8/8/12

From "I can't". . .to "I Can"- Mindset and Learning

Lately I have been thinking about how a person's mindset can effect their ability to succeed.  When I taught, one of the hats I wore was Reading Recovery Teacher.  The Reading Recovery program was based on the work of Fountas and Pinnell, who knew that though some children read almost intuitively, others need to be taught explicitly, in increments how to look at text, notice the pieces of text that work together to form words, sentences, stories, and make meaning from what they are seeing.  An incredibly important part of that program was to help the children who even in first grade, such a short time in school, were beginning to see themselves as "incapable".  My first job when working with these children was to help them restore their confidence, so they would be comfortable taking a risk.  For some of these kids a "risk" is as simple and small as trying the first sound on a tricky word.  These kiddos are smart.  They know how to "hide" in a group, blend in with the others.  They copy and memorize, anything to prevent the teacher from seeing what they think they know about themselves. ie. "I can't read.", "I can't write.", "I am stupid."  So the first part of the job was to make sure the child felt safe, show them what they knew and help them build on that, help them build their confidence, help them change their mindset from "failure" to "learner".  After returning to classroom practice I continued teaching children to read keeping my experience with individualized instruction in mind.

As a parent, I have looked for ways to help my children become confident, resilient members of the world.  I am concerned for my son that seems to take an "I can't" attitude when the going gets tough.  The son that is easily frustrated by things he perceives as difficult tasks or situations.  I have wondered, is he destined to be the underdog?  Will he always step into line after his older brother for whom new skills or challenges seem to come easy?  The fact is, neither boy is a slouch.  They are both very capable and learn quickly, especially when motivated.  Still, the younger son is much less confident and resilient.  Is there something I can do or say to help him overcome that, as I did with my reading students?

And then there is me.  I have been working hard to prepare myself for a return to teaching.  Yet, there is this giant obstacle in my mind.  "I do not interview well.", "I have such a hard time speaking articulately about the issues, even when I think I am prepared", "I wish I could write my way through my interview."  I realize that I am suffering from a "fixed" mindset.  I see myself as incapable at interviewing and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.  Last week, some friends helpfully pointed out that my mindset was holding me back-though they didn't use that precise term.  The next day I revisited some information on Mindset Theory.

Carol Dweck has youtube videos, websites and books  dedicated to her research on Mindset, learning, and success.  The main ideas of her work being that people with a "Growth" Mindset feel capable, persevere through failures and take on challenges, while people with a fixed mindset see a failure as evidence of their inability and generally feel like they are stuck in their level of ability (inability), incapable of improvement.  Though I don't think this is me in the broad sense of intelligence as she applies it, it certainly does apply to me and my sense of my own verbal intelligence.  Unless I persevere, keep improving, and have some confidence in my own ability to take on the challenge, I will always be stuck under the fixed mindset "I am bad at interviews."  Like a bug under a net, I will be looking out at the world wondering why I can't get out there and do something wonderful.

The implications of Mindset Theory for me are twofold.   Personally, my Mindset is effecting me and my ability to move forward with my career.  I am stuck unless I change my mindset.  On the bright side, I know I can do this, because I have done it before.  It is the basis for why I became an educator (though I didn't know it at the time)  I can still remember that light coming on when I made the connection in college that I was capable of being an artist.  I could work hard and learn skills and I didn't have to be born with innate talent in order to pursue art.   I made the connection next, that I wanted to be the kind of educator who opened up possibilities for my students rather than close doors.  I knew the way a person teaches children makes a difference in how children see themselves and their future.  I have seen how being talked to like a bad kid making bad choices simply created a mindset for my oldest son that he wasn't able to lift on his own.  I have also seen how a learning disability can effect mindset.  When that son's disability was not attended to at school , he came to think of himself as dumb.  He was unable even to see the areas where he was strong, all was clouded by what he couldn't do.

I can relate to the ideas Dweck brings up concerning the language adults use with children that encourages a fixed mindset and discourages growth and learning.  I believe Mindset Theory can have large ramifications in education.  This video 'The Effects of Praise on Mindset'  with Carol Dweck really shows how simple language changes can make or break the learning experience for children in school.  I believe teacher language is a key component to why teaching can be so successful, and probably also explains some of why it isn't always.  Any teaching that occurrs is vulnerable to operator error.  Surely if a teacher, or parent speaks to a child in words that discourage growth mindset, the program, the learning, will be undermined.  In my thinking, Mindset is a crucial piece of the puzzle in helping at risk students move toward learning and success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i loved this!