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The Growth Mindset

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Feb 17, 2017

shutterstock_449078884.jpgDeveloped in Carol Dweck's book, a growth mindset is the idea that we can work towards our goals. It's not so much whether or not we're good at something, because we can be not good at something yet and still be working toward it. When a student says “I can’t do this,” you need to train your students to add “yet.” The understanding needs to be that they might not yet be good at something, but that hard work can get them there and in the classroom that’s what we do: get closer to that goal, even if we still don’t achieve it. As a teacher, a key piece of this is coaching. Acting as the coach rather than the sage on the stage, listening to students and believing in them, is key to developing a culture of grit in the Next Generation model.

For instance, when you talk to students, you have to use a specific approach. For instance, if you ask them a question, they will give you an answer. You need to listen for what they mean when they answer rather than simply what they say, because often they what they say and what they mean will fail to line up. When this happens, you must ask another question and help them get to that true meaning. The whole purpose of this is to help them build the tools they need to express their meaning, sometimes verbally, sometimes in writing and sometimes in other modalities.

You'll want to use examples of your struggles to help students understand that it's not just “them.” They need to understand that adults aren't "good" at everything either, that adults engage in hard work, and that by engaging in hard work as students, we develop skills that are going to help us adults.

You'll also need to question students about their ideas and provide them immediate feedback. You don't want students to run off for an hour developing a plan, executing it and then looking at the results all on their own. Instead, you need to create checkpoints so that students are getting immediate feedback all the way along: at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes and so on. Students teams should always be coming up and filtering through, so that you are constantly in dialogue with them.

The last step is grading a student’s progress and not the product delivered. To do this, you need to grade based on how the student changes, set clear and consistent expectations about what is expected, and look for those expectations in student growth. If you aren’t clear and consistent, students won’t believe you, they will disengage and you will see limited growth. However, if you consistently reward growth by grading the result of the effort rather than grading whether they’ve met some milestone or not – giving either a 1 or a 0, a right or a wrong –  then you create that culture of grit. Otherwise, you create a culture where high-level students can give you the “right” answer with little effort, and disengaged students who can’t do so easily disengage because of their inherent belief that they are not and never will be “good at this.” Neither student will develop anything new.

For the high-level student, what has really changed, after all? What are you grading? You're grading their stable home life or their ability to take vacations to exotic places. A high-level student who stays high isn’t developing. On the other hand, the low-level student who has not had these opportunities and works their way from low to mid-level is seeing huge growth as a result of their effort. That is exemplary work. You should be requiring that same type of effort from higher level students by drilling them deeper in other areas. That’s where creating an environment in which challenge exceeds skill becomes critical.

Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, Growth Mindset

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