Saturday, 19 May 2012

Growing A New Mindset

In their book Switch, authors Chip and Dan Heath focus attention on how to effect transformational change. One of their most effective chapters deals with the issue of mindsets. Examining the work of Carol Dweck, with its focus on set and growth mindsets,  the Heath brothers explore implications for educators if they buy into the growth mind set theories.

Dweck divides people into one of two main mind sets. Those with a fixed mind set believe talent and intelligence is set. Individuals learn or achieve to the level of their natural abilities. In a growth mind set people believe that abilities are like muscles; that with practice and training they can be improved over time.

For educators the growth mindset should be a no brainer. What are teachers doing if not helping students to exercise their brains and to learn practice and hone new skills? All teachers come to the classroom hoping to help students. In a growth mind set model however,  the process matters just as much as the result. Students are taught to try and to keep practicing as they get better at a presented skill. There is not the expectation that mastery will be always be attained on the first try; instead the understanding is that difficult tasks are mastered through repeated and sustained effort. Failure is an option, but rather than be seen as a stigma or catastrophe to be avoided at all costs, it can become part of the learning process.  Mistakes and failures become part of the journey as students learn from them, rather than being destinations that permanently mark students down as less than capable.

A growth mind set fits nicely with initiatives within AFL (Assessment for Learning) As pointed out at Thoughtfullearning.com, the growth mindset leads to optimal learning. Sucess breeds further success as students build and expand upon subjects that interest them, and negative experiences become challenges to expand one's abilities and to improve and grow. Assessment becomes an instrument of direction rather than a measuring stick to determine worth.

Other principals such as George Couros have noted that a growth mindset, while valuable for inspiring persistence and efforts in all learners, can also have a tremendous positive impact on student who already excel. In his blog entry "More than an A" Couros explains:
"One of my big questions that I have in the traditional model of grading is the following; when a student receives an ‘A’ for their work, why is there a need to continue?  You have set the criteria, the student has met it, why move forward?  With the idea of this “growth”mindset, we want our students to move way further than an ‘A’."

With a set mindset students need only clear the hurdles. With a growth mindset the heights they can reach are unlimited. In this era of rapid change the growth mind set is an idea worth investigating and supporting. It instills a sense of resilience and perseverance in learners by valuing their efforts and inspires students to pursue learning that interests them as far they can go. Resilient achievers - sounds like a worthy goal to me.

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