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"In a growth mindset, you don't always welcome the setback, you were hoping to move forward, but you understand that it's information on how to move forward better next time. It is a challenge that you are determined to surmount. In a fixed mindset, a setback calls your ability into question." -Carol Dweck, 2013 interview
The highest aim of education is to develop driven, efficacious learners. That's what will best enable them to thrive.
Why ignite lifelong growth?
Today's world is a learner's paradise and a non-learner's pit. The accessibility of knowledge, rapid pace of change, and vastness, present unlimited opportunities for exploration, growth, and contribution. Driven learners:
What is more important for education to do than to ignite lifelong growth?
A growth mindset about mistakes
We can deepen our own and our students' understanding of mistakes, which are not all created equal, and are not always desirable. After all, our ability to manage and learn from mistakes is not fixed. We can improve it.
Here are two quotes about mistakes that I like and use, but that can also lead to confusion if we don't further clarify what we mean:
"A life spent making mistakes is not only most honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing" - George Bernard Shaw
"It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has." - Maria Montessori
These constructive quotes communicate that mistakes are desirable, which is a positive message and part of what we want students to learn. An appreciation of mistakes helps us overcome our fear of making them, enabling us to take risks. But we also want students to understand what kinds of mistakes are most useful and how to most learn from them.
What do students need in order to take the reins?
This article is adapted from the article "Mindsets and Student Agency" originally published in Unboxed, High Tech High Graduate School of Education's magazine, in their Spring 2013 issue.
Learning happens in the learner's mind. It always does. In fact, the only thing that determines how much learning takes place is what happens in the learner's mind. What happens outside of it is only meaningful to the extent it gives the brain material for it to think.
Wonderful opportunities for learning, such as great instruction, may exist in the classroom or elsewhere, but if the learner's mind is not attentive, not reflective, not engaged, then little learning happens. Yet an engaged mind will make the most out of learning opportunities and further enrich activities and discussions to generate even deeper learning.
But we can't force students to develop agency and drive their own learning. It must come from within. So how do we catalyze that?
Hierarchy of Learner Needs
A large body of research in psychology and education is uncovering the critical elements needed for students to drive their own learning. It points to two essential focus areas that hold the most promise: Learning Mindsets and Learning Strategies & Habits, highlighted in Figure 1 and discussed in the sections that follow.
Arriving with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in 40+ U.S. states is tremendous pressure for schools to get results and to be masters of the Core as quickly as possible. Invoking the Growth Mindset as we accept the challenge of the Core standards will help our schools maintain the momentum and stamina we need to develop expertise.
How can schools set themselves up to cultivate Common Core experts? None of us is currently an expert in the CCSS. Expertise will emerge with classroom practice and experience implementing these standards with real students. It will emerge with the willingness to take responsible risks and to participate in collective reflection. It will emerge with strong collaboration and compassionate patience. These qualities are only gained in a risk-tolerant system through strategic, purposeful effort which includes timely, formative feedback.
3.3 million teachers will be asked to change their practices, routines, and lessons this year to align with the Common Core State Standards. That is a staggering number when you think about that many Americans essentially experiencing a major job change at the same time!
It is inevitable that with all this change, some of us will fail. We will mess it up. We will get it wrong and forget some essential component (of a standard, a lesson, a concept). Our central offices will mess up too. Trainings will go awry, resources arrive late, and support will be well-intentioned, but spotty. Are we prepared to tolerate this process and allow ourselves to take the necessary responsible risks to LEARN and grow?
I hope so.