Towards a growth mindset.
Masters, Geoff N., "Towards a growth mindset in assessment" (2013).
This reading will challenge some of our thoughts and beliefs by looking at:
What messages are we sending to students when we report success or failure?
How do assessment and reporting processes shape our beliefs about learning?
It is commonly believed that by specifying ‘standards’ to be achieved by all students in each year of school, and by judging, grading and reporting performance against these standards, learning expectations and thus achievement levels will be raised. The problems with this approach are that it does not provide all students with appropriate learning challenges, it often obscures rather than clarifies the relationship between effort and success, and it frequently encourages fixed mindsets about learning ability. Professor Geoff Masters AO will discuss an alternative to this approach: to establish where individual students are in their learning, to set personal stretch targets for further learning, to monitor and recognise the progress that individuals make over time. Rather than expecting all students of the same age to be at the same point in their learning at the same time, this approach expects every student to make excellent learning progress over the course of a school year, regardless of their starting point.
Developing a growth mindset is one of the key challenges in our strategic plan so If you have any comments or questions I would love to hear them in the comments below.
In coming weeks I will be sharing other key improvement strategies and research topics which are part of our strategic agenda which will hopefully give you greater insight into the journey we have ahead of us as a school and learning community.
We will also be looking at some of the "tech tools" our teachers are using to connect with families and hopefully getting some of your thoughts and feedback around these as well.
Hopefully many of you have had the opportunity to read this article and have had time to ponder the points it raises. This week in our staff meeting we addressed this reading looked at what it challenged or affirmed about our current thinking on assessment. At School Council on Tuesday night we had an excellent discussion around this reading and the connections it made to our "journey" towards being an even more student centred school and the implications of students, staff and families adopting a growth mindset. Below I have in essence summarised the article through highlight a few of the key points and intended/unintended consequences of the three general approaches discussed.
Providing ‘success’ experiences
- First, when teachers assign tasks only within students’ current capabilities, they risk not challenging and stretching students and minimising learning by keeping students within their comfort zones.
- Second, when teachers praise students for success on easy tasks, they risk sending the message that success at school can be achieved with minimal effort. Rewarding success on unchallenging tasks does little to develop students’ understandings of the relationship between effort and success.
- Third, by providing success experiences for almost everybody, this approach can encourage the view that success is an entitlement – that every student is a good learner and is entitled to good results and positive feedback. By protecting students from failure, this first approach does little to develop healthy attitudes to risks, challenges, mistakes and failure.
- The appeal of this approach is that it sets clear expectations for student performance but also fair /equitable in the sense that it holds all students to the same expectations.
- This approach has the added advantage of being consistent with the way society generally thinks about schooling and what it means to succeed or fail at school.
- The problem with this second approach is that it suffers from many of the same disadvantages as the first. It often is no better at helping students understand the relationship between effort and success. It often does not provide students with stretch challenges. And it often encourages fixed mindsets about learning ability.
- In any given year of school, the most advanced 10 per cent of students typically are between five and six years ahead of the least advanced 10 per cent of students (Harlen,1997; Masters & Forster, 1997; Wiliam 2007). Children begin school at very different points in their social, cognitive, emotional and psychomotor development. Many of these differences persist throughout the years of school. As a consequence, rather than being at a similar stage in their learning, students in any given year of school are in reality spread over a wide range of achievement levels.
- When students’ performances are graded against year-level expectations, some less advanced students can receive the same low grade year after year. The feedback these students receive is that they are consistently performing below standard and below other students. A to E grades provide little or no sense of the learning progress that individuals actually make over time.
- This does not acknowledge the relationship between effort and success and frequently leads to disengagement.
- This equally applies to more advanced students. When learning expectations are assessed only in terms of year level standards, these common expectations can fail to challenge and extend more advanced students. So, rather than extending more advanced students with challenging, more difficult material, this practice makes the completion of assigned class work the common goal for all students.
- This second approach – assessing, judging and grading student performances against year-level ‘standards’ – was intended to challenge and motivate students, encourage effort and raise achievement levels. In practice, it often has the opposite effect on student attitudes and behaviours.
- The third approach is focused on establishing the points that individuals have reached in their learning, setting personal stretch targets for further learning, and monitoring the progress that individuals make over time.
- Rather than expecting all students of the same age to be at the same point in their learning at the same time, this approach expects every student to make excellent learning progress over the course of a school year, regardless of their starting point.
- Carol Dweck refers to this way of thinking as a growth mindset: When [teachers and students] change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge and-be-judged framework to a learn - and help - learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort and mutual support. (Dweck, 2006, 244)
- Importantly, the adoption of a growth mindset does not represent a lowering of expectations. On the contrary, it sets high expectations of every learner, including more advanced students who sometimes are not challenged or stretched and hardly improve at all. Under a growth mindset, ‘failure’ is defined not in terms of year-level expectations, but as inadequate learning progress.
- This essay has argued for defining, assessing and reporting school learning in terms of the progress that individuals make. However, this is no small challenge. Success at school usually is assessed not in terms of the progress that individuals make (for example, over the course of a school year), but by judging and grading performances against age/ year group expectations.
- Letter grades have come to define what it means to learn successfully.
- Reporting success in terms of year-level expectations is often justified on the grounds that parents wish to know how students are performing in relation to others of the same age. However, this may be less true if parents also had good information about where exactly students are in their learning and what progress they are making over time.
- Changing mindsets and developing assessment and reporting tools to support such change are longterm educational agenda.
- A starting point is a wider appreciation of the ways in which efforts to provide ‘success’ experiences and to evaluate learning in terms of common year-level ‘standards’ fail to engage and challenge some students and encourage fixed rather than ‘growth’ mindsets in our schools.
The move to a growth mindset for students, staff and families is at the core of our journey over the next four years as a school and learning community. It works in tandem with our push over the past six years since my arrival, to transform our school into a more genuinely student focused school. We know that as we have transformed our school we have widened our appeal with our message and mission resonating with more and more families resulting in the tripling of our Prep enrolment in 6 years. This wider appeal has meant that we have continued to grow in the range and diversity of our students learning experiences, learning readiness and learning needs, including those operating at exceptionally high levels. We know that we have students performing at exceptionally high levels along with those with significant ground to make up and all points in between. Therefore our work is to engage, inspire and motivate all of our students to believe that their outcome is not fixed but rather that through focused and sustained effort in the right areas e.g. what the article refers to as "stretch targets" or what what we call "learning goals" they can all grow and achieve success.
In the essay Professor Masters draws our attention to the fact that "there is considerable research evidence that learning is most likely when students are given challenging tasks just beyond their comfort zone, in what Vygotsky (1978) called the ‘zone of proximal development’, where success is possible, but often only with assistance."
Our mission is to find that zone or point, where the student can't continue without assistance. We refer to it as "The Learning Pit". We celebrate reaching this point as it indicates what we are ready to learn and gives students the tools i.e. metacognitive approaches and collaborative skills to learn and climb out of this pit and go beyond.
This is an exciting time for us as a school community as we continue to build on the approaches and practices we have embedded across our school. We are now engaging in the next level of work to deliver high growth in all students.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this summary of the essay towards a growth mindset and again encourage you to leave a comment or discuss the essay with your partner or friends.