"Mindsets are not all or nothing. They are not fixed, but they can be deveoped."
- Carol Dweck
Disclosure: My attendance at EduTECH 2017 was due to a media pass provided by the event organisers
Day one of the EduTECH 2017 conference dawned grey and wet. It was not conducive to bouncing out of bed with vim and vigour. I had stayed in Sydney overnight and I headed off to ClickView HQ as I was scheduled to present a webinar with Ryan Gill about Cultures of Thinking. I have had the benefit of hearing Ryan present on Cultures of Thinking a few times now, and this webinar was just a taster of the overall concept of Cultures of Thinking, but the feedback that I have been receiving from those who watched it live and also the recording afterwards has been overwhelmingly positive. Ryan definitely excited people for the potential of cultures of thinking as a framework for encouraging thinking moves in our students. You can watch the session below.
I ended up being late to EduTECH as a result of the webinar and missed the first ten or so minutes of CarolDweck's talk. I have not heard her speak before and I have never invested the time to dive deep into the theory of growth mindset and I acknowledge that my understanding is fairly basic and superficial. Considering the topic, I would have expected a passionate talk, however, it came across to me as rather rote. Maybe it is because I have not presented anywhere near the number of times that Carol has, but I still get excited to share with people. While I was incredibly nervous leading up to the breakout sessions later in the afternoon, I was excited for them as well as it was a chance to share my little area of knowledge with people.
One of the questions that Carol asked early on in her presentation (I am only aware of this thanks to Twitter) was where did the joy of learning and tackling challenges go? I struggle with this; and perhaps it is because I do not fully comprehend the concept of growth mindset. We all, at times, get excited to be learning about something and to be challenged in an area of interest to us or in a completely new field of learning. At the same time, we all, at times, hate being challenged and having our understanding shown to be lacking; we just want to get on with whatever it is we are doing knowing that we know enough and have a solid enough understanding. I think the joy of learning and tackling challenges is still present, however, as witha great many things in life it is contextual.
Carol Dweck indicated that mindsets are dynamic, not fixed. From my limited understanding of Growth Mindset that is clearly an inherently fundamental concept that is implied in the very name and making this a statement of the obvious. Perhaps there was a method to it, however, as Carol also gave some background to growth mindset origins, speaking about the origins of the IQ test, originally developed by Alfred Binet (though modified andupdated many times since). I have admit that I missed the context here, but she remarked that Binet very much had a growth mindset and would be horrified at the way in which they were being used now. I am not sure about this; based upon a quick Google search (yes, I am well aware of the pitfalls of such a thing), it appears that the original purpose of the Binet-Simon IQ Test was to assist in identifying intellectually challenged children in France after mandatory education for children was made law in the late nineteenth century (per this article).
Carol moved on to emark that mindset is not just individual, that it can be cultural and organisational as well, affecting the trajectory of a country or company as much as it affects the life of an individual. Further to this, she remarked tht growth mindset is about empowerment and that from this, we take risks and enjoy learning. I can certainly understand and agree with the sentiment relating empowerment and a willingness to take risks. I am less comfortable, however, in recognising empoewrment as linking to an enjoyment of learning. Perhaps I am highlighting my own ignorance here and I have completely misunderstood growth mindset, as well as missing the first five to ten minutes of Carol's talk, however, I do not understand how on the one hand it can be said that the love of taking risks and enjoying challenges has disappeared, whilst linking empowerment and enjoyment of learning on the other. I just cannot understand the correlatory link.
The next phase of Carol's talk was interesting as it was about the brain activity related to different mindsets based upon work by Moser et al in 2011. What they found, or my understanding of what they found is that after connecting participants to an EEG machine to monitor brain activity and found that the mindset of participants, fixed or growth, was identifiable in brainwave activity as they completed the tasks, which Carol demonstrated using the below image.
Those with a fixed mindset apparently have less brain activity than those with growth mindset. I have to admit to not having read the Moser et al research and so I daresay that these questions are answered in the nethodology section of the paper, however, was the activity interest-neutral? What inherent biases were present in the activity? What was the size and makeup of the research population? What was the control? What statistical analysis processes were used and why those processes?
It was then remarked that there is a rise in the number of false- growth mindsets; that saying you are optimistic or perservering is not true growth mindset. This then led to an acknowledgement that we are all a mixture of fixed and growth midnsets, that mindset is fluid and dynamic not static. How does this relate to the nature of bottom-up and top-down thinking whick Jared Cooney Horvath (@JCHorvath) spoke about during his sesison later at EduTECH (and which I will review in a later article)? The impression that I have always had is that we shoud aim to be growth mindset all the time, however, Carol's comment that we are a dynamic mixture of fixed and growth mindset seems contradictory to that and, to be honest, leaves me rather confused about the whole concept.
The final aspect of growth mindset that was discussed was the issue of transfer; the notion tht teachers who have growth mindsets are not necessarily transferring this to students. Hang on, are children not some of the most inquisitive and open to learning people we know? The sponge-like, naturally inquisitive nature of children is well-known to anyone who has had a child; my nine-month old daughter is currently exploring the house, crawling from room to room, touching everything, looking in the mirror and trying to work out what that other baby is doing copying her, hitting the floor drain in the bathroom repeatedly to produce that delightful dull whump sound...and putting a great number of things in her mouth. My own experience thus far as a teacher had shown that even the most disinterested child will ask questions about something new or novel.
I wonder instead if it the nature of schooling that drills this inquisitiveness out of students, giving us students who often just want to know what the answer is or how to produce the essay correctly; they adapt to the game of school, showing a growth mindset in that adaptability, but then transition to fixed when they struggle to adapt to an unexpected change in pedagogy, such as the abolishment of grades or a move to flipped learning, or the introduction of project based learning. Or do I completely have the wrong end of the stick?
Another tenet of growth mindset is that we should not just be praising the effort or the result, but the process that leads to the result; identify their process and effective effort, not just praise effort for the sake of praising effort. This is a topic that Brian Host wrote about during the week with an article titled The Future of Education. This is a sound and beneficial pedagogical practice anyway, irrespective of growth midnset as a concept.
As part of this process, Carol recommended sharing the struggle together through opening our staff meetings with what we struggle with and normalising the struggles. I like and loathe this concept at the same time. Depending on the school culture, it could be an incredibly beneficial process, sharing struggles, strategies for addressing those struggles etc. This could turn into a professional learning process within the school, with staff banding together in common struggles of practice to benefit their own practice and the students in our classes. It could also create an incredibly tocix culture of complaint without direction or action to resolve.
The concept of not yet came up next, which is an interesting way of thinking about our students learning, conceptualising it more in line with competencies similarly to the way that VET courses are assessed. This is an interesting link to the comment that the way in which teachers and parents treat and talk about mistakes and failure plays a significant role in the way that students conceptualise and achieve a growth mindset.
The comment that stood out from this section of the talk was that you can wall with ice-cream or get back to work. This is an interesting remark in that it implies that you can't wallow with ice-cream and get on with work. I think the comment that a number of people on social media to that sounding analgous to the FAIL=First Attempt in Learning adage. I am aware that that saying is a little contrived, however, it does feed into growth mindset and is a good approach to teaching and learning.
That was the end of Carol's presentation and I have to admit to feeling underwhelmed. I have sat down for presentations before on topics tht I am not sold on the value of, and have been open to having my opinion changed. This was one of those topics, however, I did not on this occasion come away with my mind changed on the topic; I am still not sold on growth mindset. Carol's talk was interesting, however, there was nothing there for me that was an a-ha moment. I am certianly open to feedback on this topic as I was late to the presentation and my grasp is still not strong on the theory.
Thank you for reading this article in the EduTECH 2017 series. If you have missed any of the previous articles in the series, including the storify, you can find them here.