The Power of Yet: A Free School Counseling Lesson

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”  -Albert Einstein

Teaching growth mindset to students is fundamental to ensure their educational success.  Students must understand that in order to reach our goals, we must step out of our comfort zone and try tasks that are just beyond our ability level.  In my second grade lesson titled “The Power of Yet” I taught students the power of self-discipline and perseverance as they strive to reach their goals and the value of positive self-talk (Standards SS8 & SS9).  

As the activating strategy, students watched a short video called “The Marshmallow Test” in which young children were recorded trying to restrain their desire to eat the marshmallow in front of them with the reward of a second marshmallow when the adult returned.  My classroom of students was asked a series of questions:

  • What age group struggled to not eat the marshmallow?  
  • What were some of the strategies you noticed kids using to resist/or keep from eating the marshmallows?  
  • Were some students cheating?
  • What might the children in the video have been saying to themselves to keep them from eating the marshmallows?

Once we discussed the video, I introduced the concepts of self-discipline and perseverance to the students.  Self-discipline is the ability to pursue what one thinks is right or what one wants despite temptations to stop pursuing one’s goals. Perseverance is doing something even though it is difficult and might take some time to achieve.  We applied the definitions of self-discipline and perseverance to the marshmallow video we had just watched.

To further define the concept of the growth mindset, students watched a short Sesame Street video titled “The Power of Yet” in which Elmo and Zoe attempt difficult tasks that require perseverance and self-discipline. I paused the video twice to ask questions about the characters, should Zoe give up?  If so, what would happen if she did? How many times did it take her to get the right answer? How often do we just give up after the first attempt?

Following the video discussion, I read “How to Catch a Star” by Oliver Jeffers. As I read the story, I asked the students to stand behind their desks and we acted out the attempts that the little boy made in the book to reach his goal of catching a star.  I lead the group as we mimicked the little boy as he waited (tapped our feet), climbed to the top of the tree (pretended to climb a tree and looked out), and all of the other attempts that the little boy made–even the moment when he found the star, we all pretended to pick up the star and hug it.  

We talked about the growth mindset of the little boy in the story, how he had to try so many different methods to reach his goal and we discussed what he might have said to himself in order to keep going despite all the challenges he’d faced.  Students were given a cut out of a star and asked to draw a picture of themselves reaching a difficult goal on one side and the positive self-talk they needed to hear in order to keep going.  Students drew a myriad of goals from a particular gymnastics move to memorizing all of their multiplication tables.  Some of their positive self-talk included “You can do it!” and “You’ve got this!” along with a lot of students saying, “Keep going!”  This lesson only took 45 minutes to conduct, but months later the students were still telling me about the goals they’d achieved as a result of their star creations.