Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.

Growth Mindsets in Differentiation & Feedback

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Nothing suggests 'loser' quite like a table for one and a book with that cover blurb. ;)

Nothing suggests ‘loner’ quite like a table for one and a book with that cover blurb. 😉 #GrowthMindset

After reading/hearing so much about Carol Dweck’s Mindset over the last couple of years, I was finally able to read the book on the train from London to Bath. I’d become so familiar with the ideas that it felt like 200+ pages of déjà vu, although the main messages are perhaps worth reinforcing.

It’s an easy read, in a style similar to Pink, Goleman, Gladwell and co., though I did find myself skimming over yet another American sports example (Woods, Wooden, Jordan, Wie, Yankees, McEnroe). There were some interesting sections on leadership, parenting and relationships, though I was really looking for more practical advice on how to build growth mindsets in my students.

Some key messages for parents and educators

  • A fixed mindset is seen as a personal success or failure, a (permanent) label on a person of their worth.
  • Fixed-mindsets value ability over effort and when effort is put in it is in order to affirm one’s status at the top; they might be seen to ‘learn’ a lot as they perform highly in tests and assessments, but this may be due only to the effect of their achievement affirming their fixed mindset.
  • Fixed mindsets see difficulty as a weakness or threat and so may not put in the effort in case they fail.
  • Growth mindsets embrace the challenge of difficulty and see the value in learning as a journey.
  • Growth mindsets demonstrate resilience in failure and use difficulties to set workable plans for improvement
  • Growth mindset leaders and teachers embrace their own personal learning and seek to develop learning communities: it is OK to not know… yet.
  • Growth mindset leaders take time to listen, learn and evaluate fairly. They surround themselves with knowledgable inquirers and weed out the fixed mindset culture of fear and/or affirming status. They might be lower-key than the high-powered fixed-mindset hero-leaders, but they build a more sustainable and trusting culture.

Feedback and Mindsets

Samudra, determined to ride the space tower thing at LegoLand. Photo (c) Stephen Taylor.

Samudra, determined to ride the space tower thing at LegoLand. Photo (c) Stephen Taylor.

It is clear that our words and actions as parents and teachers reinforce kids’ views of themselves and their behaviour adjusts accordingly. By focusing on personal feedback (praise or criticism), we may affect the mindset of the child, either reinforcing the ego or damaging the student’s motivation to improve. By focusing on tasks and processes, looking at how we can improve, we might help students develop more growth mindsets. A good strategy for effective feedback that builds on the growth mindset might be Hattie’s Three Levels (Task, Process and Self-regulation).

Differentiation and Mindsets

When we focus on ability-related feedback, conversations or behaviours are we limiting the growth mindset? Dweck suggests that this is compounded when the curriculum is ‘dumbed-down’ and that having high expectations for all students, coupled with valuable feedback, will increase achievement. Sounds obvious, but may not always play out in class. Avoid the temptation to make the curriculum easier for the ‘less able’ students and instead Differentiate Up from a core. Challenge everyone, support everyone.

Approaches to Learning and Mindsets

We all want our students to do well, but more than that we should want them to love learning and become enthusiastic lifelong learners. Taking steps to weed out fixed-mindset behaviours and language from our classes and our cultures in order to develop strategies towards becoming more growth-oriented might bring us part of the way. This is where we can start to see the importance of the Affective skills clusters of the IB’s Approaches to Learning, and will likely be an area that requires significant teacher (and parent) professional development. Coupled with a strong curriculum and high-impact teaching and learning and we might just get there.

I used to think you were smart.” Calvin and Hobbes strip that neatly sums up fixed vs growth mindsets, used on p40 of Dweck’s Mindset.

………..o0O0o………..

I’ll admit, the idea of Mindset seems a little too neat for me – we are more nuanced and complex than either-or (which she recognises in the book). Personally, for example, I would see myself as very growth-mindset in that I seek development, learn more and reflect on everything; however, I can take perceived failure or criticism very personally, which is a more fixed-mindset trait. I also recognise that the book is aimed at a mass-market audience, and so there is much reference to ‘our research’ without a lot of depth. I would prefer a more academic, education-focused edition of this, with fewer popular-culture, big-CEO or sports stories and more about how this has been investigated.

As a tool for teachers, the language of fixed vs growth mindset will make it easier to have conversations with students and parents, and we can develop or make use of strategies that reinforce the nature of learning as a growth process. I am looking forward to seeing how schools start to put some of these ideas to use in their development of the Approaches to Learning.

I have added this book to the MYP Coordinator’s Bookshelf , but would really recommend any of the other books as good reads before moving onto this one. 

………o0O0o……….

This is a total cheese-fest, but anyone who says they don’t like Dolly has a heart of stone. Her recent single, Try, does a pretty neat job of capturing the Growth Mindset and the role of effort in success – and it’s the theme song for her literacy charity, Imagination Library.

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Author: Stephen

Director of Learning & MYP Coordinator at Canadian Academy, Kobe, Japan. Formerly MYP HS Science & IBDP Bio teacher and missing it terribly. Twitterist (@sjtylr), dad and bloggerer.

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