Thursday, December 6, 2012

Growth Mind Set

Today in our Learning Leader's meeting we talked about fixed mind set vs growth mind set.  It was an interesting discussion.  I know I used to have a fixed mind set.  I believed that people/students fit into different categories - ie. A students, B students, great athlete, good athlete, poor athlete, etc.   Now I believe I have shifted towards a growth mind set.  I believe everyone can improve.  We don't all improve at the same rate, and I don't believe that we will all get to the same level in our lifespan, but I do 100% believe that everyone can improve at what they want to.

I think that in our traditional education system we set students up to have a fixed mind set.  They were either good, average or poor at math.  We did this because we taught a chapter, tested it, gave the evaluation to the student, and that was the end of it, we moved on to the next chapter.  Typically students stayed in a particular "grade" range from test to test.  We didn't talk a whole lot (or at least I didn't) about learning from the "test" and improving our knowledge.

What really changed my belief was moving to the 4 point rubric.   Here it is easy to talk about growth and have a growth mind set.  The same scale is used so we can discuss the growth of learning.  My first  success story with this was in the first year of using the rubric.  I had a student with a fixed mind set - she hated math and sucked at it and always failed, so why try.  We've all had those students.  She had a fixed mind set as she didn't believe she could learn and improve.  As I started to think more about growth I simply pointed out to her how proud I was with an assessment result because she had shown improvement since we began that outcome.  She thought about that and her mind shifted.   Once I had pointed out that she had gone from not knowing, to learning a little, to having a basic understanding of the outcome, she started to believe that she could learn.  Her attitude changed as she shifted to a growth mind set and the results for her in the class were a success.

I love that with a growth mind set we are not comparing to one another (ranking), which is what a fixed mind set does.  I think a good example of this is when you take your child to the doctor for their annual visit and their height and weight are charted on a percentile chart.  Yes, your child is "ranked" in a percentile according to others, but that is not what my doctor focused on.  He didn't care if I they were at the 70th percentile or the 5th.  What he focused on was that they followed the growth pattern fairly close and remained about the same.  A huge drop or increase was cause for concern.  I try to get my students to see this as well.  I don't want them to compare how they are doing to anyone else, I want them to look at whether they are improving on their learning.  When a parent asks me what a good "score" is on the rubric, I tell them it depends on the student.  What is more important is whether the student is showing growth and if they are then learning is happening even if it is at a slower/faster pace than someone else.

I think that it is also important with this measurement tool (4 point rubric) that reflecting on learning is occurring.  I know I am working on being consistent with this.  If all you do is return an assessment with a "score" on it, and there is no follow up, then it can lead to fixed mind sets again.  If you return the assessment and have the students reflect on where they are at in their learning, what they have been successful with, what they still need to learn, and whether they have shown improvement, then you are fostering a growth mind set.

What I have found really interesting through this journey is that those who are most opposed to the 4 point rubrics are either students or parents of students who would be deemed "upper" end students if we ranked the students.  Today's conversation lead me to believe these are of a fixed mind set and need the validation of the high marks and ranking.  Scholarships and University entrance often enter the conversation.  Really, University entrance is not an issue - students will be provided with the necessary University required "grade".  And really, what percentage of students are we talking about here?  Not a whole lot!   This system can reach ALL students.  Sometimes I wonder if this group is worried about others "catching" them and then they are not alone at the top.  I really do think that this validation is necessary for them.  And that is something that we need to change.  I really don't hear any of the "lower" or "middle" ranked students/parents complaining about this once they have listened to the purpose of this system (initially they might have a negative view until the purpose is explained).    They see the benefits of being allowed to improve and being encouraged to learn.

I love how the 4 point system that we have implemented complements a growth mind set.  I know I have to improve how I use the system in my classes so students see the benefits of believing that they can learn and not being satisfied with where they are at.  This is all about being life long learners.  We should all try to improve ourselves daily!

On another note, I watched the following video this evening (click here) and would like to thank the "first follower" who joined in with trying rubrics four years ago, and then the next and the next.  Without you guys, we would not be where we are today!


  1. Thanks for your thoughts Carey...your growth mindset is "growing" many in our school! Growth mind sets are kinda contagious ...

  2. Thanks Jackie! I found the discussion very interesting yesterday!

  3. Hi Carey!

    Our district is a big proponent of Carol Dweck and her research on the growth/fixed mindset. In fact teachers are invited to participate in a Skillful Teacher course which focuses on attribution retraining and the growth and fixed mindset. Many students think success or achievement is due to luck, ability--things that are out of their control. It's effort. Thanks for a great post!

  4. Thanks! I've just started to hear more about Carol Dweck. We have been talking about her in our Learning Leaders meetings. I think I'm going to have to read a book of hers to see what she has to say!

  5. Hi Carey,
    I really appreciated your thoughts about this growth mind set. As a student in a teacher preparation program currently, almost all of our assignments are graded on a three or four point rubric. I appreciate the vast amount of knowledge I'm given as a student from these rubrics, both in putting together my assignments and when I receive feedback from my teachers. We have also had opportunities to create our own rubrics for practice lessons and unit plans- and wow, what a lot of work it is! It takes a lot of thought and effort to put together these guidelines for students, but I think it is invaluable. It really helps teachers express to students what areas of growth they still need, while also celebrating areas that they are succeeding in. This way, all students, not just the "A" or "B" students can feel empowered and willing to work hard in the classroom. Also, your idea about using these rubrics to show students how they are improving is really powerful. I would love as a future teacher to keep copies of a students' rubrics to discuss with them at the quarter how they've grown in their knowledge and skills.

    Thank you so much for your stories about this growth mind set. Hearing stories about these successes are what excite me to be in the classroom next year!