I came across Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success a few years ago. In my initial burst of excitement, I quickly created brief activities to introduce the growth mindset to my students by compiling short readings and asking students to reflect on their own views to see where they fall along the spectrum from fixed to growth.
While I still use some aspects of those activities, I found that I didn’t consistently apply Dweck’s ideas or truly move students from seeing intelligence and ability as fixed to one that sees it as malleable.
I wasn’t able to make her ideas a regular part of the class because I didn’t create frequent reminders for myself to change my habits for giving praise and feedback. Also, I didn’t deliberately seek opportunities to highlight my own failures or of historical figures.
After re-reading her book, here are 3 ways I hope to change that:
#1 Teach students about the brain early & often
While discussing the syllabus at the beginning of the year I share my philosophy on giving feedback and not grading everything, offering retakes/redoes and encouraging students to ask for help. I explain that I emphasize feedback over grading and try to give multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning because I believe that all students have the ability to grow and master a new concept or skill.
This belief is backed by neuroscience. Therefore, while discussing the syllabus I could take 15 minutes to show and discuss videos explaining how challenges and repeated deliberate practice can actually grow your brain:
#2 Change how I praise students & give feedback
I know I should be focusing on effort, but our culture and our own experiences as a student & child often leave unhelpful or even harmful practices ingrained in us. By posting some of the charts below next to my desk, I can get quick visual reminders on how I should be praising students.
|Student Performance: Effort. Learning a new skill requires that the student work hard and put forth considerable effort–while often not seeing immediate improvement.
For beginning learners, teacher praise can motivate and offer encouragement by focusing on effort (‘seat-time’) rather than on product (Daly et al., 2007).
|“Today in class, you wrote non-stop through the entire writing period. I appreciate your hard work.“|
|Student Performance: Accuracy. When learning new academic material or behaviors, students move through distinct stages (Haring et al., 1978). Of these stages, the first and most challenging for struggling learners is acquisition. In the acquisition stage, the student is learning the rudiments of the skill and strives to respond correctly.
The teacher can provide encouragement to students in this first stage of learning by praising student growth in accuracy of responding.
|“This week you were able to correctly define 15 of 20 biology terms. That is up from 8 last week. Terrific progress!”Â|
|Student Performance: Fluency. When the student has progressed beyond the acquisition stage, the new goal may be to promote fluency (Haring et al., 1978).
Teacher praise can motivate the student to become more efficient on the academic task by emphasizing that learner’s gains in fluency (a combination of accuracy and speed of responding).
|“You were able to compute 36 correct digits in two minutes on today’s math time drill worksheet. That’s 4 digits more than earlier this week–impressive!”|
|Work Product: Student Goal-Setting. A motivating strategy for a reluctant learner is to have him or her set a goal before undertaking an academic task and then to report out at the conclusion of the task about whether the goal was reached.
The teacher can then increase the motivating power of student goal-setting by offering praise when the student successfully sets and attains a goal. The praise statement states the original student goal and describes how the product has met the goal.
|“At the start of class, you set the goal of completing an outline for your paper. And I can see that the outline that you produced today looks greatâ€”it is well-structured and organized.”|
|Work Product: Using External Standard. Teacher praise often evaluates the student work product against some external standard.
Praise tied to an external standard reminds the student that objective expectations exist for academic or behavioral performance (e.g., Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics) and provides information about how closely the student’s current performance conforms to those expectations.
When comparing student work to an external standard, the teacher praise-statement identifies the external standard and describes how closely the student’s work has come to meeting the standard.
|“On this assignment, I can see that you successfully converted the original fractions to equivalent fractions before you subtracted. Congratulationsâ€”you just showed mastery of one of our state Grade 5 math standards!”|
SOURCE: Intervention Central
|You say . . .||You could say . . .||Why?|
|Good job!||I can really see your effort in revision.||Praising effort and process encourages writers to keep trying. (Dweck)|
|You’re a good writer.||Those drafts paid off in sentence variety and imagery.||Encouraging growth instead of fixed mindset makes for happier people in charge of their progress. (Dweck)|
|You don’t know how to use semi-colons.||You haven’t mastered semi-colons yet.||The power of yet suggests growth and mastery. (Dweck and Pink)|
SOURCE: Mindset Scholars Network
#3 Model failure & growth
When teaching history we often discuss people’s accomplishments as inevitable facts. We rarely describe how Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, etc failed often before they found success. Similarly, in Math & Science we rarely take the time to discuss the process of discovering new theorems or inventions and present them as fully developed ideas. I need to do a better job taking some time to highlight how every celebrated person struggled throughout their lives and failed numerous times before they found success.