Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Growth Mindset in the Classroom: What NOT to do

A while back I wrote about grit and it's importance in the classroom.  I even included some simple tips that you can use to foster grit in the classroom.  Looking back to last year, I used those tips in my own classroom but still felt I fell short in inspiring my first graders to have a true growth mindset.  Maybe it was just too little to late.  Perhaps I didn't do enough to tip the balance.  It is possible I even had routines and language which ran counter to my own goals.  The beauty of teaching is that you get a "do over" every year.

Looking forward to a new school year, I decided I needed a game plan to follow to create the type of classroom culture that would nourish the grown mind set and set the stage for building grit in my students.  Before a student even steps through my door this August, I will have my Growth Mindest Game Plan ready to go.  That will be the topic of my next post.  First, I have to decide what I need to eliminate from my teaching practice and classroom that prevent the growth mindset from flourishing.

Like most people, I like to believe that I have a growth mindset and teach my students to believe in themselves.  However, the more I have read on the topic, the more I have come to realize that I have inadvertently been sabotaging my student's ability to maintain a growth mindset. I recently read this well written and cited post by Steve Gardiner, Stop the Pay, Stop the Play, which helped me define 4 things I was doing wrong in my classroom.  I need to clean the slate before I can begin my Game Plan.

So here is my list of what NOT to do this year:

1) Do not tell students they are smart when they solve a problem.  
This is easier said than done.  It even seems like a good idea.  Kids like to hear they are smart.  But telling kids they are smart actually reduces their motivation to seek challenging activities.  In a study by Carol Dweck of Stanford University, students who were praised for being smart on an IQ test, tended to choose less challenging later in the experiment.  Students who were praised for their hard work chose more challenging tasks.

2) Do not use rewards to encourage good work.
I am not typically in favor of rewards and incentives for kids when it comes to education.  There is plenty of evidence that rewards lead to lower intrinsic motivation.  Read Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn if you are a skeptic.  Here is a link to an interview with the author that is a quick and interesting read from Educational Leadership magazine. The momentum in schools to give rewards to kids is endemic.  I often find myself agreeing to different reward systems in the interest of "collaboration".  This year I will do better about making a stand.

3) Do not use praise to manipulate kids into doing something.
But it works so well!  "I love how Johnny is sitting!"  Boom, all the kids sit just like Johnny.  They want the praise candy too.  Growth mindset it about developing the intrinsic desire to improve yourself- not about pleasing others.  My praise candy will eventually erode my students' desire to work hard at self control.  Even if it works really well for the teacher.  *This is distinct from reinforcing language, which is not designed to manipulate other children.

4) Do not praise the product of a child's work without praising the the process that created it.
If you praise the product, say a 100% on a math test, it can actually diminish the student's desire to work.  See Steve Gardiner, Stop the Pay, Stop the Play for more details on this.  The main idea is that how the student was able to achieve the result is far more important than the result itself when building growth mind sets.  In addition, recognizing and celebrating growth is far more important than only recognizing the students who meet certain benchmarks.  For one child, 100% on a math test is easy.  For another child, growth from 50% to 70% on the math test takes an incredible effort.

So that's my list of what not to do.  I would love to hear from my readers their thoughts and insights in the comments section.  Stay tuned for my next post about my Growth Mindest Game Plan.

*Reinforcing Language: This is noticing what a child does well in order to reinforce positive behaviors.  It is different than praise candy because it done in private, or to a whole group.  It is mean to describe what was done well, and the process that created the positive outcome, so that the behavior can be repeated in the future.  In the about example you could say in private, "Johnny, I saw that you came and sat down right away.  That helped our team get started on our learning right away! What did you do that helped you get ready so fast?"

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