by Patricia Hoge & Tom Vander Ark
The standards movement of the last twenty years heightened our collective focus on what students should know and be able to do. In addition to knowledge and skills, research in the last five years suggests that mindset matters—for academic success today and for careers down the road.
Research done by Penn prof Angela Lee Duckworth determined that grit and self-control predict success in life. On the other coast Stanford prof Carol Dweck found that a “growth mindset”–the belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—was critical to success compared to a belief that intelligence is fixed. Paul Tough’s latest book–How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character—built on Dweck and Duckworth’s research.
The mindset research corroborated and complemented the social emotional intelligence agenda advanced by CASEL, the work skills agenda advanced by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and learning science (as summarized in How People Learn and Breakthrough leadership).
Innovation Mindset. In Smart Cities, Tom summarized these critical dispositions promoting effort, initiative, and collaboration as innovation mindset. In a discussion with several hundred Connections Education teachers, they described strategies for promoting a growth mindset, maker mindset, and team mindset.
Growth Mindset. Students in a growth mindset say, “I can learn, I can do this, I can reach my goals, and I can overcome setbacks.”
Connections teacher said they promote a growth mindset by:
- Encouraging ownership of expectations
- Providing feedback that highlights effort and growth
- Modeling it, directly teaching it, and reinforcing/supporting through feedback
- Encouraging student goal setting
- Providing options in learning, applying, and demonstrating
- Focusing on what students can do, and elaborating on it by taking it to the “next” level with further complex concepts
- Allowing students to search for solutions in a risk free environment
- Shifting emphasis from only outcomes to effort
- Creating a culture of revision
- Providing metaphors such as comparisons to sports or music where practice is necessary to achieve excellence
- Having students create digital portfolios of personal bests
- Celebrating progress
- Giving students the chance to improve their initial attempts at assignments
- Focusing on the learning
- Encouraging risk taking
Maker Mindset. Celebrating the product of initiative, students with a maker mindset say, “I know myself, how I learn, I’m interested in learning, I ask what if and why not? This is important to me, and I can create value.”
With the new employment reality, many young people will need to ‘make’ a job not just get a job—most will spend at least part of their career freelancing and/or working small startup companies.
Connections teacher said they promote a maker mindset through:
- Interest-driven projects
- Clubs: robotics, art, coding, scouting
- Student leadership roles
- Assignments that are student designed
- Real world application scenarios
- Projects that provide student choice
- Real world publication opportunities
- Problem solving that requires genuine innovation to solve
- Self-expression combined with some sort of challenge
- Science inquiry projects where the student can design their own investigations
- Virtual science fairs
- Projects anchored in meaningful purpose that stimulates creativity
Team Mindset. Learning to collaborate and contribute as a team member is more important than ever. It starts with social emotional skills that CASEL describes as self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
When students are working with a collaborative mindset, they say “I belong here, I can get the help I need, I appreciate other views, and we can achieve our goals.”
Connections teacher said they promote a team mindset through:
- Team projects
- Collaborative writing and virtual writing walls
- Team publishing
- Peer learning and study opportunities
- Peer feedback
- Collaborative problem solving
- Student mentoring programs
Putting it all together. Demonstrated competency is the combination of knowledge, skills and a productive mindset. Rather than attacking discrete skills and habits in isolation, big challenges can build knowledge, promote a bundle of skills and reinforce a productive mindset.
Big projects can be great learning experiences but there are 4 important design attributes:
- Rigorous. Projects can be themed and shaped by student interests but they should also be academically rigorous requiring close reading, writing with clarity, and persuasive presentations.
- Supported struggle. Students need skill building opportunities in order to fully participate in challenge projects—but teachers should allow students enough space to struggle.
- Project feedback. There is a common perception that projects get one big assessment at final presentation, but Ron Berger, Expeditionary Learning, recommends that teachers provide formative feedback. Mentors and peers can be part of providing instructive feedback. Berger said, If you want a quality work product at the end you have to support the process with constructive feedback.
- Mindset feedback. In addition to feedback on project milestones and work product, students deserve regular feedback on their mindset. Some schools call these dispositions habits of success. Feedback helps students become more metacognitive of productive habits.
Mindset matters and big challenges help students come to appreciate the importance of effort, initiative, and collaboration.
For more on mindsets, check out:
- On School Leadership: Mindsets for Visionary Leaders
- Developing an Innovation Mindset
- 12 Education Innovation Mindsets for Leaders