Saturday, September 19, 2015

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!


  1. Fantastic post! Thank you for sharing such fabulous ideas!

    1. Thanks, Deborah! And there will be more good stuff to come; exactly because this project is so amorphous and open-ended, I can keep getting new ideas from the students all semester long, and I'll be blogging it like this so that I don't forget all the good stuff when I go to revise things for next semester. :-)


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