Thursday, March 19, 2015

Developing a growth mindset

Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck has long been a hero of mine and the opportunity to see her speak today was something I’ve long been looking forward to. Alongside that is my growing discomfort around messages students receive through ability grouping and the barriers they get presented through course prerequisites through the secondary system. I personally know I’d rather have a student prepared to apply themselves in my Year 12 Chemistry class, a student who will work on problems, nut them out, seek clarification, take account of feedback, persevere despite setbacks and be determined to succeed. However, sometimes these students might not get there as they’d previously been placed into a lower band class and now do not have the required prerequisites deemed necessary for success in my course. What do we need to be doing differently to enable students to move through a banding or streaming structure and not be pigeonholed into a fixed pathway?

Carol Dweck today presented a range of solutions, stemming largely from an overwhelming need for students, teachers and institutions to develop a growth mindset of intelligence (seeing intelligence can be developed) rather than a fixed mindset (seeing intelligence as a fixed trait). Developing growth mindset means: 1. students focus on learning, rather than on focusing on how they look (smart, or at least not dumb) 2. Students work hard and recognize effort is the key to success rather than expecting success should come naturally due to innate ability or intelligence 3. Students confront mistakes and deficiencies and embrace these as opportunities to learn rather than hide from mistakes and deficiencies seeing these instead as failures.

It seems praise plays an important part in the development of these mindsets – from both parents and teachers. Rather than praise being about ability “You’re so smart”, “How clever are you?” praise should focus on processes – for example, embracing the struggle. Praising the fact that students are prepared to persevere, or adopt a different strategy, or put in extra effort and time into solving a problem. This is one of the key things we need to be doing to develop a growth mindset and it is never too late. As a teacher, a parent, within our institution we need to confront our own fixed mindsets – where do they exist, how are they perpetuated? If we have these fixed mindsets, what do we need to do about it? We need to be communicating to students within our schools they are in a growth mindset school where they can be aspirational and not feel we’ve placed in a box with a predetermined set of outcomes for them.

So where does this leave streaming, or it our case broad banding? On a pragmatic level, at least within Year 11 – 13, students are at different levels of readiness for specific courses and achievement standards used to assess them. This is a result of the many years of schooling they’ve had to get them to this point and all the many and varied factors that contribute to their understanding at this point in time. This has necessitated the need for different courses to cater for where students are at. However, at the very least, students need to be allowed the freedom to be able to apply themselves, put in the necessary effort and be able to move across these unseen barriers that currently exist between these courses. Described by Carol as permeable streaming (or permeable banding) the knowledge of this ability to move from one place to the next at least offers students the chance to develop a growth mindset in an institution where this can result in differing outcomes and more positive outcomes for them. In my mind though, this is just one small practical application to a wider need for development of a growth mindset in students, staff, parents, institutions and our community. 

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