Where Have We Reached With Growth Mindset?

Mastery of anything worthwhile takes time. Teachers, of all people, should be very well aware of this fact. However, it’s all too tempting for them to look for silver bullets that can deliver quick, easy panaceas. In Growth Mindset, many teachers believed they had just such a silver bullet.

Carol Dweck has acknowledged that there are those ready to criticise and doubt the relevance or value of her work, as I highlighted in my earlier blog post:
Carol Dweck Applies Growth Mindset to Growth Mindset

When I first came across the work of Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset, one of my first thoughts was that if an educator was to be capable of helping children to have more of a growth mindset more of the time, they were going to first need to do some significant work on themselves. We are all products of the education system we seek to change and therefore, when fixed mindsets are so prevalent, the first group of people who need to acknowledge this are teachers themselves.

Once teachers take this fact on board, they come to realise that such ‘inner work’ and change will not magically happen overnight. it’s a long and arduous process of self-reflection, modest goals to change, working on those over time and following up with further goals. Mastery is a long term goal.

I’m not saying that a teacher has to develop perfect ‘all the time Growth Mindset in themselves before they can begin to work on children’s mindset. In fact, too often, that becomes a mistake on the part of teachers – believing they must be perfect at something before they bring it in to their classroom. However, what’s important is that the teacher is on a journey and committed to the process with themselves. Then, they’re able to begin the work with students.

However, we have to accept as well that the work with children won’t happen overnight. We need to have multiple ways to guide children, learn to have our receptors attuned to when we see or hear mindset that we want to reinforce and strategies to redirect fixed mindset thinking. Mindset is a form of habit, and like any habit creation or change process, it takes time, diligence and persistence to achieve.

Both in ourselves and in children we will find that there are some areas where growth mindset comes easily and effortlessly, but others where the fixed mindset remains stubborn and entrenched. We need to be honest with velours, but also kind and compassionate.  On this journey we’ll have both good days and bad and that’s OK.

What’s important is to be on the journey.

This article, and the downloadable report it summarises carry more than enough evidence on this. It appears that in the US teachers haven’t lost faith and intuitively know that the concept is a good one and that this journey is worthwhile. However, they’ve come to the realisation that it’s not a quick fix and it doesn’t happen overnight. They seem to feel they need more strategies to sustain their work with children. And, as I’ve indicated above – they may need to acknowledge more of the work they need to do with themselves.

Edweek – Mindset in the Classroom  – US National Study 

 

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Carol Dweck applies Growth Mindset to Issues of Growth Mindset

I’m never quite sure if it’s exclusive to the education field, or more extreme, but there is a very bad habit of latching on to ‘the latest new thing,’ demanding that it represents a magical simple wand to change the profession. Then, when simplistic representations of the concept or idea don’t deliver instant, easy payoff there’s a backlash and attention switches to attempts to tear down any validity in the idea or concept.

In recent years we’ve seen this happen with differentiation, at times with the emphasis on formative assessment, with the concepts related to Grit (Angela Duckworth) and very strongly in relation to Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset.

So it’s very refreshing to hear this interview with carol Dweck, conducted by Times Education Supplement;

TES – Carol Dweck – On Growth Mindset Theory

To my mind, the real value that comes out of the interview is that Dweck’s work has caused masses of teachers to focus on the issues of student motivation and its impact on learning outcomes to an extent far greater than ever before. I believe it’s also lead to a far greater level of attention to the fact that what has to matter more is learning rather than teaching and that teaching is nothing if not evaluated on the basis of its impact on learning and the fulfillment of potential on the part of learners.

As educators, we work with the human mind. This is incredibly complex and will never lend itself to simplistic prescriptions. The nearest comparison is to look for a desire that simple formulaic approaches to leadership can create highly effective organisations. The human mind, human motivations and the dynamics of human interaction are incredibly complex. Therefore, it will always require maximum flexibility, conscious reflection and ability to calibrate responses. It is vital to be open and receptive to all evidence of what’s working and how and ready to continuously build a flexible tool kit that offers increasing levels of responses and refinements.

For any of us whose work involves working with other human beings, we can never get good enough. We have to relish the process of continually learning more, refining our skills and adding more skills to our ‘toolkit’ in order to give us more refined choices for the decisions we take when dealing with others. I believe Carol Dweck’s work is just such a new tool that is thoroughly worth having in the toolkit. It’s not a panacea, a magic bullet and we need to rebuff those who seek to write it off because it didn’t deliver instant gratification.

Is Talent A Thing?

As something a bit different, today i want to share a really thoughtful and interesting radio broadcast from the UK BBC Radio 4, on the subject of talent.

It comes from the perspective of how people get employed for jobs and how the typical recruitment interviewing process does a rather poor job of matching the right people to the right role opportunities. The presenter, having done a pretty good job of debunking talent as a reason for recruiting people, goes on to explore what would be effective and sensible criteria for recruiting.

Along the way, she takes inputs from Google HR, Carol Dweck (on Mindset) and Angela Duckworth (on Grit). She also explores the concept of ‘cultural fit’, growth in intelligence (at the individual and society level) and some techniques for better interviewing that gets us beyond simply employing the people we like.

BBC Radio 4 – Is Talent A Thing?

These are issues that go to the very root of how we ensure that, as often as possible, we get “the right people on the bus.” Maybe there are no organisations where this is more important that schools. I believe it’s so critical that we be given the support of our school communities to recruit for character and attitudes, rather than paper qualifications etc. However, when companies employ for attitude they do so in the knowledge that they then give themselves the time to train for the skills specifically required on the job. However, in schools, parents have a direct interest in the skills levels and their expectations are immediate. Therefore, often, a parent will want that the person with the better immediately applicable skills (subject knowledge, classroom management techniques etc.) is employed as that immediately impacts their child’s education, even though that person may not have the best attitude or be the best person to have in the school for the longer term.

In International schools where the Principals and other campus leadership are on relatively short fixed term contracts, these short term vs long term issues are even more critical. The teacher who can deliver something today will too often be preferred over the one with much to offer in the longer term. When compared with other types of organisations, i fear this puts schools at too big a disadvantage. can you recruit for immediate skills and teach/ train/ mentor for attitude? I rather fear that is a long and bumpy road. I’m really not sure that schools are ready or able to train teachers for those things.

For us as educators, there’s another dimension that is critical. This is that we must also be helping our children to acquire these attitudes and attributes to enable them to have the best possible choices available to them and the best chances for success in their future lives. Grit, Mindset, resilience, EQ and other factors have to figure prominently in our thinking for the pupils – and they won’t come from drilling syllabus in to them! Further, teachers with Grit, growth mindset and positive social and emotional skills are most likely to be equipped to help pupils acquire those skills and attributes.

Growth Mindset in Sports

Physical education, games and sports are a vital and integral part of a fully rounded holistic education. I also believe that for many children they also provide some of the most powerful and transferable experiences of what it means to be an effective learner. A child who develops a strong inclination towards a particular student quickly learns the natural connection between effort and outcomes – the more I train and apply myself, the better I become and the more success I can achieve in the sport.

So, as the concept of ‘Growth Mindset’ has developed over the last few years, it was important that specific attention be paid to its application in the area of sport. So, I was very pleased to see from this article that a book has been written on that subject;

Mindsetworks – Blog – Put Me In Coach – Growth Mindset in the World of Sports

Whilst I’m very keen to read the book, the article suggests that the writers have done a good job. One of the points that struck me was one where from time to time i’ve deliberately chosen to have provocative and thoughtful debates with teachers – how should children be chosen for school sports teams? All too often, the child with the high level of innate early talent gets called up for the team over the child who may be starting from a lower base, but who has the growth mindset and potential to work and strive to develop the technical skills.

The other thing the article talks about is the areas where sports coaches can sometimes have ‘blind spots’. Whilst they may pride themselves on a growth mindset approach towards the children and their technical skills and competence in the sport, they may harbour fixed mindset attitudes towards things like resilience, motivation and mental toughness. It’s important that coaches recognise that these are all things that can be learned and tailor their approaches accordingly.

Higher quality coaching that utilises and harnesses the power of growth mindset thinking can ensure that more children get more rich and rewarding experiences from their engagement with games and sports.

Helping Children Build Empathy & The Growth Mindset

In the past, I have to admit fully that I've been somewhat critical of Classdojo for their app used by some school teachers for classroom management (classroom manipulation?) However, in recent months i believe that the people at classdojo have hit on a winner with their short series of videos based on the experiences of the monster Mojo.

They started out tackling Growth Mindset, working alongside experts of Stanford University making a series of short videos based upon the engaging little monster Mojo. These are designed for teachers to use with children, are engaging, attention grabbing and really quite thought-provoking.

Now, as this article highlights, they've built on that success by working with experts from Harvard Graduate School of Education on empathy. The principle behind these initiatives is that if there is promising research and ideas on skills development in the social-emotional domain, such vehicles can enable swift transfer to the learning environment to benefit teachers and pupils.

Huffington Post - Empathy Videos

The Growth Mindset video series hthey've gone on to work further with the team from Stanford on a new series on Perseverance. The first has just been issued, with two further episodes to follow over the next couple of weeks.

All three sets of videos, accompanied by discussion questions that can be used in class, can be found here;

ClassDojo - Big Ideas

There is a wealth of evidence that the development of strong social-emotional skills early in school life have a big impact in improving behaviour in school, interpersonal relationships, but also benefit academic performance from an early stage. I personally think these videos would make a great added resource for classes using Jenny Mosely's 'Quality Circle Time' principles to explore and address issues of how children behave, regulate their personal relations and develop strength as social beings.

And, the earlier children embark on such learning the greater their potential to build strengths that will be vital as they grow and valuable in their adult life.

Growth Mindset in Practice

The concept of growth mindset and the recognition of its relative merits over a fixed mindset have now been with us for quite a few years. I’ve written about the concept, the work of Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University and also her reservations about some of the practical misunderstandings on a number of occasions over the last few years, especially since reading her book on the subject.

To me, it was already clear in a number of ways that there was a gap between the theory, the concept itself and even people’s expressed positive views towards it and the actual practical application of the growth mindset in classrooms and schools on a day to day basis. So, i was very interested to see that some research had been carried out on this subject. It’s reported in research shared through the Edweek website:

Edweek – Mindset in the Classroom – A National Study of K-12 Teachers

Now, the report does acknowledge that the sample is not wholly statistically balanced. Firstly, the participants were self-selecting. Next, they were all in the American education system (though as the concept originated there, we would expect to see higher levels of engagement with it). Maybe, to me, most relevant and not really mentioned – they were all users of the Edweek website. In my experience, that marks them out as a cohort of educators with stronger inclination towards their own continuous professional development.

Nevertheless, even allowing for these shortcomings I still believe it offers some interesting insights. The first is that, not too uncommonly, teachers perceive that their own levels of awareness and comprehension of an important concept in education is better than that of the administrators in their school and most certainly better than their peers! Teachers still, at heart, love to compete. Further, there was clearly some hesitancy amongst teachers about how important growth mindset was for children’s learning compared with other factors, even though they rated student motivation and engagement strongest – and there’s lots of evidence that these are heavily impacted by mindset.

On aspect of the survey that saddened me a little was that it didn’t dare to step in to the delicate area of the extent to which the mindset of the teacher themselves impacts their approach to mindset with their students. One of the toughest aspects may well be that a teacher really needs to imbibe the concept very deeply with regard to themselves, their professional and personal growth journey and potential before they can truly address it with children or integrate the approach fully and effectively in their teaching practice. A bit of a case of practicing what we preach and willingness to model the attributes that we wish to see in our students.

The survey is also interesting, but not wholly surprising in highlighting that most teachers believe they haven’t received enough training on mindset. Here, yet again is the deep irony – teachers, by and large still go through their lives as products of their own education and still believe in a paradigm that learning is being taught. My question – if you want to know more about Mindset, as a teacher, what’s stopping you? Do you have to wait for others to train you? Could you choose to learn, share with peers and then experiment and practice the different approaches?

In short, the data carries a clear message that if we want our children to be learning and developing in school environments where growth mindset prevails, there is still a great deal to be done. A gulf exists between theory and acknowledgement and actual practice and we need to address this gap.

Training The Brain

Generally, on at least 20 days in each month, I set a bit of time aside to do the online ‘free’ tests available on the Lumosity website. Most often, this is with my morning coffee when i get up. if not, at some time later in the day when there’s a logical time to pause for breath. Many years ago, the fad was sudoku puzzles and off and on over the years I’ve got in to the crossword habit.

Does all this activity make me more intelligent? Do the memory exercises boost my memory, the task swapping exercises boost my ability to focus? Or, should it just all be treated as a bit of fun? If I’m having fun and it ‘gets me up and going’ in the mornings, does it really matter?

To my mind there are two specific reasons why it should matter to us what these online programmes are actually achieving;

a) They make some pretty big and grandiose boasts (claiming to back them with genuine hard scientific research data) about the benefits,
b) Some varieties of these programmes are being marketed more aggressively towards schools and parents as ways to boost the ‘brain power’ of children – by implication boosting their academic abilities. These are tempting claims, sometimes tied in some way to the ideas of growth mindset propounded by Carol Dweck of Stanford University.

There’s potentially a great deal of money at stake here (not from me, I’m only using the free version!) so it’s inevitable that any new research or authoritative statements in this area are going to have an impact and be hotly contested. So, it was with all these factors in mind that i read the following article published recently in ‘The Atlantic’. It sets out details of a recent review of all the scientific papers identified to date on the subject. The overall conclusions suggest the complexity of measurement in this area and highlight that the companies marketing the programmes have, at least, been guilty of some exaggeration of the direct benefits.

The Atlantic – The Weak Evidence Behind Brain-Training Games

If I believe that by doing such exercises regularly, day after day, my brain will work better, faster, with more creativity, dexterity and deliver me superior results AND as a result of that belief, I get those benefits, then can it be said that the programme itself did or didn’t have the positive effect? If i got the positive effect i wanted, does it matter how it was achieved? Has similar research looked at the issues of weight training or other physical fitness based techniques? If I do bodyweight exercise three times a week, and as a result find that I can carry heavy loads easier and for longer day to day, do i need scientific evidence to conclusively and quantifiably link the two things? Surely, it’s enough that there is no evidence of adverse impact from the bodyweight exercising? In other words, it’s not harming me, I have benefit that may directly or indirectly flow from the exercising – then surely I will consider it’s in my best interest to carry on exercising.

As for me, as long as I feel that these exercises are a fun accompaniment to my early morning coffee I will continue to do them. I am certain as I can be that they’re doing me no harm. If I feel that afterwards, I start my day with a bit of extra mental ‘zip’, energy and feeling like the engine’s properly cranked up, then I’ll not worry too much whether that was the games or the coffee that did it for me.