Our professional development at faculty meetings in our school has been full of videos, articles and activities that allow us to see that benefits of empowering students with a growth mindset. It is inspiring to see quotes and examples of students showing a growth mindset, but when I am back in the classroom it is sometimes hard to understand how I can instill this mindset. Especially in my privileged school that is mostly high-performing and highly competitive. Students are conditioned to care about what they can do to get a high grade, not the important learning process that it took for them to get there. Last year I was left feeling defeated in empowering my students with a growth mindset. This year I am trying to approach it differently. I am changing my own mindset: I can do this, but it will take small, influential steps.
My school adapted this new strategy to incorporate into our professional development based on the lack of growth in our test scores. Our data especially showed a lack of growth in our high performing students. In third grade, our only growth data is in Literacy with the BOG and EOG test score comparisons. Many of their test scores actually decreased. This growth mindset has been researched and proven to motivate students to put their best effort forward in testing or in any part of the school day.
In reading, I think this growth mindset is very important. My highest readers were those that had discovered good fit books for themselves. I decided that to start this growth mindset community I would start with providing the feedback and materials that my students needed to be successful. That is why choosing good fit books is so important. I wanted my students to find authentic literature that they were interested in, but also was not too hard where they would become frustrated during the reading process. Usually this lesson takes about an hour in my past instruction, but we spent the whole first week of school exploring genres and different level books. I tried to individualize the process so that I could get to know each student and make sure that they were picking books that would give them the confidence and interest to love their reading and be successful.
Along with aiding them in this choice process, I made sure that my language was always positive. It is amazing how words can play such a meaningful part in a student’s feelings. We watched the video below during a professional development meeting about a research student about praise. The findings of the study were really amazing to see. There were two groups of students. Both groups were given the same test. One group was given praise after their test based on their scores. They were told that they were great because they scored very well on the test. The other group of students were given praised based on their effort. They were told that they were great because they tried very hard during the test. After the praise, the students were given another test. They were able to choose whether they would take a test that was similar and pretty easy, or a harder test that would challenge them but if they tried they would do great. The findings showed that 67% of the students who were praised for their good grades (intelligence) chose the easier option. 92% of the students who were praised for their effort and hard work chose the harder option. It is an amazing conclusion that this subtle difference in praise affected the students’ confidence in themselves and learners in a future endeavor.
As a teacher, I feel that I have always praised and rewarded my students for their effort, but I know that sometimes I can slip up. Sometimes I announce the 100% and the students who moved higher in their MClass level. I now can see that this is giving the high performing students false entitlement that they are smart and do not have to work, while the other students who are not performing as high will just give up and not believe in themselves. While we were picking good fit books, I tried not to focus on the level of the book, but more in what the students were interested in. I rewarded students who took their time to look over books and thoughtfully find one that appealed to them. These subtle differences in my classroom environment is already allowing me to see a fuller sense of confidence in my students. This may be a small first step, but I now see that cultivating this mindset can not be a one and done type of lesson. It will take subtle changes and challenges for my students that I am excited to explore all year long.