A great way to incorporate a growth mindset into the middle school and high school ELA classroom is by introducing it through literature. As we read and teach novels in our classroom, discussing how characters persevere to overcome substantial obstacles can have more of an impact on our students’ lives than we imagine.
It is important to have your students read books that tell stories of growing up. High schoolers are especially focused on trying to find themselves and who they are. By reading texts that tell the stories of characters who have a growth mindset, students will feel like perhaps they are not that different either. Your students finding who they are, and feeling like they belong is a valuable lesson easily learned through these kinds of novels. Here are 9 different novels, both classics and young adult fiction, with a significant growth mindset that your students will love to read:
1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
In this novel, the reader watches the main character, Janie, grow up from her teenage years to her forties. Each part of the story develops her character and we watch her grow as a person, learning something from each interaction she faces and also how she overcomes the difficulties of her different husbands. There is growth in her identity as she continues on her journey.
2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is a graphic memoir-novel, but it still is a great example of growth. It tells the story of Marjane’s childhood growing up in Iran during the Revolution. The illustrations show a teenager going through the normal hardships of growing up, with the additional hardships of finding yourself in a society that isn’t accepting. There are small moments of growth within Marji herself, as she watches her country fall apart, but this also creates the overall mood for the entire story.
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This is another memoir type of novel, where Maya Angelou looks back on her life and how the horrors of her childhood have turned her into the woman she is. Angelou highlights the significance of each event in her life as a young girl with the poetic nature of her writing. The reader is able to notice how everything affects her growing up, and who she becomes by the end of the book.
4. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This novel focuses on a group of boys growing together. It highlights the significance of finding your group of friends and how your friends have an impact on who you are. Ponyboy, the character who grows a lot throughout the story, spends more and more time with the other boys and they have to face a lot of challenges, specifically the death of one of their closest friends, furthering Ponyboy’s growth as a person.
5. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
This novel follows Esperanza, a young Latina girl growing up on Mango Street in Chicago, showing her determination to leave and find a better life for herself. Esperanza meets people along the way, whom she will model her life after and try to avoid becoming like. She knows what she wants out of her life, and the story illustrates how she tries to achieve it while still showing her determination to grow along the way.
6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Pip in Great Expectations grows from a young orphan to an adult throughout the entirety of the novel. He deals with a lot of loss in his life and this causes him to develop into the adult he becomes. But Pip grows despite the loss because he does not let it hurt him; instead, he carries his growth mindset throughout his story, making the novel better.
7. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
This is one of the more recent novels on this list, and it is a young adult book telling the story of a high schooler who is worried about coming out to his family and friends while being blackmailed about his secret, so there is a lot going on in Simon’s life that causes him to grow as a character. He soon learns it is best to just be himself and becomes happy with who he is, who he has grown to become, and thus overcoming his worries. Because this secret is the drive of the story, Simon’s growth mindset is the most important theme.
8. American Streetby Ibi Zoboi
American Street is the story of Fabiola, an immigrant from Haiti coming to America with her family. Fabiola has to face the hardships of what this new life for her means, including when her mother is detained; and with all the horrors of trying to adapt to a new kind of life, her character develops. She has to navigate through this new life and faces roadblocks that may deter her determination of growth, but she will eventually grow to become a strong person.
9. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
This is a young adult novel focusing on contemporary racism through the lens of two high school boys of different races. Quinn, a white student, witnesses his black classmate, Rashad, get beaten up by a police officer, and now that he understands what is happening in the world, he realizes he can be part of the solution. Quinn has to learn more about the people around him, and he is determined to see the world as it is for other people. Rashad, despite what has happened to him, learns how to grow and how to help others who are also suffering through injustices and racism.
Growth Mindset Teaching Resources:
Growth Mindset Activities and Resources for the Secondary Classroom
Growth Mindset Escape Room
Growth Mindset Bell Ringers
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