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!

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