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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.
A growth mindset is the understanding that personal qualities and abilities can change. It leads people to take on challenges, persevere in the face of setbacks, and become more effective learners. As more and more people learn about the growth mindset, which was first discovered by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, we sometimes observe some confusions about it. Recently some critiques have emerged. Of course we invite critical analysis and feedback, as it helps all of us learn and improve, but some of the recent commentary seems to point to misunderstandings of growth mindset research and practice. This article summarizes some common confusions and offers some reflections.
"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
Just Tell Me What To Do
One of the most frustrating classroom experiences occurs when students disengage from learning because they're scared to be wrong. As a teacher, I met many students who wanted someone to just give them the answer and now with my own children, I see it again. In many schools, students will sit and wait for the answer, whether that answer comes from another student or from the teacher. And if that answer doesn't come, many are unwilling to look for one themselves. Students often feel that the quest is only for the "right" answer, and they are more willing to wait and copy it down than to risk the possibility of putting in the work only to find out that it was wrong. Unfortunately, this perspective oftentimes generates surface learning, not deep learning. It can interfere with a student's entire notion of what learning is, causing them to think that school is a place to complete work, rather than grow one's mind.
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.