Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Growth Mindsets: The proof is in the classroom.

I'm sure by now every person working at the system level as I do has read, highlighted, and committed certain parts of Dweck's article about Fixed and Growth Mindsets to memory. After all, it's not new and frankly, it's not rocket-science right?
Fundamental to the work I've been doing this year has been to convince students that they CAN become better readers and learners.  The bigger challenge:  to convince teachers to raise their expectations and believe that their students can rise to the occasion. Fostering a growth mindset sometimes feels like an impossible task.

I've seen the breakthroughs happen in one classroom in particular.  A high school English teacher and I set out to work with a group of students in a grade 9 applied class.  These are students with ranging abilities, many of whom with special education needs.

We shared with the students our belief that as they practice the various reading strategies in class, that they would indeed become better readers.  We started with content that the students would enjoy, "Is technology making our lives better or worse?"  We ensured that every lesson afforded students the opportunity to talk to one another and to interact with text.  We also allowed them to use their smartphones (surveys, look up information).  We stood back and said, "Tell me more" and "Mmm, that's interesting, what do the rest of you think about that?", instead of jumping in with the answers.

And daily we would ask them:  "How did this  help you to understand the text you were reading?"

The result?  Students were actively engaged.  They were asking probing and thoughtful questions.  They were talking about what they were reading.  They were making connections.  They showed us how much prior knowledge they had.

I'm anxiously awaiting to see the response to our survey question: "Are you a better reader today than you were at the beginning of the semester." I'm willing to bet that the majority of them will say yes. 

Sadly, I've not really seen this happen in too many places.  Students come in feeling like they are putting in their time.  Teachers try to cope with the varying levels in the class by reducing the challenge, by offering low level activities--don't misunderstand, I did this as well--it was all well-intentioned.

It's really up to all of us to ensure that teachers and students alike see intelligence as something that can be nurtured every day.

Eduardo Biceno has a great TED talk about this topic as well.

Though the real challenge here is having those courageous conversations with teachers who say, "My level 2's" or "My Applieds"  or "I can do that with my Academics, but there's no way my Applieds can do that".  The other challenge is to provide support for students' learning needs without watering down the content.

There is no greater feeling than when theory turns into action and meaningful learning--for everyone involved!