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!

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