Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mistakes and Growth Mindset

"Your brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger and smarter it gets." This quote has been hanging at the front of the Dragon's classroom since school started. Last week, we started thinking about mistakes and growth mindset by talking about what that quote means. Then we watched this video, made by Stanford math professor Jo Boaler, who recently wrote a book called Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching with Carol Dweck, the psychologist behind the growth vs. fixed mindset idea.

Most of us think of mistakes as something BAD, especially at school. But current brain research actually shows that the mistakes we make when thinking hard about a problem or concentrating on a difficult task actually create neural signals that make new connections within our brain and so cause it to "grow." Making mistakes, it turns out, can actually be GOOD!

This is an especially important lesson for our gifted perfectionists, who characteristically shut down in subjects like math, writing, or spelling, because they would prefer not to try at all than make a mistake. So this idea is one I spend some time on during the first weeks of school, trying to create a classroom culture where mistakes are accepted as part of the learning process. We read books like The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein, and we talk about the difference between THINKING mistakes and careless, or "unthinking" mistakes, which do not help our brains grow.
We also talk a lot about having a "growth" vs. a "fixed" mindset; based on the idea of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's findings that people's beliefs in their abilities (in this case -learning) have a direct effect on their outcomes. Believe you can't write or do math well (fixed mindset), and, (surprise!), you will give up, or not even try, and so you will not put in the work required to do it well.  Believe you can (growth mindset) and you will persevere and continue to work at it until you become a better writer, mathematician, etc. A lot of mindset is created by the feedback of others as well as our own internal dialogue, and in gifted education we are well aware that we need to praise students not for their abilities, but for their efforts, and to teach them to value and reflect on this in their self-evaluations as well. Too many gifted students develop a fixed mindset very early on in their schooling because they receive unintentional feedback that reinforces their belief that their strengths are innate, rather than developed through hard work.
So, with this in mind, after watching the video above the students then drew pictures of their brain, with words and pictures showing a growth mindset:

These have been added to student math journals, and we will return to reflect on them when we get to the moments when things get difficult in order to help students re-frame their frustrations and to help them develop, or hone, their growth mindsets.

More from Carol Dweck on growth vs. fixed mindset:

Here is the brain research Jo Boaler cites in her work:
Finding: awareness of and attention to mistakes are intimately involved in growth-minded individuals’ ability to rebound from mistakes

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