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Christie Miller, Afra A. Hersi, Ph.D.

Moving Toward a Growth Mindset:  Guiding Students to Reflect on Meaning of Success

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An underlying argument within the Common Core Curriculum Standards is the notion that our current education system lacks adequate rigor and sufficient preparation for our students’ future goals.  The introduction of these higher standards for students endorses the belief that “all students must be prepared to compete with not only their American peers in the next state, but with students from around the world” (CCSSO, 2010).  The new curriculum features “high-quality literature and informational texts in a range or genres and subgenres,” and emphasizes the concept of “differentiated instruction” across the various subject areas and grade levels (CCSSO, 2010).  Through full integration of this program, all students are expected to receive “rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher-order skills” (CCSSO, 2010).  As this new framework is implemented into our school systems nationwide, it is apparent that modifications will need to be made, both in the way we provide instruction to our students, and how we structure our classrooms for optimal learning.  At this time, many school districts continue to sort and track students into ability classes.  Such practice has long been critiqued as ineffective. For instance, Esposito (1973, p.163) states that studies on grouping students homogeneously by ability fail to question the existence of the “principle of equal educational opportunity.”  More recently, Dweck (2006; 1986) argued that it is not just our abilities and talent that bring us success—but whether we approach our goals with a fixed or a growth mindset.  An individual with a fixed mindset often exhibits a “helpless pattern…characterized by an avoidance of challenge and a deterioration of performance in the face of obstacles” (Dweck & Leggett, 1988, p.256).  In contrast, growth-minded individuals typically display “the mastery-oriented pattern, [which]…involves the seeking of challenging tasks, and the maintenance of effective striving under failure” (1988, p.256).  Essentially, if individuals can learn to take on a more growth minded way of thinking, they may be more likely to attempt challenging tasks, and explore subject areas previously thought of as weaknesses.

Drawing on Dweck’s (2006) theory of the growth mindset as a theoretical framework, this qualitative action research project (Mills, 2011) examines fifth-grade students’ responses to a series of reflective seminars on mindset.  The seminars focused on strategies to teach the growth mindset toward learning as described by Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset (2007). Thirty six students participated in the study over a six-week period.  Data collected from ten of the participants included their student survey results, interviews, and student artifacts (e.g. written reflections, illustrations, and work samples).  Preliminary findings from this data suggest that the strategies were effective in guiding students through self-reflection on the meaning of personal success.  However, the process of personal reflection on effort and meanings attached to effort was difficult to measure for some students.  During the presentation, I will discuss these findings as well as the challenges when implementing the growth mindset strategies with elementary students.

Sources Cited

Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and National Covernors Association enter for Best Practices (NGA Center) (June, 2010). [Webinar/PowerPoint slides].

Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Dweck, C.S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988) A social-cognitive approach to motivaton and personality.  American Psychological Association, Inc. Phsychological Review 1988, Vol. 95, No. 2, 256-273.

Esposito, D., (1973). Homogeneous and heterogeneous grouping: principle findings and implications for evaluating and designing more effective educational environments.  American Educational Research Association: Review of Educational Research, Vol. 43, No.2, pp.163-179.

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