Saturday, December 24, 2011

What's Your Mindset?

Last summer I took an amazing class about developing the affective domain.  We spent some time reading and discussing the work of world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck about fixed versus growth mindsets.   I was fascinated and quickly connected this information to students I had had in the past as well as to my own three children at home. At the same time I wondered, if it could apply to students, couldn’t it also apply to teachers?  This thought led me to a new understanding.

It seems to me that a teacher with a fixed mindset holds all the treasure, and is fixed in when and how it is delivered. Students must “sit and get”. What is to be learned is doled out point by point, in a controlled manner, with someone else both in charge and passing judgment. Choices are in the hands of the teachers, curriculum is what drives those choices.  Targets are only seen on a report card or maybe just posted on a wall, set apart as an isolated item or thing to be learned “For the Test”.  If you are a teacher with a fixed mindset you don't expect that kids can make good choices, set reasonable goals, or engage independently in their learning. You must choose for them, and performance on assessments is a reflection on you. Therefore, if students don't do well you are quick to blame it on the faulty test, the confusing questions, or the kids who went too fast for the test or who are moving too slow through the curriculum.  From this fixed mindset, students are disengaged and unconnected to what they are learning.

Whereas a teacher with a growth mindset creates a space where students are checked in to how they learn best.  There is no mystery to the learning targets, they are outlined clearly for kids and routinely connected to relevant real life experiences.  Students get to choose an effective strategy based on how they learn best and apply it to what they need to know. Expectations and goals are set in a collaborative manner. Kids are steered through road blocks, boosted up along the way, joined in a team effort to achieve their highest potential, to grow in their own best interest, and to help others grow right along with them.  To me it seems that the growth mindset teacher believes that the kids can make good choices when set up for success. This teacher feels that the kids must be armed with an appreciation of their own learning needs, a clear understanding of the targets, and an understanding of how learning works. Assessments become a lens into what the students know, as well as what they still need to learn, they are formative and authentic. Choice is in the hands of the kids, thereby increasing their engagement and attachment to their learning.
This may be a gross oversimplification, but thinking about mindset from a teacher to teacher perspective (Is that teacher coming from a mindset of growth? Is that teacher exhibiting a fixed mindset?)  has changed the way I think and interact in my day to day work.  I recognize that my need to read more ideas and seek out more information relates to my own growth mindset.  I have often joked that I would like to get it all in order so I can slide in in September and relax for once, but then laugh at the inevitability of that ever occurring.  I love the chance to try something new, to learn something new, to interact with kids in new ways.  While I know there are tried and true methods, the kids change every year so being willing to adapt to meet their needs is paramount.   The information gleaned from Dweck’s work is that teaching a growth mindset to children will help them to achieve more.  My thought was imagine what teaching a growth mindset to teachers might do!  ~ Ann

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