When I think about Carol Dweck and praise, I am taken back to the Educational Leadership article in 2005 entitled, The Perils and Promises of Praise (PDF). It feels like the title begins to outline the fact that there are two sides to the praise conversation. Just this month Carol had a commentary in Education Week, Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’ where she candidly shares what’s been learned since the publishing of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – information about the pitfalls, misunderstandings and what can be done (Dweck 2015). In my post about superheroes and growth mindset I quoted Dweck’s definition of a growth mindset –
In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
For some, praise focuses on effort. If that is where the growth mindset conversation starts and stops, it seems incomplete. Effort is so much more. It is about having a variety of strategies and tools to use to problem solve. James Joyce said, “Mistakes are the portals to discovery.” We talk about building more inquiry into our learning experiences. How can we develop metacognition and teach our students to problem solve if we don’t equip them with tools to help them figure out what worked, what didn’t and what they can do about it? As Dweck said, “[growth mindset] is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.” How can students grow and learn more when we aren’t doing the same?
Consider for a moment the role of interim and formative assessment in supporting Dweck’s ideas about growth mindset. “Telling the truth about current achievement” is part of the purpose behind both interim and formative assessment. If we use an interim assessment (i.e., Measures of Academic Progress) at intervals throughout the school year, we can measure achievement and growth over time, identify patterns, determine instructional needs of students and classes, and help students set learning goals. But what happens in-between interim assessments? That’s where the use of formative assessment (practices and tools, i.e., Skills Navigator) can be critical to building synapses and helping students get smarter. Evidence about where students are in their learning can be gathered minute-to-minute and day-by-day with immediate and near future adjustments (“doing something about it”) to both instruction and learning occurring to help students keep growing.
One question I use often with teachers is “What’s formative about that?” They might be discussing pedagogy or results of some task or assessment. They might just be speculating about what to do next. As my focus is typically on helping teachers get better (more explicit) about their use of formative assessment practices (and using the results), that question is front and center for me. It also pushes me to grow when teachers offer their thinking. Dweck poses this question – “How can we help educators adopt a deeper, true growth mindset, one that will show in their classroom practices?” Then she shares that in order for us to do this we need to pay attention to both our own fixed-mindset thoughts and actions. When do they surface? How do we respond when they do? Do you look for excuses or new ways of seeing and thinking? Are there situations where you do one or the other and others where you might do both?
In Academic Mindsets as a Critical Component of Deeper Learning, Camille Farrington (2013) actually talks about four different academic mindsets with growth being one of the four. If we consider that classroom context is key in supporting the fixed/growth mindset conversation (and practice) we have to think about productive struggle versus destructive struggle and what constitutes appropriate challenge. Choice, supports, feedback, and norms also all contribute to setting students up to grow as learners. Changing conditions are sometimes fundamental to beginning to use the ideas of fixed and growth mindset.
For me, this is my question of the day – As an educator, what helps your brain grow?
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