This week I (and all of the teachers in my school’s local mini-network) attended a professional development session presented by Maria Roberto, titled:
Embracing the “F” Word
Using FAILURE to build resilience and motivation at school.
I have to say that, from all of these BIG group professional development sessions that have been run, this one was very interesting.
It is based on Carol Dweck’s research into Fixed and Growth Mindsets in students, and I think it has a lot of implications for teachers.
Basically, the premise is that a mindset is a belief system that is specific to each individual person, and is not something we’re born with, but something that we learn. Every mindset has its own set of rules, and is based on what you believe you are and are not capable of achieving.
Dweck’s research into fixed and growth mindsets in students focused on the specific feedback given to students who were given the same basic non-verbal IQ test: praise for intelligence (“You are so smart!”) and praise for effort (“You must have worked really hard.”). She then tracked student results in subsequent (more challenging) tests, where students who were praised for intelligence struggled to answer the harder questions and students who were praised for effort persisted in answering the harder questions even if they weren’t sure of the answers.
Students with fixed mindsets often find it difficult to move beyond their comfort zone, for fear of not appearing “smart” or for appearing to “fail.” They’ll go to lengths to hide or conceal mistakes. Students like this are at risk of becoming non-learners because they never take those responsible risks.
Students with growth mindsets engage in problem solving, put in effort and work through tasks despite failure. They push beyond their comfort zones and look at failure as an opportunity to increase learning.
I loved that we were given a list of fixed and growth mindset language choices, because as a teacher it’s super easy to simply (and well-meaningly) tell a student, “Wow, aren’t you clever,” because it’s quicker than, “Wow, I love how you put so much effort into answering your questions today.” But when you praise effort you’re encouraging students to persist even when they’re not super-confident.
I had a perfect example today in the classroom with one of my new little kiddos. They’ve only been at school for 11 days, and today we wrote a shared sentence and I had all the students have a go at copying it down. It was a very short sentence about their art lesson and was primarily used as an example of a complete sentence. One of the little boys sat there the whole time and wouldn’t attempt to copy ANY of it down because he was terrified he would do it wrong. Nothing I could say during the lesson would convince him that all I wanted him to do was have a go because he’d worked himself up so much.
Afterwards I pulled him aside and he’d written down the first three letters from the sentence and I told him that I was really proud of the way he’d had a go at the first few letters (and they were legible and neat, so I was super happy anyway) but we had to have a big chat about taking risks and remembering that it’s not making mistakes that makes teachers sad, it’s when students don’t have a go because mistakes are a learning opportunity, not something to be ashamed of.
At the end of the conversation I think he was considerably happier and was talking about going home and looking at words in his books and having a go at copying them down to practise and get better. (Can you imagine how happy this made me? Especially seeing a much happier expression on his face when he realised he wasn’t in trouble? Gosh!)
But, for the curious the words that you might hear coming from students with a fixed mindset include: must have, always, forever, all the time, every time, should, can’t stand it. (I can’t stand it! I must know the answer.)
Words for a growth mindset: sometimes, often, maybe, may, might, at times, occasionally, for now, frequently, (and the most important one) yet. (Sometimes I have the right answer. Sometimes I make mistakes. I may be able to solve this problem. I can’t solve this problem yet. I don’t know the answer yet.)
All of this is a super simple summary of the hour-long talk that I heard earlier in the week, but if you’re interested in looking in to it, or even being able to download a free .pdf full of lesson activities for using failure to build resilience in students, check out the ReachOut Professionals page – simply sign-up (it’s free) and look under the Professional Development tab for the Embracing the F Word download.
You can also see a TED Talk by Carol Dweck, titled The Power of Believing That You Can Improve.
Obviously, this extends beyond teaching and students, but I think it’s a timely reminder that our words (as teachers) do affect our students. We are very fortunate that we are able to influence and support our students in developing a growth mindset just by changing the way we praise them for their efforts.
Thanks for sticking around for this rather wordy post!
What professional development have you done recently that really inspired you?