“It’s not just grit and perseverance, students need to know some things–I call it confidence plus competence,” said David Dockterman, “We can’t slide back into the self-esteem era.”

To learn more about academic mindset and how to measure it, I called Dockterman, Scholastic’s chief architect of learning sciences and an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“We are measuring mindset directly as well as observing underlying behaviors that indicate attention and perseverance,” said Dockterman.

He’s working with Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, and Mindset Works, the company she started with Lisa Blackwell. They developed a growth mindset curriculum and assessment that is incorporated into MATH 180, Scholastic’s new blended secondary math intervention. A simple 8 question mindset scan can be used to track changes over time. (This Ed Week article includes a growth mindset quiz.)

Students initially tend to rank growth mindset higher but their scores often dip and then begin to climb as they learn more about their brains and the importance of effort.

“Academic mindset isn’t an on/off switch,” said Dockterman, “students need to define success and see a path to success.”  That path isn’t always a straight line. Like physical exercise, there are often rapid gains and plateaus. Dockterman added, “We’re looking for mechanisms to create improvement by equating effortful with fruitful.

“Self reports can be loose indicators. We look to obverse behaviors in a guided practice space,” said Dockterman.  Like failure in the popular mobile game Angry Birds, sometimes kids don’t achieve their goal, but they return and eventually achieve their goal.  “We want to understand where kids fail, where they come back and fix, and why,” he added.

When measuring mindset, it’s important to track mistakes and to differentiate between errors. “Mistakes at the frontier–when you’re learning something new–are natural, that’s how you know you’re learning,” explained Dockterman, “But that’s different than mistakes students shouldn’t make when a skill should be routine; the second type of error suggests a lack of attentiveness.” He suggested that it may be possible to encourage focus and build sustained accuracy by recognizing streaks.

Scholastic built mindset thinking and Common Core alignment into MATH 180 from the ground up. MATH 180 incorporates adaptive software, which allows students the opportunity to learn and master key concepts at their own pace.

In addition to direct measures and behavioral observations, I asked David about what could be learned from keystroke data. He said they are looking at number of attempts and time between keystrokes, but “the best information comes from constructed learning spaces where the keystrokes have meaning, and we can identify patterns over time.

“Our focus remains on building an environment where data is useful to students, making their learning and growth transparent,”  said Dockterman.

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