Mission: Mindset

Discussions in the current education sphere have a huge focus on student mindset as a gauge for student motivation and eventual success. Given the research presented by Carol Dweck about Growth vs. Fixed mindset, and the additional research by Angela Duckworth on mindset and grit as a source of intrinsic motivation for students, teachers of all grade levels have begun to implement growth mindset strategies in their classrooms. These are great strategies that encourage focus on progress rather than perfection, gained understanding rather than perfect scores, and overall learning as a continuous spectrum of possibility rather than a means to an end. In my own classroom, I have engaged growth mindset strategies from the beginning of the year. I have attempted to have students make and gauge progress in various goals set both by myself and by each individual. I have encouraged students to adopt the motto that practice makes progress, not perfect, and I am constantly encouraging students not to compare themselves to each other, but instead to each student’s individual standard – somewhat of a personal record for English class goals. I will say now, however, that I feel that I am failing – losing battle before it is begun because the Education system as it is currently set up, does not recognize progress, but perfection.

First, I would like to define that I am not talking about my school not being supportive, nor individual classroom spaces nor other schools nor districts, but the entire system as it moves forward from Elementary to Secondary to Collegiate level study and the process by which students are passed through the various levels of this system. My school and district actually encourage growth mindset and attempt to instill the idea of lifelong learning and knowledge seeking in each student as he/she grows up in the district. However, as Educators, we are hamstrung by the need to grade students. Not only at quarter or progress report, not only on big exams and higher level work, but on everything that they do in a classroom. Grades are a symbol of success and not progress for most students, and for many students entering Middle and High School, they have never received an A-F grade and do not attach any progress related value to these symbols, but instead recognize a D or F as their inability to understand something (for some, a C), and an A, B, or C as a symbol for their success in a subject. Could a student start out receiving a D and move forward throughout the year to gain an A within the same subject – theoretically yes, however, most grading systems are cumulative and so, rather than receiving an at the end of a quarter because they’ve made progress in a particular subject, students receive a lower grade that has been averaged with their original scores in that class. The end grades in a specific subject, then, reflect not what the student knows at the end and is therefore not a real reflection of how they’ve progressed or their abilities in that subject when those grades are passed along to the next grade, school, or college.

So, this is my struggle and my question to you friends –  If you ever get the chance to speak with an educator who values growth mindset as a strategy in his/her classroom – or maybe you are one of these educators, I would like to know this: How do you balance growth mindset with grades and reporting grades not only to the student, but to his/her parents and other teachers?

I have a vague idea that perhaps we are beginning to better understand how the young mind works and grows and how mindset affects students academics as well as lifelong learning, perhaps we need to adopt a system of grading and goal setting that aligns with those ideas. If, for example, we replace grades rather than have a cumulative system of reporting, wouldn’t that give a better picture of how far students have progressed rather than averaging their not-knowing with their knowing?  Anyway – Saturday musings, I’d love your thoughts.

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