Monday, September 28, 2015

English: Creative thoughts got us to the Moon.

I got the idea for this meme's message from a blog post by Nicholas Provenzano: Creativity in the Classroom. It's a great post in the spirit of the growth mindset!
Lighting the Creative Fire. Creativity should not be relegated to English class or the art room. There are places for all teachers to add creative elements to their school days. It's important that we light the creative fire under our students -- otherwise, we'll watch a nation entering a dark age with very little creativity. Creative thoughts are what took us to the Moon. We need to make sure that we remind students of the value of creativity, and that we give them every chance to show it in the classroom.
So, inspired by that, I made this cat with Cheezburger. Creativity is a huge part of what growth mindset is about... and it can lead to extraterrestrial achievement!

Creative thoughts got us to the Moon.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Latin: Audendum est: age.

The image is from cheezburger. The Latin words come from Seneca's play Thyestes. The Latin starts with a gerundive, audendum est, "it is to be dared," and then an imperative, age: "do it!" For the English, I opted to keep it short and sweet.

Audendum est: age.
Dare to do it!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

English: Learn to look at things from different angles.

Learn to look at things from different angles.

Today's cat is inspired by Carol Dweck's very helpful article in Education Week: Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset.' (Thanks to George Station for sharing that at Twitter!)

Dweck covers some important points here: she explains that the growth mindset approach is not the new self-esteem movement (just the opposite!), and she also worries about teachers blaming students and the students' supposedly "fixed mindsets" for not learning. I don't see much evidence of that second problem, but I would say the first problem (growth mindset misunderstood as the new self-esteem) is a big problem indeed.

In addition, Dweck also addresses the issue of false growth mindset in teachers, and I would say that is very true too: if teachers themselves cannot shed their own perfectionism and prejudices, they are not going to be able to do a very good job of helping students learn from their mistakes.

It seems to me that growth mindset has to be something different than what we have done before: it cannot just be the same-old same-old. To grow and really learn, you need to challenge yourself to look at things in new ways — and that applies to teachers as much as to students. For some great reflections on growing and changing as a teacher, see these wonderful posts from Robert Talbert and Pernille Ripp:
The image is from cheezburger.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

English: Failure hurts, but it does not define me.

This cat is for Rolin Moe; it's a response to what I think was his serious misrepresentation of Carol Dweck's ideas about failure here: Rationalizing Sisyphus (and you can read the comment I left for Rolin pasted in at the bottom of this post). In her book Mindset, Dweck emphasizes how a growth mindset responds to failure differently than a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset, you let the failure define you: "I am a failure." With a growth mindset, failure does not define you; it is feedback, information you can use to do things differently next time. Failure hurts, and sometimes it can hurt really badly. The point is not to let that failure define you.

Here's a quote from Carol Dweck's book: When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don't define them. And if abilities can be expanded — if change and growth are possible — then there are still many paths to success.

The image is from cheezburger.

Failure hurts, but it does not define me.

Here is the comment I left for Rolin:

As someone who is working with growth mindset both for myself as a learner and in my classes also, I want to assure Rolin that it is more than just coffee mugs and motivational posters — but such motivational paraphernalia can also come in very handy as a way to connect with students. So, in response to Rolin's article, I made a LOLCat inspired by this passage from Carol Dweck's Mindset: "When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don't define them. And if abilities can be expanded — if change and growth are possible — then there are still many paths to success." You can see the LOLCat here:

In a Twitter exchange with Rolin about this article, Rolin suggested that my students need to read more Beckett. Given that Beckett is one of the "bleakest authors on the human condition" (as Rolin describes him), I think I'll stick with Dweck instead of Beckett. I have no interest in celebrating failure, but I very much want to free my students from their often paralyzing fear of failure; Dweck is a big help with that, and it sounds like Beckett really would not help with that much at all.

Setting Beckett aside, I'm not sure where Rolin got the idea that Dweck is a "failure celebration." Dweck instead emphasizes the idea of failure as feedback, separate from the labeling of smart or stupid, separate from institutionalized reward or punishment, etc. In fact, one of the things I like best about Dweck is the way that she warns of the dangers of labeling students as "smart" and the reward of "A" that ends up putting arbitrary limits on learning.

In any case, as long as school labels student failure with "F" and puts that label on the transcript, teachers like me, who throw out grading (#TTOG), have a lot of work to do. For me, Dweck is helping me to do that work. Rolin argues that failure is personal; I disagree. Failure should not be anything personal, but unfortunately my students take the grade of "F" very personally. I am using Dweck's idea of a growth mindset to help them move beyond that, from failure-as-personal to failure-as-feedback. It has nothing to do with Beckett, but it does have everything to do with getting beyond grades to self-directed learning instead.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

English: Enjoy the ride!

One of the features of growth mindset is that it focuses on process as much as the end product, and enjoying the process for its own sake is important. In other words:

Enjoy the ride!

The image is from cheezburger.

Fall 2015 Update: Week 2 and Week 3 Challenges

Two weeks ago, I wrote up some notes about my students' reflections on growth mindset from Week 1 of class: Overview of Week 1. During that week, which is an Orientation Week for the semester, I had presented some growth mindset material and asked all the students to share their thoughts. Then, in subsequent weeks, there is a growth mindset activity that they can do (or not — it's totally optional), based on a series of open-ended growth mindset challenges.

This is something new for my classes this year; in the past, I had been practicing growth mindset principles in the design of the class itself and in my own interactions with the students (in the daily announcements, in my comments on their work, etc.), but this is the first time I've set up growth mindset as something for the students themselves to work on in their own ways. There were 21 students who carried on with growth mindset after the first week, which is about one-quarter of the class. I am very happy about that (anything extra that students do is a big plus since my classes are already really demanding: lots of reading, writing, commenting every week), but of course I wish even more students felt inspired to give it a try, so that is a challenge for me to ponder. My own personal goal with the growth mindset project this semester is to learn everything I can from the students who choose to participate (and, if possible, what I can learn from the students who are choosing not to participate) so that I can then find ways to improve the project in the future. One option, for example, would be to weave growth mindset into the core class assignments, making it an explicit part of those class activities. To do that, though, I need to see how the students themselves want to work with growth mindset on their own, which means I am really grateful to the students who are trying it out this semester!

Now, the best part, here are some highlights from their posts in Weeks 2 and 3:

Growth Mindset Class Project. One of the most exciting developments is that someone has made growth mindset the theme of his class project! So, you can see his brainstorming about the project here, along with his growth mindset reflections for the week; that synergy between the class project and his own learning is exactly the kind of thing I would love to see happening for everyone in class, where learning itself becomes something to think about and reflect on all the time. I'm really excited to see where this will take him. I'm also guessing that his exploration of growth mindset as a central theme in his actual class project will be an inspiration for other students to try something like that next semester!

Out of the Comfort Zone. Students have often told me that these classes are outside of their "comfort zone" for all kinds of reasons (it might be the first time they have ever done creative writing, the first time they have ever shared their writing with others, the first time they have ever blogged or made a website, etc.), and that's why one of the Dweck video clips I shared with students in Week One was a clip about "making challenge the new comfort zone." So, of course I loved this post from a student who was inspired by a meme I had made of a cat in a swimming pool: All the good stuff is outside our comfort zone. This one post by this one student makes the whole growth mindset project worthwhile in my opinion: I really want people to relax and have a good time in the class even though I know it is outside their comfort zone, and this meme gave the student a chance to reflect on exactly that possibility in a fun way. Now I hope she will make some memes of her own (yes, I am addicted to Cheezburger, and my students know it, ha ha... and some of them do get into meme-making too as one of their creation experiments for the class).

Time Management. I would guess that the single biggest problem students face is time management, and the fact that they are incredibly overcommitted without enough time for the things they want to do, not even enough time for the things they really need to do. But here's the thing: growth takes time, so applying growth mindset adds to that time management burden, but it can also be a way to reflect on time and think about the best ways to use the time available. You can read about students' struggles with time in their posts here and here and here, and I will be really glad if the growth mindset challenge helps them find new ways to win their "battle with time" as one student described it. This post shows the entanglement of time and grades, and how they are both obstacles to real learning. And I loved this post from a student about procrastination: it's from a student who doesn't procrastinate, but she thought she would use the growth mindset challenge just as an experiment in time management to see what happened if she procrastinated on purpose, and she can now officially declare that procrastination is not for her because procrastination is stressful. I agree: procrastination is stressful, and stress is not good for growth!

Growth Mindset and Other Classes. One of the things I really like about growth mindset is that there is potentially huge transfer here between my classes and students' other classes. This is valuable because I teach Gen. Ed., which is an "outlier" and even oddball class for many of my students. So, I was really happy when students wrote about using growth mindset for challenges in their other classes here and here and here. Another student looked for connections across all his classes, which I think is great (one of the biggest problems with school IMO is the utter disconnectedness of one class from another). I was also really excited by this post from a psychology student who encountered growth mindset as a topic in her psychology class.

Growth Mindset Beyond School. Something else I really like about growth mindset is how it naturally applies not just to school but to life in general. Two students wrote about growth mindset and challenges they face at work here and here. Another student wrote about growth mindset for physical training, which is a great way to gain insight into "brain training" as well.

Growth Mindset and Writing. I teach writing classes, which is why growth mindset is such a good fit (writing is all about experimentation and open-ended growth), and students tried some writing-related growth mindset challenges here and here and here. The student who did poetry was really excited about that, so I think I will add an explicit poetry challenge to the list, in addition to the generic writing challenges I have there now. Someone also did the "where you write" challenge and shared pictures, which I thought was very cool!

Growth Mindset and Reading. I was really glad that one student wrote about a reading challenge; one of my own personal goals is to do a better job of engaging with students in their reading, and I thought it was great how this student found a new reading strategy to use for close reading when he is commenting on other students' writing.

Curation. Another optional experiment this semester is having students do public curation of their online discoveries, and there was some overlap with growth mindset there. One student shared something about brain and growth mindset that grabbed his attention, and another person connected growth mindset with her favorite quote of the week. (Fewer students are doing curation than growth mindset, though... that curation experiment is one that will require a LOT more work from me next semester, but I am getting ideas about that from the students this time around also!)

Learning about Growth Mindset. One of the challenge is to learn more about growth mindset by finding good resources online, and one student brought in an article Dweck had done for CNN focused on women: Why Women Fail.
I was able to bookmark that and add it to my growth mindset resources (enrollment in my classes is always skewed towards more women than men, so a resource like this is definitely of interest).

Sharing. Another suggested growth mindset challenges is to share the growth mindset in a conversation with someone else to see if they know about it already, and I thought it was very cool that this student's mother is an elementary school teacher, so she was able to confirm that her mother is already using growth mindset with her students and also for her own work as a teacher. Another student talked with her roommate about growth mindset, and since her roommate is an education major, she was also a great source of information. (Go, educators!)

Memes. One student is a fan of Peter Reynolds's The Dot (a lovely "growth mindset" parable), and she celebrated Dot Day last week with this meme:

She had written about the connection between growth mindset and "The Dot" back in Week 1, alerting me to Dot Day, so I was able to put that in the class announcements too!

And I loved this meme featuring a student's dog... and the meme is so much more meaningful when you read this dog's story: Murmur.

For more memes, see my previous post of student reflections (a few students were already doing their Week 2 challenges when I wrote up that post about Week 1). You can see that the dogs are well represented thanks to the memes the students are making and sharing, in addition to all my cat memes!

I am hoping for more memes and other good things in the weeks to come; I'll do another write-up like this one when there are some more posts to highlight.

And for any students who read this: THANK YOU for all your help: I'm already getting so many good ideas I can use to improve these classes in the future, thanks to you!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

English: Work together and ask a friend for help.

At Pinterest, I found a link to this nifty poster: I Don't Know What to Do Next, and it inspired this cat; the image is from cheezburger — and here is more from that same poster.

Not sure what to do next?
Work together and ask a friend for help.

Here is the poster:

Don't know what to do next?
Dig deep and stick with it.
Look in a book or use the Internet.
Can you find an example?
Keep calm and read it again.
Remind yourself not knowing is okay. 
Work together and ask a friend.
Pause a moment and just think.
Still not sure? Then ask your teacher.

So, that inspired me to make this cat; the image is from cheezburger.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

English: Not sure what to do next? Look in a book.

(the image is from cheezburger)

At Pinterest, I found a link to this nifty poster: I Don't Know What to Do Next.

Don't know what to do next?
Dig deep and stick with it.
Look in a book or use the Internet.
Can you find an example?
Keep calm and read it again.
Remind yourself not knowing is okay. 
Work together and ask a friend.
Pause a moment and just think.
Still not sure? Then ask your teacher.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

English: Review your work.

Self-reflection is an important part of the growth mindset, and reviewing your work is a crucial part of the growth process.

The image is from cheezburger.

Monday, September 7, 2015

English: Play with many different toys.

Variety is an important part of growth: you need to try new things, play with many different toys ... read many different books ... explore many different websites, and so on!

The image is from cheezburger.

Play with many different toys.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Growth Mindset: Five Reasons Why

I've been thinking a lot about Jackie Gerstein's latest post on growth mindset and the dangers of it turning into just a slogan, without any real change: Is “Have a Growth Mindset” the New “Just Say No”? Jackie's perspective is more understandable than the Alfie Kohn's diatribe in Slate (more about that here), but I'm still wary of getting bogged down in this pseudo-debate about growth mindset.

The people who are denouncing growth mindset for its bad and sloppy implementation seem to me to be making the same mistake as people who denounce ed tech because of bad and sloppy ed tech in schools or who denounce online education because of bad and sloppy online courses. I've spent the last few years expending a lot of precious time and energy defending my online courses to people who assume my courses are video-driven multiple-choice courses like Coursera MOOCs. Suffice to say: my courses are not MOOCs, and my use of growth mindset is not just sloganeering.

Here are the top five ways in which I see growth mindset as something of real value in my classes, and I hope to learn even more about that as I embark on this new semester-long experiment:

1. Growth mindset is a challenge to me as much as to my students. I've done a lot to grow as an online instructor over the past 13 years (getting rid of grades, getting rid of quizzes, creating "UnTextbooks" driven by student choice, teaching completely in the open, etc.), and I welcome the challenge that growth mindset gives both me and the students to keep on growing and learning. I really appreciate anything I can do side by side on an equal footing with my students, and exploring the growth mindset is one of those things we can do together as co-learners.

2. Growth mindset is a way to refocus on learning, while setting grades aside. Admittedly, it is extremely hard for my students to not focus on grades given the obsessive focus on grades by the university itself (GPA, transcript, etc.). But after years of trying to have discussions with students about learning as separate from grades, I am seeing some real success with growth mindset, and I hope to build on that as I learn more about my students' responses to the growth mindset model and the different growth mindset challenges they try during the semester. (For my students' first reactions to growth mindset, see the Growth Mindset Overview for Week 1.)

3. Growth mindset applies to all the work in class. That means I can make "growth mindset challenges" to help students see their work for all aspects of the class in new, growth-oriented ways (reading, writing, research, interacting with other students, etc.). I'll know more about how that is going to work as I see what students do with the growth mindset challenge options this semester. I really like the fact that students can choose to work on growth mindset challenges in whatever aspects of the class they find most engaging and/or challenging.

4. Growth mindset provides connections between my classes and other classes. For some of my students, there are already good content connections and process connections between my classes and their other classes (other literature courses, other writing courses), but for many of my students, my course is a real outlier compared to their other classes (I see lots of engineering, science, and pre-med students). With growth mindset, though, I can offer the students a framework that can help them find meaningful connections between their work in my class and the challenges they face in other classes.

5. Growth mindset is inherently open-ended and student-driven. Only my students can know what represents a real opportunity for their personal growth, and working on growth mindset encourages them to take more control of the class. I really aspire for the class to embody Daniel Pink's mantra of "autonomy, mastery, and purpose," along with lots of creativity, and growth mindset is a wonderful way to convey that hope to my students in a way that is really easy to grasp and exciting to explore. (Again, for student reactions so far, see the Growth Mindset Overview for Week 1.)

And in the spirit of open-endedness, here is a growth mindset cat; I look forward to seeing how high we can climb this semester!

Friday, September 4, 2015

English: Look for opportunity.

Today's cats have their eyes open and heads up, looking for opportunity. The image is from cheezburger.

Look for opportunity!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Growth Mindset: Overview of Week 1

Making "growth mindset" part of my classes for the Fall 2015 semester is something I am excited about, and you can see what I shared with the students for the Week 1 Orientation here: Growth Mindset.

In response to that assignment, the students each wrote a blog post and I've provided some highlights from those posts below. It was hard to choose given all the good stuff in those posts (there were about 80 blog posts!), and to see more you can browse the blog stream for yourself. In addition to the Week 1 posts, there are even some Growth Mindset Challenge posts for Week 2 (thanks, Lauren, Justin, and Christian!). I am really happy with how this is going so far, and I hope that many people will want to do the Growth Mindset posts in future weeks to keep learning and exploring.

And now here are some observations from Week 1:

New to almost everyone. Although people could obviously connect with Dweck's ideas easily, very few had heard of "growth mindset" explicitly before. That surprised me a bit, since I thought they might have encountered it in high school (I know so many K-12 teachers who have really embraced this approach), but that was not the case. One person learned about it in their Peer Learning Assistant training the same weekend that they had this assignment, so that was a nice coincidence! Another person learned about it from Dean Nicole Campbell in a presentation for Engineering Dean's Leadership Council Mentors. One student learned about it in a Communication class with Ryan Bisel, who noted: "He loves to see students grow and learn during the semester, calling it their transformation." Yet, even if it was new to most people, it was something easy to grasp. I like what Alesha said here: "I am a big advocate of the Growth Mindset, even though I didn't know it until now."

Perspectives from other countries. It was really fascinating to hear from people who grew up in other countries! This observation from Youhao really made me think: "In China, students learn from frustrations, but almost nobody encourages us. In the US, encouragements and rewards are very common, but frustrations are rare. If frustrations and encouragements could be combined together, I think educations in both countries can be much better."

Grades a big part of the problem. I really appreciated the honesty with which people admitted that because they feared a low grade they would be tempted to cheat or to do something to avoid the challenge. For seniors about to graduate, as they think about looking for a job or applying to graduate school, it's easy to get fixated on grades. Like one person said: "I have gotten more competitive about my grades as I need to get a high GPA. From this, I also learned that the grades have become more important to me than the learning itself. To fix this will be my biggest challenge." The grade anxiety is very real, like this student explains: "Learning in other aspects of my life has always been fun. I love to challenge myself with new things, be it running, hiking, or even new arts and crafts projects. It's fun to not know how to do something and then to learn how to do it. It feels like an accomplishment. But in educational settings, this has never been the case because I'm being graded on what I know, not my potential to know it. Being judged or graded on my own work has always made me extraordinarily nervous and it makes me terrified of failure because not only do I know I failed, but so does the person who judged or graded me."

Learning first, grades second. A really good strategy I think is what Christina describes here, where she seeks out classes where the hard work for the grade means real learning: "I've changed that up the past few semesters by picking classes with professors that I knew would be challenging and I would actually have to work hard for a good grade. Due to this change, I have become a better student. I try not to improve based on the grade that I am going to get (though it is an important factor), but I try to improve so I can become better at what I am trying to do. The desire to truly understand what I am learning has become a top priority to me with my classes." I also liked Carey's strategy of consciously using grades as a motivator just to get through the boring aspects of something that you just have to get through: "I find that the motivation of grades helps me to push through the boring bits and allows me to get experience that I might not have been able to gain on my own."

Sports, music, and art provide great lessons. There were great examples from the world of sports which came up in people's posts, like this from Brie: "No, I never played a perfect game of soccer where I completed every pass and scored on every shot I made. But I learned from my mistakes and I worked to get to the level I wanted to be at — I didn't just stay stuck." For Briana, it's judo: "I started Judo my sophomore year of college and since then I've come to realize that every match or "roll" I lose teaches me something, a new move, a flaw in my own moves, or the humbling fact that I'm never as good as I think I am." And for Michael, football: "My former football coach would always say "live like a champion." It was our creed, our motto. Being an athlete my mentality has been molded by my many practices, experiences, hard lessons, and the moments that sculpt the competitor to grow and overcome the exhaustion, failures, and other obstacles." Kelsey wrote about Drum Corps International: "By doing this so intensely for such a long period of time, you go through changes in yourself as well. You come back from the summer a more growth minded person altogether. There's always room to grow and room to learn. Nothing is ever perfect. However, it's not about perfection, but the perfect approach." And Taylor explained how studio art classes are all about practice and growth: "In my studio classes I strive to push myself to try different mediums or different processes in order to become a skilled artist. It might not always be easy but I know that if I keep trying eventually it will be. Now if we could someone make it like that with all my classes instead of just art, then school as a whole would be a lot better."

Foreign languages. There's also such a powerful sense of practice in studying foreign languages. Jacob, who works in the Language Lab, made this great observation: "I've seen students come in every day during a semester to practice their pronunciation or check out books to read in other languages, and in the short time from the beginning of a semester to the end, the amount of progress is really impressive."

Math anxiety. In terms of school hardships, math was the subject mentioned most often; Whitney wrote a really moving post about finally facing the math challenge. Whitney needed the help there in fourth grade that Nicole was lucky to get from her parents: "I remember once when I was in the fourth grade, a lady came to our class with some math 'trick questions.' I guessed a wrong answer and was told I was wrong, another student answered correctly and received praise. I remember in that moment thinking to myself, "I'm just no good at math." I remember coming home with math homework in elementary school and middle school bawling to my parents when I could not figure out my assignments. Luckily for me, I have very patient parents who understand the importance of a Growth Mindset. When I couldn't figure out a problem, they taught me how to search through my textbook like a detective looking for clues. I learned how to look back at other problems and find similarities and differences between the problems. The focused shifted from finding the right answer immediately, to learning how to problem solve... which is actually pretty fun! I remember both of my parent's constantly reminding me to slow down when I did my homework, which turned my homework into more of a learning experience than an assignment."

Freshman year challenge. A lot of people talked about what a big challenge it was switching from high school to college! For example: "I barely made all D's and I gave up on school altogether after my first semester. My failures swallowed me whole and like the students in Dweck's study, I ran away from difficulty." There were accounts like this from people who dropped out or came close to dropping out their freshman year when they couldn't handle the new challenges. My guess is that talking with freshman about growth mindset could be really powerful and helpful for exactly that reason: it is a shock, even scary, but you want people to grow on through that, and not get stuck.

Growth opportunities in high school. While some people wrote about coasting in high school, there were also people had really great growth experiences in high school, while college came up short by comparison. I really enjoyed reading what Heather wrote about her math and physics classes in high school compared to college: "I definitely think that my high school teachers were a little bit ahead of the game for their teaching styles. I’m not sure whether the OU teachers were less inviting for creativity because they were PHD’s and maybe were not used to anything besides the specific methods they were taught, or they just did not have enough time to allow students to learn in the manner, or what." So, there's a challenge for those of us who teach college: we need to learn from the great things our K-12 colleagues are doing!

New to me. From Audra, I learn about Peter Reynolds's The Dot,
and I will definitely be including International Dot Day in the class announcements for September 15. From Carey, I learned about a TED talk: Matt Cutts (an engineer at Google) talks about the power of trying something new for 30 days. I think that will be a great video to share with the class!
Josh has been doing a blogging challenge like that already, and he wrote about that in his post. From Micah, I learned an awesome hadith from the Islamic tradition: "Certainly the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have TWICE that reward."

I saw some great graphics too, like this one that Claire found:

I thought this image from Sherin's post was wonderful!

Christian has supplied us with what I hope will be many more bulldogs to come!

Madison made a meme of her lovely dog Tucker:

And Justin made this cute meme of his own dog when she was a puppy:

So, that's my summary for Week 1, and I'll have more of these posts each week; I'll label them as Fall15 to make them easy to find. Happy learning, everybody!