I love to search online for inspiration and new content for my classroom. I’ve been on the hunt for newly published children’s picture books, and I recently came across a book on Amazon perfect for promoting a growth mindset called Where Oliver Fits by Cale Atkinson.
The main character is a puzzle piece who can’t find where he belongs, so he goes from puzzle to puzzle looking for his home. Each puzzle he comes across he finds that he just doesn’t belong. Waiting and looking for his home gets the best of him, and he decides to take matters into his own hands.
Because of this, he quickly and eagerly changes himself to look like a piece to one of the puzzles. He changes his color, and he also cuts and pastes parts to himself so he’s juuuust the right shape to fit in. After living inside the puzzle for a while, he comes to find out that even though he has made himself to fit in, he feels as if he’s lost his true identity.
He jumps out of the puzzle to be revealed as an “imposter”, stripping off the color and extras that made him “fit in” before. He starts to feel lonely again, only to find other friends who feel the very same. Where do they belong? Where do they go now?
Shortly after, they finally find their puzzle (their home) where they belong. Oliver feels wonderful knowing his true identity. He learned the lesson here to be true to himself, but also to be patient and kind to himself too. This is a great growth mindset lesson for students.
Oliver had a fixed mindset. Even with all of his efforts, he was trying to be like others to fit in. He didn’t believe he would find where he belonged unless he changed himself into something he really was not.
Teaching students to be kind to themselves while they are finding their way helps them to have a growth mindset. For instance, students who are having to sound out words, they think they don’t know how to read. So they start to make up words as they read because they think reading is really just talking in a normal voice word after word after word. Students need to be taught that they are still readers even if they must sound out most of the words. With practice, someday, they will be reading word for word, instead of sound to sound to figure out every word.
I made an example of myself when I came across an author’s name that was in a different language than my own. I told the students that I had to use my schema (background knowledge) of sounds that I’d already learned, and I needed to sound out the words of each letter to have the best chance to pronounce the word. So, in that instance I was modeling my own growth mindset. I’m not choosing a fixed mindset by not saying the name at all or making an excuse that I don’t know it so I don’t have to read it; or because I can’t say it correctly I’m just going to mess it up and think to myself, “Who cares?” I need to think of myself as trying (positive attitude), not just butchering a name (negative attitude)!
I created an anchor activity to go along with this message. So after reading Where Oliver Fits, I cut out some large capital letters on 8.5”x11” colored paper that spelled two words that I’d printed. The words BE KIND were printed on different colors of bright cardstock, though colored paper would work just as well. I knew that the words BE KIND has six letters and I currently have 23 students in my first grade classroom this year. I then took each letter and cut it into four pieces except for one of the letters. Since I only needed 23 pieces, one for each student, I cut the smallest letter (the letter I) into 3 pieces.
I gathered the students on my carpet and let them know I was going to give them a puzzle piece. Before I gave them their piece, I showed them some of the pieces. I said,
“This might be hard, so maybe you should go back to your seat and cut and paste extra parts to make them all fit together, right? We should do what Oliver did. We should color the pieces the colors we think they SHOULD be, right?”
The students laughed and said, “No, Mrs. Williams, we shouldn’t do that. We’ll mess up the puzzle if we do that!” They knew we were not going to make the full puzzle and see what the true picture will be if we changed the colors and shapes of the pieces. We discussed the best strategy, which was to match the colors first, and then piece those of the same color together. So then I told my students to group themselves by the same color pieces first and sit together at a desk to work out the picture of the puzzle. After that, they were to raise their hands quietly to show they were finished. As I walked around, I helped students by giving them hints, if needed.
After everyone finished, I took chart paper (or you could use butcher paper) and I ask the color of the first letter to come up. I showed them where to glue the first piece (I worked this out beforehand so I knew where to glue to space out all the letters). So after I have each group come up and paste their puzzle pieces together. B-E K-I-N-D. We then look at the whole puzzle, and we saw that all of the puzzle pieces together spelled the words BE KIND.
We finally discussed how important it was for us to be patient and kind to ourselves. Just like Oliver, at the end of the book, he found where he belonged without changing himself into something he was not. After some effort and some time, we will become great at reading, writing, math, making friends, etc.
This was a great activity to do after reading this children’s picture book, Where Oliver Fits. It’s now one of my favorites! It was a good lesson on growth mindset and how we need to be patient and kind to ourselves.
If you'd like to see other picture books that I read in my classroom to foster a growth mindset, click here to go there now.