Charity Moran Parsons

“I can’t do this!  I hate Geometry! I’m too dumb for this!”

In our classroom, the word can’t was the worst 4-letter word a student could use; after all, even the last 3 letters of Geometry insist that you T-R-Y….TRY!

The student’s outburst is a classic example of fixed mindset. Fixed mindset tells the student to avoid challenges or to give up easily. Project-based learning helps students understand that intelligence is just like any other skill – it can be developed. In a 2014 TED Talk, this is what Carol Dweck describes as growth mindset. The image below shows key differences between fixed and growth mindset.

Fixed v. Growth Mindset (1)

So, how does PBL promote growth mindset?

Think of a student who shuts down at the first sight of adversity. In project-based learning, teachers – as lesson designers and project managers – have a unique opportunity to craft experiences which encourage a growth mindset.  Giving special attention to specific Essential Project Design Elements and Project Based Teaching Practices, we can promote growth mindset in PBL.

Here are Four Ways to Promote Growth Mindset in PBL:

  1. Build the Culture

Help students learn from failures.   In a recent Google Hangout on Building the Culture in Gold Standard PBL, fellow National Faculty member Jeanine Leys told a story about how her school celebrates failure.   They even use a classroom tool called “raindrops and rainbows” to keep track of failed ideas and how they are necessary for eventual success.  In his book Freedom to Fail, Andrew Miller offers a bevy of strategies for ensuring that students experience small, constructive failures as a means to greater achievement.  How will you celebrate failure in your classroom?

  1. Manage Activities to include Critique & Revision.

Carol Dweck reminds us that constructive criticism is feedback that helps the student understand how to fix something. This rings true to the Gold Standard PBL practice of Critique & Revision.   

  • Build in checkpoints for students to have opportunities to revise and improve their work.
  • Formulate a system to teach students to examine each other’s work and provide suggestions for improvement.  
  • When managing a project, using protocols for peer critique can harness the power of criticism.

The Gallery Walk and the Tuning Protocol are two protocols that we can model and practice with students to structure feedback on three levels:

  • from teacher to student;
  • from peer to peer;
  • from expert to student.  
  1. Manage Activities to include Reflection.

In Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning, PBL experts suggest that teachers can offer opportunities for students to reflect both outward and inward.  Keep in mind that reflection can be ongoing throughout the project, as well as come at the end of the project.

Use this document to help students think about what they did in the project and how well the project went.  This reflection tool will support students as growth mindset is developed via personal and team accountability.

  1. Sustained Inquiry

When you design the Student Learning Guide and Project Calendar, build in opportunities for scaffolded challenges and sustained inquiry over time. Sustained Inquiry promotes growth mindset; students can take ownership of their learning as it is developed over a process of time.  

One strategy to achieve sustained inquiry over time begins with the Question Formulation Technique. Students create a list of questions, frequently revisit questions, and pose new questions to affirm all students’ intellectual abilities as they grow. This way, students gain a sense of learning and persistence in meeting the task at hand.

Click here for more ideas and resources on Sustained Inquiry within Gold Standard PBL.

No matter which strategy you choose, always remember to communicate high expectations and assure your students that you will support them as they T-R-Y…Try! There’s nothing better than a TRY to defeat failure and promote growth mindset.

TRY Pic

Are you promoting growth mindset in your PBL classroom? Give these strategies a try and let us know how it goes in the comments below or on Twitter @idoschool.

This post is in partnership with Buck Institute for Education (BIE) as part of part of a blog campaign titled Getting Smart on Edu Blogging. BIE national faculty are writing about how project-based learning (PBL) is engaging students and transforming classrooms and schools. To engage in professional learning about PBL, check out the upcoming conference, PBL World in Napa Valley June 13-16 and join in the conversation using #PBLWorld.


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Charity Moran Parsons currently serves on the National Faculty for the Buck Institute for Education and is Lead Consultant for iDoSchool.org, traveling nationally to train and support teachers, schools, and districts. Follow Charity on Twitter, @iDoSchool.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this blog with me because it actual substantially prove what I’ve always believed , ‘A man will never rise above the way he thinks’!!! For as a man thinketh, so is he! He is the sum total of his thinking. You are an awesome Educator!

  2. This is very facinating and an eye opener, yes we need a growing mind through reflection and action for improvement . Failure is a way to detect one’s weak areas , it needs a positive mind to be turned into success.

    Please help me , am looking for a scholarship to persue a master degree in ict education .
    Thank you.

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