Improving Writing by Empowering a Growth Mindset

The correlation between a growth mindset and student success is easy to see. We all want our students to view learning as a process, not as a static goal or finish line. As Carol Dweck explains in her book Mindset, a growth mindset is the attitude that ability and intelligence are not predestined, but are ever evolving, growing and developing. The “wicked problem”  for me has been addressing students who have developed a fixed mindset, especially older students who often arrive in my room with little experience related to the value of a growth mindset.

As I began to consider ways I could incorporate characteristics of a growth mindset into my pedagogy, I reflected on the approach my students take to writing assignments. Traditionally, I have assigned students a writing task as a summative assessment at the end of a unit. I provide time in class to work on the assignment, and offer my help to students as they work through the writing process. This culminates with a due date, when the writing is set to be complete.  However, I have noticed that many of my students default to the human tendency of finding the shortest route to accomplish the assigned task. From a student’s view, that route involves writing as little as is required, turning it in and moving on from the assignment. Since only one grade is entered when the final product is turned in, it is easy to see why brainstorming, prewriting and most importantly revisions feel like “extra” work for a student approaching the assignment with a fixed mindset.

For these fixed mindset students the assignment feels like an opportunity to demonstrate their current writing ability, not an opportunity to learn. Proficient writers will view the assignment as a chance to demonstrate that they are “good” writers, and struggling students will see it as a chance to prove they are “bad” writers. In both scenarios, the student’s view that their ability as a writer is “fixed” can hinder their growth.

As Dweck explains in her book, students can develop this fixed mindset through messaging.  When a writing assignment leaves no time for improvement, feedback or reflection, it can communicate to a student that the goal of writing is the final product, not the process of learning how to create a quality piece. The danger here is that students learn that their job is to get it “right” the first time, or not at all.

To address this, I decided I needed to rethink the way I implemented writing in my classes. The goal is to remove the emphasis from “fixed” elements of writing, and to place the emphasis instead on the “growth” elements. The structure of a writing assignment should communicate that writing, like ability and intelligence, is a never ending process of growth, failure, revision and development. Instead of assessing a student’s ability to complete a final product, assessment is focused on the improvement of writing.

My first attempt at communicating this message is to place the emphasis not on the final product, but instead on the revisions. For my students final writing project this trimester, the rough draft they turn in will be worth roughly 25% of their final project grade. The remaining 75% will be connected to revisions of their writing, with the focus of the assessment being on the inclusion of teacher feedback in those revisions. This not only communicates that the revisions are the most important part of the process, but also that growth is the determiner of a grade, not static ability.

The goal of this change is to communicate to students that success is not the measurement of talent or intelligence, but instead success is found in the process of learning and growth. As noted by Dweck, a student’s mindset is developed through constant messaging. I don’t expect this small change to create a room full student’s demonstrating a growth mindset. As all teachers know, students bring their prior experiences with them each and every day, both the good and the bad.  However, I view this as an opportunity to reverse the messaging and communicate that I am not interested in judging their skills, ability or intelligence, but celebrating their development as young writers and learners.


Works Cited

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset. Robinson, 2017.

Who Are Online Courses For?

The TPACK framework (read more here) illustrates the important overlap of Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge required of teachers when implementing technology in their classrooms. While it is easy to get lost in the technical application of technological tools, the TPACK framework is a reminder that the “why” (pedagogical goal) is just as important, if not more, than the “what” (technical tools). It is with this in mind that I read a recent Economic View column in the New York Times titled “Online Courses Are Harming Students Who Need the Most Help” by Susan Dynarski.

Much has been said and written about the pros and cons associated with the internet’s seemingly endless supply of knowledge and information. Furthermore, the role of online educational experiences is one of constant debate. However, there was one section of this article that addressed a new perspective on the online classroom experience. Why are we enrolling students in online classes? Is it for the students best interests, or for adults?

Many students are enrolled in online classes as the answer to a students failure in a traditional setting. However, it is not clear this is the correct intervention for struggling students.

As Dynarski explains

For example, in so-called credit recovery programs, many students who have flunked a course in an old-fashioned classroom retake the class online. The negative consequences may not be obvious at first, because the pass rates in these courses are very high and students who take them tend to graduate from high school instead of flunking out. What could be wrong with that?

But there is something wrong with it. In reality, students who complete these courses tend to do quite poorly on subsequent tests of academic knowledge. This suggests that these online recovery courses often give students an easy passing grade without teaching them very much.

Consider a study conducted in the Chicago high schools. Students who had failed algebra were randomly assigned either to online or to face-to-face recovery courses. The results were clear: Students in the online algebra courses learned much less than those who worked with a teacher in a classroom.

If students receive a better educational experience and perform better in the future after face-to-face recovery courses, then why are online recovery programs expanding? As Dynarski points out, a major cause for concern is that the negatives of these online courses are masked by short term success. Students pass online classes quickly, and often times cheaply. A potentially lethal combination for those trying to make decisions while considering the pressure of short budgets and four year graduation rates.

What is increasingly worrisome is the makeup of the student population in these online classes. As Dynarski explains it is often students from lower socio-economic backgrounds who end up in online only classes. These students historically lack the social capital to fully leverage the educational resources legally granted to them, and can easily be marginalized due to their lack of support or resources outside of school.

Dynarski’s article brings up an important point about the goal schools have in mind when they implement this technological tool – online classes. Is it to prepare students for the future by providing them with the best possible educational experience or is it a shortcut for matriculating the weakest students from the lowest socio-economic groups?

The danger that I see is not necessarily a future of all online learning. There are too many students that thrive in , and too many influential parents who demand face-to-face classes for that too happen. The danger is that we could end up in a segregated educational environment. One where the have’s are given a face-to-face environment of teacher support, collaboration and rigor, while the have-not’s are left to teach themselves.


Dynarski, Susan. “Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help.” New York Times, 19 Jan. 2018.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record 108 (6), 1017-1054.