In her book Mindset: The new psychology of success, Carol Dweck explains that the growth mindset is the belief that everyone can learn, change and grow if they make efforts, seek help and develop strategies (Dweck, 2017). Mindset compares both fixed and growth mindsets on a journey through the triumphant successes and emotional failures of students, athletes, business leaders and families. Mindset can determine how we will respond to challenges, obstacles and criticism in every area or our lives. (Holmes, 2017)
Why Revisit Growth Mindset?
As we are nearing the end of our fourth class of twelve in the Digital Learning and Leading Master’s program at Lamar University, I appreciate this opportunity to take a fresh look at the Growth Mindset. It has been four months since our initial Growth Mindset readings and project. In our journey, we designed a Growth Mindset plan, in which we outlined the steps we would take to instill it in students. My previous project was an interactive slideshow that contained a wide variety of resources including videos, books, articles and activities that could be used by students at various levels, teachers, parents and school leaders to promote a growth mindset. I believe that work was solid, and I have added just a few additional resources to include some of my new perspectives.
Since November, we have explored so many new ideas, learning philosophies, and structures for planning effective teaching in a significant learning environment. As learners, we may or may not have a conscious awareness that new knowledge or concepts affect our approach to tasks or obstacles. This post will examine Growth Mindset from another perspective, armed with my new learning and consider how to transfer that to students in a significant learning environment. Considering what we have learned, revisiting how we can implement growth mindset makes sense. As I support teachers in my role, I will also consider methods for helping them build a growth mindset.
One of the activities we did in EDLD 5302 was to look at our Professional Learning Networks and consider how they can support our teaching and learning. I see the connection between those learning networks and the “collectives” we learned about in reading Thomas and Seeley’s The New Culture of Learning. If we are creating significant learning environments where the teacher role shifts to facilitator, students will need to become adept at learning within a collective. A growth mindset will be particularly helpful when this occurs. For example, as students are seeking information or feedback (feed forward) about the design of a project or iteration of a design that may be failing, they will need to be open to learning from criticism or suggestions from their collective, whether that is classmates, or someone in a group or forum online.
How can a teacher help instill that willingness to accept criticism? I believe that if the learning environment feels safe, and students are encouraged to respectfully provide suggestions and ideas, and if the teacher models accepting feedback, students will grow. That safe feeling has to be built up over time.
Also, I discovered a book called the Feedback Fix in which Joe Hirsch describes of method of providing feed forward that regenerates talent, is authentic and has an impact. If teachers consider using some of the strategies in this book, and model delivering and receiving effective feedback, that will bolster the significant learning environment.
To further support receiving feedback, I have included a video for students ages 9 – 12 that reminds them to “Listen for Feedback” in my slideshow (Slide 20) full of growth mindset resources.
Another element of the growth mindset that will support students in a significant learning environment is the ability to persist in the face of setbacks. In my previous example I mentioned that a student may struggle with some part of their authentic learning project or an iteration of a design. Students must be willing to persist. They will only grow that muscle if they are presented with opportunities to use it. Similar to giving and and receiving effective feed forward, I think the best way for that to be effective is for the teachers to model persistence and provide time and opportunities for students to persist.
Mindsets affect the way students view themselves, their abilities and drive to overcome failure or difficulty. Having a fixed mindset can limit students in their willingness to stretch beyond their comfort level to learn and achieve. Conversely, having a growth mindset can lead students to bravely try new skills (Lenz, 2015).
After reading COVA, Choice, Ownership and Voice through Authentic Learning, I am convinced that if students have choice and voice in the learning activities or projects they are designing, they are more likely to persist in the face of setbacks. “Constructivists, like Jonassen (1999), argue that ownership of the problem is key to learning because it increases learner engagement and motivation to seek out solutions.” (Harapnuik, 2018)
Last weekend I had the privilege of watching about 50 students demonstrate their growth mindset at our district elementary Science Olympiad. I spent the bulk of my day judging an engineering competition called Mystery Architecture. Students were provided with materials and were asked to create the tallest tower that could support a tennis ball. They were given 20 minutes to achieve this. Students worked in pairs to construct the towers out of plastic cups, styrofoam plates straws, and a lot of masking tape.
I was astounded by the collaboration and maturity that these nine-year-olds demonstrated. Each team worked really well together, providing suggestions and feedback to each other. Countless times, the tall towers would topple over when topped with a tennis ball. The teams persisted and fervently embraced the challenge. The effort that the kids put into constructing these towers was remarkable. It is those types of challenges and authentic learning experiences that will serve our students well, as they are gained more skills from that than just simple knowledge of the fact that gravity exists.
Part of what drove these students to persist in their building was that this was an activity that had chosen to be involved with. They had a voice in choosing to compete in the Science Olympiad in this specific event. So the drive to achieve directly affected the mindset of the students.
Power of Yet
If students are aware of their mindset, and about how they are thinking and feeling when they come to a topic or task that is challenging, they can stop and make a choice. When students have been exposed to the power of yet, the notion that it is acceptable not to get something right the first time, they can approach that task with positivity and grit (Lisa, 2020). This is a practice that must be developed over time. While I do believe that the topics of Growth Mindset should be formally introduced as in the plan listed below, what will have greater impact is frequent, informal, “teachable moment” reinforcement and modeling.
For example, last week at work, our team was in a planning meeting and one of my colleagues, who I admire as a very experienced teacher and leader, said “I just don’t know how to do that,” referring to using a video program. Without missing a beat, my boss said, “YET, you don’t know how to do it yet!”
I thought to myself. “Hmmm! Now that is how it’s done!” Without calling it growth mindset, my boss effectively and briefly encouraged my colleague. I was very inspired by that, and connected it to my learning in this program. It reminded me that learners of all ages need reinforcement in the ideas of grit, determination and growth mindset.
Achievement or Learning? What is the goal?
For the ideas behind growth mindset to be effective, teachers need to use them thoughtfully. In her blog post, Jackie Gerstein asserts that growth mindset should not be just used as a tool to push students. Whether it should be a method to help them consider their level of effort throughout a learning process. The graphic that she develops that outlines a thought process for students is helpful. If teachers are emphasizing level of effort over grades, perhaps this can help reduce student preoccupation with grades.
As a mom, I observed my daughter have a preoccupation with grades. I always encouraged her to do her best, but never pressured her to make the best grades. I’m not sure where that drive came from. Was it from a need to be the best? Was it from some message she gleaned from her teachers? When I was studying growth mindset a few months ago, I asked if teachers had ever spoken to her of growth mindset. She knew all about growth mindset and said that it helped her develop grit and determination. I am hopeful that her teachers used it in ways to encourage true learning while engaged in meaningful authentic work, rather than simply focusing on achieving success.
If teachers create a significant learning environment with authentic learning opportunities that students are naturally invested in because they have choice, ownership and voice in the activities, then the willingness and interest to persist in learning will override the need to earn a good grade.
This video from an Innerdrive blog post gives a nice explanation of the Growth Mindset, along with several tips for supporting growth mindset in students. I added this resource for teachers to my slideshow as well. (Slide 43)
The growth mindset plan below includes some of the resources from the slideshow, which addresses approaches for supporting students, parents, teachers and leaders in the development of a growth mindset.
At every level of the plan Carol Dweck’s four step process to changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset should be included. This process involves being aware of your thoughts, taking a pause from the emotion of the difficulty and making a conscious decision to change the thought pattern. The final, most important step is to take the growth mindset action.
- Step 1 Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice”
- Step 2 Recognize that you have a choice
- Step 3 Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice
- Step 4 Take the growth mindset action
- Adults in all roles should understand the impact of having and sharing a growth mindset. (Ackerman, 2020) This can be established by providing training and support. Mindsetkit is an excellent free resource for self-paced training for all roles.
- Students should be introduced to these concepts with formal lessons. Formal lessons can come from resources such as:
- Learner Lab
- Other materials created by teachers
- Students should be reminded frequently, whenever the opportunity arises, to consider their mindset. This can take the form of:
Personal Impact and Approach
Learning about growth mindset has significantly impacted my approach to the Digital Learning and Leading program. I now have a broader view of my capabilities and strengths and how they can be utilized not just for success, but for the sake of learning. I do not always have a growth mindset, but do have the skill of reframing my thinking to take a new approach. My aim is to share that skill and others with the people I encounter for positive learning, whether they are classmates, colleagues, students or others. I must say that the work we did in EDLD 5302 has stuck with me, and I have caught myself demonstrating some of the traits of having a growth mindset in many (but not all) areas of my life as a result.
Some examples are:
- Embrace Challenges: This Digital Learning and Leading program has certainly been challenging, and I have persevered despite the challenges.
- Persist in the face of setbacks: The winter storm and a couple of minor illnesses over the past couple of months felt like setbacks in terms of time. Work time was lost, but I persisted at my work and with school.
- Learn from Criticism: This year, with staff changes in our department, I have had several opportunities to listen to the suggestions and feedback of colleagues that are new to me. I have been able to respectfully stand my ground in many instances while also learning from the suggestions. This requires taking the emotion out of the situation enough to be able to listen to the suggestion.
- Find inspiration in the success of others: I have two new young colleagues this year, and watching them grow has been inspiring. They don’t recognize their own strengths yet, but they do have phenomenal leadership ability that I can learn from! Also, I have enjoyed the collegiality of collaborating with my classmates this session. We rely on each other as information resources, but we also motivate each other to continue persevering.
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