George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What about the kids that don't "get" school? What about the kid who doesn't see the point or the purpose of sitting in a desk and doing assignments that have never motivated her in the past? Or the kid who is always assigned tasks that perpetuate the notion that he is simply "not that smart?"

The good news is that these students can be reached by the right kind of mindset by adults at every school. There is a sweet spot in education, where educators provide the optimal environment, support and standards and students find the motivation and purpose to own their education and work hard for success. This is especially important for disengaged and disadvantaged students. These are the students who most need schools that will help them experience school differently and overcome doubts about their own abilities. They need schools, in other words, that encourage "the growth mindset."

Here's Carol Dweck, Stanford University's growth mindset guru and researcher, talking about how Envision Education offers students a "winning combination" of high expectations and effective support:

VIDEO (4:41): Performance Assessment. See the entire Deeper Learning video series at Teaching Channel.

Dweck describes research, done by her and by her Stanford colleagues, that highlights the factors making a difference for all youth, especially disadvantaged students. Schools can help these students succeed by promoting, by design and via daily instruction, messages that tell students:

  • Your intelligence is something that can and will develop, with effort, good strategies, and support from this school
  • You have a purpose. You are "doing school" so that you can contribute something to your family and to the world
  • You belong here, in this school; this school is for you
  • We, as your teachers, will set high standards for you, and we will give you what you need to succeed

When these messages are communicated well, educators can transform a student's experience of learning from disengaged to engaged and excited. Schools that respond to students' needs by giving them relevant and meaningful work and by developing strong, positive, and productive relationships with them will produce graduates with strong growth mindsets. Armed with the certainty that their own efforts can and will take them far, these students are poised to succeed, which isn't only good news for them and for their families: it's good news for our society as a whole.

Questions to Move Us Forward

  • What is the most effective way to increase students' ownership of the work they do in your class and/or school?
  • How do you help students gain a growth mindset who may believe that other kids are inherently smarter or more talented?
  • How do we as adults in a school model (or not) a growth mindset for our students?

Please share your responses and your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Kids follow our lead....I think it is SO important for all adults involved in a child's life to remember. We need to model this for them. We don't always need to be "the expert". How great for them to be able to teach us or see us ask for help. I think kids need to see us struggle, learn from our journey and work through issues/obstacles.

Erin Smith's picture

I absolutely agree, Gwen. We need to demonstrate for kids that it is perfectly acceptable to try something new, make mistakes, and learn from them. I also think it is incredibly critical to place value on the mistakes that students make: to analyze those mistakes and see how we can learn from them. Just today I had my students not only solving a problem, but also formulating "wrong" answer choices as a way of thinking critically about the most common mistakes that we make with a particular type of math problem. The more we can stress to them that mistakes promote growth (that they are positive rather than negative) the better off things will be.

Erica Madrigal's picture

You said it perfectly Erin. We need to encourage our students to take risks, and help them understand that it is okay to fail. I find that many of my students are so afraid of failure that it holds them back from trying new things and taking on challenges. I try to teach my students perseverance by giving them challenging math problems, and allowing them to struggle until they find a solution. In my efforts to promote a growth mindset in my classroom, I like to display inspirational quotes on my walls, such as the following: "I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying." - Michael Jordan

Red Cherry's picture

Rich discussion, absolutely true, we need to encourage our students to take risk and learn from their mistakes and give them a chance to challenge themselves trying to solve problems and take out the best of their potentials..

Ms.Togs's picture
Robotics, Family Consumer Science, RTI,Physical Science

Yes. Watching a student change when given the answer to a challenge question was one of the most heart wrenching moments that taught me never to do that again. The class was shown a natural phenomenon and challenged to figure out what was taking place. One student stayed after and really pushed me for the answer and I gave in. The mystery was gone, the challenge was over, a huge let down was all that was left. The challenge is what students crave, not the answer.


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