Teacher Feature:

Karen Jones                                                      

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Integration Paper

Having read Carol Dweck’s book Mindsets several years ago as a faculty, it quickly became and remains my all-time favorite professional read. When I discovered a course offered by the Heritage Institute based on her book, I was thrilled. What I expected from the class was an indepth look at Dweck’s work and to become more prepared to work with my students on mindsets. Elizabeth O’Neil and I had decided that we wanted to influence the mindsets of our math students and this course would help us to do just that! It has met all of my expectations and then some!

What I found to be the most helpful to me was having an opportunity to discuss very specific questions and ideas with Elizabeth. Many of them gave us pause to rethink what we have been doing in math for the last few years and how we could improve our strategies.

 

In particular, one assignment helped me to really reflect on what I do in the classroom that may contribute to students losing their love of learning and what I can do differently in the future. It also made me think about grading and how it affects kids. I have long disliked our current grading practices which are pretty standard. I have seen them knock a kid down pretty hard and I have seen them contribute to the “status quo” attitude of a an “A” student. “I got an A, so there is no need for me to work any harder than I am.”  I would love to see us get away from this kind of assessment once and for all!

 

Working in a group collaboration allowed us a lively discussion about tracking. We started coming at it from seemingly different points of view. We concluded that we were both saying essentially the same thing and were in agreement about tracking. As a result, we have begun the process of speaking with our immediate supervisor about eliminating the practice of ability grouping in our math program. Ours is a very collaborative group of teachers and the conversation will need to be much bigger than Elizabeth and myself alone. As such, it will be up to the two of us to provide as much information as we can to our colleagues with the hope that they are open to trying to work with completely heterogeneous groups. The biggest concern of our administration at this point is, “How do we make sure that we are challenging our accelerated students and sell the idea to parents that it is going to be more than their advanced students “tutoring” those students in the class that are challenged by math.” I am hoping for time during our August Inservice to devote to a discussion of this as a Lower School staff.

Assignment #7 was a fascinating look at how mindsets affect relationships. As I look back over this past year, I can very much see fixed mindsets in some of my students as it relates to how they get along with their peers. Being able to help students understand how a fixed mindset can have a negative impact on how they are perceived and interact with others is going to be very helpful in dealing with rocky peer interactions in the future.

Revisiting the research that supports praise for effort vs. talent was a great shot in the arm. It is very easy to fall into the “trap” of telling a student they are smart. I know that it is something I have to be constantly on my toes about so that I don’t perpetuate a fixed mindset, particularly in my most capable students.

Having the opportunity to develop a “workshop” that we can use right away in the fall was fabulous. It is a work in progress at this point. We are working on developing a pre and post assessment piece that will help us measure how effective our work with the kids is. Elizabeth and I are excited to not only work on our own mindsets this year, but to bring the kids along with us on this journey of self-discovery. With a very mindful approach, I am hopeful that we will see an increase of growth mindsets across the board in our classrooms, but in particular as it relates to math.

A big part of that workshop is to help the students understand the message that mistakes being the conduit for learning is one that cannot be reinforced enough. I have always told my students that “mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn” but now I have the science to back it up. I am convinced that with enough reinforcement, the students will eventually embrace this way of thinking. Our bigger challenge is educating our parents to understand this as well. In our environment, we have a fair amount of “rescuing” that happens. For many of our kids and parents, failure is not an option and parents try to protect their students from experiencing disappointment and hurt. I worry about what is going to happen to the child who has been consistently praised as being smart and been protected from failing when his parent cannot move into the dorm with him when he goes away to college!!!! We sometimes joke about this, but the reality is that many kids grow up in a highly protected environment and are not prepared for the failures that they will surely experience in college and beyond.  It is my belief that Mindsets be required reading for ALL parents.

 

I believe that between this class and an online course called “How to Teach Math” out of Stanford that I have been engaged in, I have the tools I need to help my students to recognize and move beyond a fixed mindset, embracing a growth mindset. However, as with anything, it will take a lot of repetition and practice for my work to become as fluid as I would like it to be. Just remembering to consistently reinforce and bring attention to the characteristics of a growth mindset in class will take purposeful action on my part. But I am committed to making this second nature in all that I do with my students.

 

Finally, Elizabeth and I are preparing a presentation to share with our faculty in September, with the goal of bringing more visibility of our work with mindsets in classrooms throughout the school. To effect real change, we all need to be versed in mindsets. To help with this, we will use what we have learned in this class to revisit the concept of mindsets, what the characteristics are, and to promote the idea that our student’s new “comfort zone” should be one of accepting mistakes as a way to stretch and grow and that if the work is “easy” they are not learning anything!

 

Thank you for presenting this class! I have loved it!