Mindset of Teaching and Learning

Post by Liza Levenson
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I recently completed a great book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. I found the book very interesting and learned a lot from it. One of Dweck’s findings about praising students echoed that which I had read about in Daniel Pink’s Drive last year. Dweck and Pink’s work informs a great deal of how I assess students’ work and provide feedback to them and you.
Before reading Drive and Mindset, I thought that all praise was helpful, beneficial and motivating. Dweck reveals that this is not the case; she provides a few examples of how sometimes we may praise students with the best intentions and it may end up being more stressful than helpful to students. I have excerpted part of the book, as quoted on growingleaders.comClick here to read more about a specific example from Dweck’s research.
Some fourth grade parents at St. Andrew’s have commented on how thrilled they are at students’ engagement in games and fun activities in class without the possibility of a “prize” for winning. For me this move away from prizes was a paradigm shift, and in the past I gave out pencils, candy and all sorts of things I considered to be motivators to students. When I (skeptically) embraced the idea of encouraging students to do their best for the work’s sake or for the fun of it, I was delighted to see how positively my students responded. Though it took a while for some students to come around to the idea of playing without a prize for the winner, the children no longer expect them. The fact that we are able to play games in class, at break and recess, and in PE without students expecting something in return makes these times a more fun and worthwhile experience for all. It also promotes students playing for fun! I observe more good sportsmanship and students encouraging one another than ever before. It also helped develop each student’s intrinsic motivation for the activity.
I notice daily how supporting students to challenge themselves by stretching their minds beyond what they thought possible pays dividends for them in the long run. When school began in the fall, I regularly heard students say things like “I can’t,” or “I don’t know how to.” Now, I more often hear students saying, “I’m not ready to hear the answer, I’m still working on it,” or “I want to get a clue, but that’s it.” It’s been an incredibly rewarding and exciting change in our classroom so far, and I look forward to students continuing to take risks and step out of their comfort zones with the “prize” being pride in their own hard work and effort.

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