I really can't do this.
This is never going to make sense!
I'm just not good at science, okay?!
These phrases, and many others like them, were all too familiar in Mrs. Kochan's eighth grade science classes at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts in Buffalo, NY. Each new unit, challenging assignment and/or test would elicit the same statements from students who struggled to complete their work. It was becoming clear as the school year went on that the students had internalized a set of beliefs and attitudes that prevented them seeing their science coursework as an intellectual challenge rather than a pathway to inevitable failure. They even experienced difficulty connecting to one another, as their conflict resolution skills suggested that they subscribed to a fixed mindset in their social interactions.
Determined to find a solution for her students, the University at Buffalo Liberty Partnerships Program (UB LPP), a dropout prevention initiative in the Buffalo Public Schools, teamed up with Mrs. Kochan to address the students' fixed mindset behaviors both socially and academically. UB LPP introduced students to the concept of a growth mindset, and began implementing specific interventions by which students' moods could be measured and monitored. On a weekly basis, Liberty Partnerships staff took over a class period and used the following strategies to help students transition from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset...
Growth Mindset Jar
Each day, students began their sessions with Liberty Partnerships by sitting in a circle around a jar containing strips of red and green paper. The green paper represented the adoption of a growth mindset, and the red paper represented the adoption of a fixed mindset. Students were prompted to think about a time during the previous week in which they were faced with an academic or social challenge, and to determine whether they faced that challenge with a growth or fixed mindset. The challenge was required to be related to interpersonal relationships in school, their academic endeavors, or their extracurricular activities. Students then chose a red or green slip, wrote their name, the date, and a summation of their challenge and reaction. Students were given the choice to share their experiences or have them remain confidential, and students who selected red strips received feedback from one another as to an alternate, growth mindset-type strategy to approach the challenge. Once students were finished, the slips of paper were placed in the jar, and over time, more and more students selected green strips on a weekly basis.
Growth Mindset Games
During the first few weeks of the intervention period, UB LPP engaged students in a number of games and discussion-based activities to help them become aware of their own mindsets. Two examples of particularly effective games used include the line game and the sign game.
Played during the second week of interventions, the line game prompted students to respond to a set of scenarios related to their experiences in school. According to Ms. Kochan, these areas of ten solicited fixed mindset responses from students, which included interpersonal relationships, academic endeavors, and extracurricular activities. UB LPP staff taped a line down the middle of the classroom, and designate the left side as the "fixed mindset side," and right side as the "growth mindset side." As staff read questions aloud to the group, students selected a side of the room to stand on based on whether they would respond with a growth mindset of fixed mindset. Staff posed prompts including the following:
"Approaching a teacher after receiving a grade that seems unfair"
"Talking to a friend who has said negative things about you"
"Preparing for a difficult midterm exam"
"Practicing for the big game after your team has lost the last two games"
Once students had selected a side of the room and corresponding mindset, students on both sides of the room were asked to explain the rationale for their answers. At the end of the game, staff asked students to describe any common characteristics among fixed mindset groups' rationales, and growth mindset groups' rationales, and through discussion, characteristics of empathy, diplomacy, and patience were identified and connected to the power of a growth mindset in problem-solving.
In addition, students played the sign game, which allowed them to better differentiate between growth mindset approaches and fixed mindset approaches to problem solving. Students were given small placards made of pencils and octagonal pieces of red and green paper taped to the end. The green side was labeled "growth" and the red side was labeled "fixed." Students were then given a series of case scenarios in which a problem was solved by a student that demonstrated either a fixed or growth mindset. The scenarios were projected onto the front board, and students were asked to raise their placards and have either the growth or fixed mindset side face the staff member at the front of the room. Case scenarios depicted interpersonal relationships, extracurricular activities, and academic endeavors. For example, a case scenario given to the students read:
"Joe wants to make the soccer team. He practices for 15 hours each week all summer and then tries out for the team. He is disappointed when he doesn't earn a place, and he tells his family, "I am no good, I will never make the team." His father responds by saying, "I was never any good either. The lack of talent is genetic."
With this and similar case scenarios, students selected the mindset portrayed, and for fixed mindset examples, discussed the ways in which the students in the scenarios could change their actions to reflect a growth mindset.
Growth Mindset Role Playing
Toward the end of the intervention period, UB LPP prompted students to role play and create skits around the application of a growth mindset in academics, interpersonal relationships, and extracurricular activities. Students were asked to reflect on recent examples in their own lives of the use of a growth mindset, and design a skit around that example. Students free wrote and explained how that growth mindset helped them to solve a problem or achieve a goal, which was reflected in the role playing exercise. Students who reported still being subscribed to a mainly fixed mindset were asked to re-enact their examples and take growth mindset action. They reflected on what the outcome might have been, and in some cases, students were able to recreate scenarios that had been causing them frustration or stress, and solve the problem by applying growth mindset strategies.
At the end of the year, we administered the Student Mindset Survey from Brainology® to students to determine their attitudes and beliefs around their capabilities in school reflected a growth mindset. In terms of Mindset Assessment Profile, 100% of students scored at the F2 level or above, 60% of students scored a G1 or above, and 20% of students scored a G3 or above. Students' overall grades in Mrs. Kochan's Science class also increased by an average of three percentage points, with three students increasing their averages by two letter grades.
In addition to survey results, data from the Growth Mindset Jar showed by the end of the year, 74% of students selected growth mindset strips to report their challenges, and 26% selected fixed mindset strips, compared to 90% fixed and 10% growth at the beginning of the intervention period.
Games showed that students' awareness of their mindsets, and the rationale behind them, could be easily identified and tied with common outcomes, like social tension, academic dissatisfaction, and frustration in school.
Role playing achieved similar gains, allowing students to re-examine their own biases and tendencies, and learn new strategies to overcome challenges that arose with classmates, teachers, and/or their school work. Students were able to experience proof that these strategies could positively influence their lives, and as a result, students' interpersonal relationships and their relationship to their school work changed in a positive way.
Overall, growth mindset interventions in Mrs. Kochan's class were highly successful and impactful in many areas of students' school experiences. Students' dialogue now reflects growth mindset ideals, and Mrs. Kochan has continued to express an increase in students' motivation levels in class, as well as in positive peer-to-peer interactions. Students will be able to apply growth mindset concepts and strategies to subsequent grade levels and academic endeavors, and because of the highly generalizable and replicable nature of the interventions, other students at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts will begin receiving the same services during the 2015-2016 school year. The catalyst for student success clearly begins at the cognitive level, and UB LPP welcomes teachers, counselors and school staff to implement these interventions with their own students and reiterate the power of a growth mindset each and every day.
About Mindset Works
Mindset Works was co-founded by one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation, Stanford University professor Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. and K-12 mindset expert Lisa S. Blackwell, Ph.D. The company translates psychological research into practical products and services to help students and educators increase their motivation and achievement.
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