Growing up, I’m pretty sure I had a fixed mindset. Although I did love challenges, I also loved it when teachers praised me for being smart. I didn’t have to work hard in school. I didn’t need to exert a lot of effort to get good grades.
Let’s fast forward to now. I am no longer in high school. High school was easy, even with my fixed mindset. I am no longer an undergraduate. College was a little harder, but I still did fine with my fixed mindset. I am now enrolled in the Digital Learning and Leading Master’s program at Lamar University. The fixed mindset wasn’t cutting it anymore. Gone are my days of memorizing and regurgitating for the test just so I could be defined as “smart!”
My first graduate school assignment was to create a Growth Mindset Plan. Oh Boy…I was in trouble. At least I thought I was. Thank goodness I had read Carol Dweck’s book about the growth mindset because I actually starting changing my own mindset. I actually let myself go and my plan followed. I have revisited my Growth Mindset Plan, and I am happy to report that I still believe in what I wrote for my first assignment! The difference is everything is falling into place for me better now.
Still, even today as a teacher, I sometimes find it hard to understand why kids don’t “get” something. I have even caught myself explaining a difficult concept the same way but only louder (like that’s going to work!). Thanks to (Brown & Thomas, 2011), I have realized that not everyone learns the same way and how important creating a significant learning environment really is to today’s learners. I now understand how important play, tinkering, dabbling, asking questions and just doing are to the learning process. All of these concepts fit so well with a growth mindset. All the dots I have collected are now beginning to connect!
After reading the book A New Culture of Learning, I was able to connect even more dots. As I mentioned, the authors stated how important “doing” is to learning. This led me to examine my own learning philosophy. Guess what, I learn best by doing. I’ve always known this, but my thoughts have now been validated by people more knowledgeable than me! Plus, I’ve learned that I am called a constructivist! How well does this learning philosophy work with a growth mindset? The answer is that the two are like peanut butter and jelly. I tinker, dabble, and just do. Sometimes I complete a task correctly, sometimes I fail. However, now when I fail on a project, I see this as failing forward and a great learning opportunity.
Speaking of “failing forward,” I think that may have happened with the next concept we dove into. That would be the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and 3-Column table. I just couldn’t quite grasp that 3-Column table. Basically, you start with the end in mind and go from there. I can read one and understand one created by someone else. I struggled to fit the pieces in the right spots. I received some great tips from Dr. Harapnuik regarding my table and I might be ready to tackle another one, maybe, just not right now.
The reason I probably won’t tackle another 3-Column table for a while is because we were introduced next to the UbD (Understanding by Design) approach. Both the 3-Column table and the UbD approach start with goals. You then create learning activities and assessments that are in line with your final goal. I understood the UbD and could really work with the template. Even though a UbD is much more detailed than a 3-Column table, I felt very comfortable creating my UbD plan. Look how many more dots have been connected!
So why am I collecting and connecting all of these dots? Well, one reason is that this is how the DLL program is set up! This program is one big significant learning environment with no room for a fixed mindset! Another reason is that I WANT to connect these dots! I am passionate about teaching, learning, kids, co-workers, and technology. I think my love of learning and how technology is such an asset to today’s learners is what prompted me to create the innovation plan that I did. In my innovation plan, I did not state the end goal, but I had one in mind when I wrote the plan. Since all these random dots are now revealing the big picture, I see how a focus on learning and creating a significant learning environment is crucial to the success of my innovation plan. My innovation plan showcases my blended learning classroom and how my passion for learning and teaching can help co-workers create that same environment in their classes.
It is that passion for learning, all the questions I hope to have answered, and the overall experience I am involved in that keeps me wanting to collect and connect more dots. These dots have made me realize some very important changes that I need to implement within my classroom for my innovation plan to succeed.
The first habit I need to change is praising kids for how smart they are. I must remind myself to offer praise for trying different learning strategies or using a different approach to gain knowledge. It is my job to create a significant learning environment and guide those students to seek different learning strategies.
Creating a significant learning environment is one of the ways to promote growth mindsets in students. Teachers need to learn to present material in different ways. All students do not learn in the same ways. Blended learning is a great example of how differentiated teaching can take place to promote growth mindsets. While one group of kids is watching a video, another group could be collaborating, while the third group is involved in a mini-lesson with the teacher. Blended learning reinforces the “yet” concept by offering students a variety of ways to approach their learning. Learners are more likely to think, “I just don’t have this concept, yet.” if they know there will be different ways the material is presented to them until they do “get” it.
I must remind myself to use the word “yet” more often. Simply adding yet to the end of sentences can help develop a growth mindset. I often admit to my students that I don’t know all the answers. I’ll say, “I don’t know the answer to that, yet, but let me (or help me) find the answer.” I think this is modeling the growth mindset that I hope my students will feed off of. I feel inspired to have my students create a video using the word “yet” as a reminder to me and to them.
I need to give more feedback. Giving proper feedback develops a growth mindset in individuals. Students that display a growth mindset are more willing to accept constructive criticism and actually act on it. They welcome a challenge and feedback helps learners succeed. If correct feedback is given, the students are less likely to be afraid of failing. I believe a student is less likely to cheat, give up, or lie about a grade if they are not terrified of failure. Learning from mistakes is what a growth mindset promotes.
The growth mindset can help kids not to be so worried about their grades. Yes, grades are still important. I’m talking about kids that stress about achieving good grades. They are like this because they have been praised for good grades and crave this type of praise. When guiding a mindset to use grit and perseverance towards a goal, the goal becomes a focus, getting a minor setback in the form of a bad grade will just make a gritty student work harder.
How does one instill the grit and perseverance of a growth mindset? Have you been reading my post? If students are provided a significant learning environment (and that environment may be different for each and every student), those kids will want to learn. No more teacher-centered lessons. Learner-centered is the way to go, especially in this 21st century with so many tools available for teachers to use. Set goals and help the students find their own paths to reaching those goals.
It’s important that any goals set are achievable. I really saw how important this was when creating both backward unit design models. What good is grit if the goal is impossible to be reached? Piling work, upon work, upon meaningless work that kids are expected to complete is not reinforcing grit. This reinforces frustration. DO set goals and expectations high, but make sure they are attainable. Make sure your activities and assessments are in line with the set goals. Help your students realize that they can reach the goal, they just haven’t gotten to that point…
Now, on to the next leg of my own learning quest…EDLD 5318!
Brown, J. S., & Thomas, D. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House
Fink, L. D. (2005). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from: https://www.deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design. (2nd Ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.