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.

A Teacher’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Cosmos

For the past two summers, I have had the privilege to work with an amazing collection of teachers as a part of the MSU-Wipro STEM & Leadership Teaching Fellowship. One of my favorite aspects of spending my summer as an MSUrbanSTEM instructor is seeing the amazing artifacts that can be created in such a short amount of time by this world class collection of educators. This year, the fellows read Cosmos by Carl Sagan in preparation for our summer session.  Over the course of only a few days, and intermingled with a myriad of other tasks and assignment, the fellows crafted this amazing resource for other educators – A Teacher’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Cosmos.