Apr 12, 2012

Friday Focus - 4/13/12

Previously, I shared with you that I planned to read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck over break, because I had heard about it on Twitter and read another educator's blog post about it.  The premise of the book is that there are two different mind states from which we operate:
  • Fixed Mindset - you believe your intelligence, skills and abilities are carved in stone, or static.
  • Growth Mindset - you believe that you can cultivate your basic qualities through your efforts.
Dweck draws upon studies and examples of students, business leaders, athletes, and her own teaching and personal life as she discusses how these differing mindsets can affect how we approach anything in life.  I found this book to be extremely interesting to me for myself as a leaner, as a teacher, as a principal, as a parent, and even as a wife.

As an educator, the student that stood out in my mind the most as I read this is that student that has so much potential, but just doesn't put forth the effort.  Maybe he/she is even highly gifted and has excelled so easily in previous grades or units, but now that the academics are getting more difficult, he's not used to having to study or work at it and doesn't.   I'm sure that you can all identify a student like this in your classroom.  A great graphic I found that highlights each mindset is below (click on this link if you need a larger view):

Image by Nigel Holmes

So, what can you do (besides pull your hair out) to help these students?  One of the biggest tools we have to help these students is our feedback/praise.  In one of Dweck's studies with hundreds of students, they started out with groups that were equal in IQ scores, but then were given different types of feedback/praise.  In one group students were given feedback that praised their ability (ex: "Wow, you got eight right. That's really good, you must be smart at this.") while the other group was given feedback/praise on their effort (ex: "Wow, you got eight right, that's a really good score. You must have worked really hard.").  After praise on ability was given, they could begin to see students differ in each group.  The students in the praise group were pushed into a fixed mindset.  When given a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from and instead picked an easy problem that they already knew how to do.  They didn't want to do anything that would expose their inability to answer a question.  In contrast, the students in the other group that were praised for their effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from. When the problems became difficult, they enjoyed them and showed better performance.  The effort praised kids showed better and better performance as the ability praised kids plummeted. 

What does this mean for us?  Kids are very intuitive to what they're being judged on and it can affect their mindset.  The very tool you have to help students be successful is in your choice of words as you provide them with feedback to empower them.  If you praise students for being smart or talented, in the long-run, you will be leading them into a fixed mindset.  If you give praise on their effort and hard work, you will be fostering in them the belief that they can continue to work hard to learn and achieve.

It is also important to think about yourself...do you have a fixed or growth mindset of yourself?  What messages are you telling yourself when you find something that you don't know how to do, or you try and fail at something?  Do you believe that you can keep working at it to learn it or do you give up?  Do you ask others for help when you're not sure or are you afraid that they will think you're stupid?

I could seriously talk about what I've learned in this book forever, but I know you only have a few minutes to read this.  For your reflection this week, please think about what your mindset is and on what type of feedback you give your students.

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