Growth Mindset

At the risk of falling into a jargon trap, I try to provide a “growth mindset” in the classes I teach.

I believe that a student’s brain learns over time. Neural connections are formed as learning takes place and kids eventually retain the ability to show this through evidence. I don’t believe that kids are just smart or dumb, even though many of my kids believe this about themselves. I believe that learning is a process and kids that go through that process (if they are patient) come out ahead in the long run.

I was (am) one of those people. I was that way in school and I was that way athletically.  Athletically, over 10 years I transformed average innate ability through disciplined training, building motor/neural networks and lots of practice, I was able to compete at a world class level for my age. I still sucked compared to Don Myrah, but I digress. (edit – updated link 2013. I was 33rd)

I was like this in school too. Never possessing innate natural ability or head of the class smarts, I struggled and had to learn how to train my brain, put in hard work and get close to those who were bright. The dangerous ones have always been those very bright folks who work just as hard.

Point is, some kids don’t feel like they are works in progress. They often think that having to work hard is beneath them and that it equates to being a loser in some way. Im not going to go into the reasons for this because Carol Dweck did it for me. You should read that.

So, best I can do is allow kids a chance to have second chances and demonstrate mastery over time. The 14 year olds I get in August are different learners by December or by May. I try to allow them the opportunity to show progress, grow and work hard. The AP kids also need to know that a course and a test have no bearing on them as human beings, nor does it represent everything they have learned. They too need the encouragement to grow, probably most of all.

Problem is, many of them expect to get it right always the first time, many have never made a B and never expect to. So some will absolutely not ask questions, thinking that asking questions means you are dumb. Still, some of them give up when faced with a number they don’t like or when presented with a thinking, conceptual challenge that is not rote memorization. I really wish I had them for 4 years.

How do we get these particular kids out of this cycle? We can’t. They eventually have to do it. But they need teachers to wear them down on allowing room for growth and emphasizing the learning journey and not the grade; focusing on the process, valuing their improvements and stressing hard work and never giving up. I do have kids that have this mindset already and I don’t want to make it sound like all of my students are in the same boat.

I trained with a power meter for 7 years on my bike. My coach coached elite athletes and I was lucky he took an interest in me. He never focused on placings only my power improvements, my perceived improvements, and provided me with structured guidance built on growth and progress. The power meter was my mistress and she was a total jerk. Doing the work was the fun part. Improving and focusing on doing things better each race became more important than the race itself. Listening to my body and watching myself improve was so fulfilling. Growth mindset.

I had myself going there for a second.

Anyway, I think 6 people read this now so I can bow out nicely now. I think you get where I am coming from.

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