Dear Ally,

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Focus on Learning


Dear Ally,

It’s finals week and you’re taking your chemistry final as I write this. I hope all your final exams went well. I’m sure you’re glad they’re over after today.

Last Thursday a colleague and I attended a presentation entitled “Building Confidence Through a Growth Mindset” by Dr. Carissa Romero, who works with Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University. It was a fascinating talk that made me wish I was teaching right now so I could try the techniques used for encouraging students to have a growth mindset.


A Christmas break reading suggestion

As a scientist, I embrace the idea of learning from mistakes and that finding what doesn’t work is sometimes just as important as finding out what does, but this talk made me realize how profoundly this attitude affects my life.

Did you know that you can grow your brain by working at challenging problems (maybe you’ve seen the Luminosity commercials)? Did you know that teaching students about the neuroplasticity of the brain will positively affect their achievement?

Two influential teachers come to mind when I think about these ideas: my junior high history teacher, Mr. John Viall, and my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Jon Parquette. Mr. Vial told my class about a young lady who did really well in his class, not because she was smart, but because she worked hard and never gave up. In grad school, every time I despaired over a setback in my research, Dr. Parquette would remind me that I was getting an education.  Although they probably weren’t aware of the mindset research, both of them were instilling into me the value of striving for improvement.


How you approach challenges, and college is supposed to be challenging, and what you do after a setback are more important than succeeding or failing. So if you did not do as well in a class as you’d hoped, don’t feel stupid or consider yourself a failure. Realize that you just haven’t mastered the material yet and make a plan for how you’ll do better next semester. In other words, analyze the data and move on. You’re not only learning course content, but you’re also learning how to “do college” and as long as you’re learning, that’s what matters.

See you soon!

Aunt Sarah




1 Comment

  1. […] Focus on Learning […]


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