Wednesday, December 23, 2015

10 Reasons Why Growth Mindset Works For Me

I just finished writing up the last of the Fall 2015 reports on the growth mindset experiment, and I am so happy with how things turned out. In fact, the growth mindset project went so well that I will expand it in the Spring semester, carrying on with the growth mindset while also adding a new set of self-challenges for students to work on if they want:

(1) There will be the Growth Mindset Challenges as before, and I'll be updating/expanding those based on what I learned this semester.

(2) I am calling the new set of challenges Learning by H.E.A.R.T. and I'll have lots more to say about that in a separate post! I'm just now starting on that.

But now, back to Fall 2015... I wanted to use the list approach here to try to organize my thoughts about how growth mindset contributed to the class overall. My guess is that this could work in so many types of classes! Here are the important observations I want to take away from this semester:

1. Growth mindset is new to students. Only a few students had heard of growth mindset before! That surprised me, given the number of K-12 teachers who work with this model. I feel even more motivated to develop this dimension of my class now that I know it is something students may never have even encountered before. I teach mostly college seniors... so, better late than never!

2. Students are quick to embrace growth mindset. Now, that doesn't mean they have a deep or full understanding of it right away, but there is not any initial resistance to the idea. Some students worked on growth mindset challenges every single week, and quite a few remarked that it was one of their most valuable take-aways from the class. Now that I see which elements of growth mindset are immediately obvious and which concepts are less obvious, I'll be able to do a better job of deciding what information and resources to emphasize next semester.

3. Growth mindset is relevant to all students. The courses I teach are part of the Humanities Gen. Ed. program at my school, and the students come from all the colleges/majors — accounting, biochemistry, public relations, petroleum engineering, you name it. That variety is really exciting, but also daunting for me as a teacher because I have to design the class in a way that it can benefit every single student. I am really happy that growth mindset is something that has the potential to benefit every single student, putting the "general" back in "General Education" as it were.

4. Growth mindset is relevant to students' whole lives. I really loved the ways students found to use growth mindset in their other classes, on the job, with their own children, etc. I learned so much from reading the blog posts where they wrote about connecting growth mindset to other parts of their lives and also the posts where they wrote about sharing growth mindset with friends, roommates, family, etc.

5. Growth mindset can permeate the whole class. This was one of the nicest surprises for me: even students who were not doing challenges still got into the growth mindset way of looking at things and would remark about growth mindset in their blog posts. Even without doing the challenges themselves, they were learning about them from the daily announcements and from other students' blogs that they visited. Students doing assignments in class that had no direct connection to the Growth Mindset Challenges often included growth mindset references and ideas in those other blog posts. That was really cool to see!

6. Growth mindset reduces fear and anxiety. Although this is a writing class, many of the students are reluctant writers; likewise, even though this is an online class, plenty of students have technology anxiety. Being able to couch my feedback to them in terms of growth mindset was really wonderful. I had always used the mindset strategy in sharing feedback with students, but making growth mindset an explicit part of the class is even better: now students can do their own growth "self-talk" in addition to the growth talk they hear from me. I could also see that it was helping students give each other better feedback too as they commented on each other's work.

7. Growth mindset is a powerful basis for colearning. It has always been my goal to be a colearner with my students, but the hierarchy of the university is a big obstacle for that. With growth mindset, I could share with my students the different ways I am trying to challenge myself and grow, just as they are. Lifelong learning: it's not just a slogan!

8. Growth mindset puts learning over grades. Even though I don't do any grading in my classes, students are (understandably) still very grade-oriented, and some of them even miss getting grades from me. Growth mindset fills that gap and has finally given me a vocabulary to use in talking with my students about learning in a way that has nothing at all to do with grades. Learning IS growth, and the growth IS learning. Grades have nothing to do with it, and mindset lets us focus on process rather than product.

9. Growth mindset is fun! I love the way that growth mindset embraces creativity and fun, imagination and excitement, all the things that I value both as a learner and as a teacher. Unlike the grit approach (which is such a turn-off for me), growth mindset is something that is both challenging and encouraging at the same time, and I was so glad to see that students perceived it in a very positive and energizing way also.

10. Growth mindset goes well with memes. The "growth mindset cats" added an element of growth mindset to the announcements every single day in a very eye-catching way. Some of the students were themselves really into cats, but even the students who were not into cats could appreciate the humor and messages of the memes. Students eagerly shared lots of humorous and motivational memes in their blogs, and some of them also made memes of their own. Learning that can happen by means of memes is very useful in a fully online class!

As I saw which cat memes students shared and reshared in their blogs, I became aware of which memes they really connected with; below are some of the most popular cats, and you can see all the growth cats at my Growth Mindset Memes blog.

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