For the past few years, “growth mindset” has generated a lot of conversation in the education world. Both adults and students have opportunities to develop a growth mindset, to shift their thinking from perhaps being “fixed” in what they imagine they are capable of doing. These ideas have been articulated most authoritatively in the work of Carol Dweck.
Many of us are focused on growth measures, so want to be careful about potentially conflating growth measures with mindset. Let’s take a few minutes to look at the vocabulary, concepts and connections within these two phrases.
Here’s a quick definition of growth mindset from Dweck’s work to get us started.
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.
In education, growth mindset is about changing the culture of learning and moving both adults and children into opportunities for personal, academic and professional growth.
Growth measures are more focused on tools (typically assessments) that allow the measurement of growth in student learning, which lead us into some basic terms that center around assessment literacy.
- Measurement is the act or process of measuring – determining the attributes or dimensions of some physical object. Beyond this general definition, in the field of education it typically refers to the principles and procedures such as standard scores, raw scores, percentile ranks, etc. or standard tools. Some information we gain is more useful than others depending upon the accuracy of the tools we use or our skill at using them.
- Metrics are the results we get from measuring – they may be a standard we use that relates to statistics. In education we ask, Did students learn what they were expected to learn? Or Where are students in their learning? We begin to answer both of these questions using the metrics we glean from measuring. Having data that helps us pinpoint student success is important. Understanding that data, the metrics, is even more important. For some, student achievement and growth data are seen as the most important data schools can collect.
According to CCSSO, “Growth describes the academic performance of a student or group (a collection of students) over two or more time points.” (2013). Often growth measures are used to support growth models, which are usually a mathematical or statistical method to describe academic performance of a student (or group) over two or more points in time. CCSSO’s definition says, “A growth model is a collection of definitions, calculations, or rules that summarizes student performance over two or more time points and supports interpretations about students, their classrooms, their educators, or their schools.” In their 2013 report, Castellano and Ho reviewed seven different growth models to help guide practitioners.
Let’s look at the idea of using a growth measure to support a growth model. If we want to look at a student’s performance over multiple points in time, we may be asking questions such as, How much growth or Growth to where? (making predictions). Certain metrics, such as percentile ranks, help make it easier to see and compare growth. Some growth measures on the market provide these types of metrics.
Now growth mindset is an entirely different topic. It is about learning and the brain rather than measures and the resulting data. Dweck found two views of character, intelligence and ability in her research. One of those views is static or the idea that those elements are all givens and not changeable – a fixed mindset. With this mindset people have a hunger for approval. The opposing idea – a growth mindset – sees challenges and failures as opportunities to learn and grow. This growth mindset is grounded in the belief that you can change and grow through your own efforts. It creates a passion for learning. Some teachers even talk with students about “growing their brains“ or the power of “yet.”
The McKinsey 2007 report, How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better, suggests that “A system can make significant gains from wherever it starts.” People and systems both have the opportunity to grow and change. This finding in the McKinsey report supports the idea that systems aren’t fixed, and we know systems are supported by people. We also know people use data to support systems.
How might the use of growth measures support the development or deepening of a growth mindset? Let’s consider a few more characteristics of a growth mindset: challenge is worthwhile; effort matters; getting things wrong and receiving feedback is positive, particularly when it guides improvement; and learning is important. With these types of characteristics, having data about where you are in your learning can be a strong support for moving forward. That’s where the use of a growth measure comes in to play.
If growth measures provide the change in academic performance over two or more points in time, then being able to determine a starting point and track the change (growth) lets us know what type of progress we are making. We can get a picture of what and how much learning is taking place and where we are in relationship to our goals. This provides us an opportunity to receive feedback, set goals, use the feedback and monitor our forward (upward) progress.
Bruce Mau, Canadian graphic designer said this about growth…
You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
Knowing we all have a bit of both mindsets (fixed and growth), where is your growth mindset leading you? How open are you to experience and how willing to change?