Friday, January 20, 2017

A Growth Mindset Workshop

I recently gave a workshop on the growth mindset with first year computer science students working as part of this amazing program. It went well, so it seems worth sharing. What follows is the workshop plan.


Take the following quiz and share results:

Share definition of growth and fixed mindset (read quote, put key parts on a slide):
“When we ask people to tell us what the growth mindset is, we often get lots of different answers, such as working hard, having high expectations, being resilient, or more general ideas like being open or flexible. But a growth mindset is none of those things. It is the belief that qualities can change and that we can develop our intelligence and abilities. 
The opposite of having a growth mindset is having a fixed mindset, which is the belief that intelligence and abilities cannot be developed. The reason that this definition of growth mindset is important is that research has shown that this specific belief leads people to take on challenges, work harder and more effectively, and persevere in the face of struggle, all of which makes people more successful learners. 
It is hard to directly change these behaviors without also working to change the underlying understanding of the nature of abilities.” (source)
Watch TEDx talk by Carol Dweck. Have students write down everything they found interesting, surprising, or useful. Pair up, pick the top three points of interest, share them.

Share printout with the following quotes from Mindset and have them read them individually. While reading, think about times in your studies (especially in the fall!) where you might have approached something with a fixed mindset, and other times you have used the growth mindset.
I [Carol Dweck], on the other hand, thought human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t. It was that simple. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs), you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, perseverance, were just not part of this picture. 
...children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed. Smart people should always succeed. But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves. It’s about becoming smarter. 
Why is effort so terrifying? There are two reasons. One is that in the fixed mindset, great geniuses are not supposed to need it. So just needing it casts a shadow on your ability. The second is that … it robs you of all your excuses. Without effort, you can always say, “I could have been [fill in the blank].” But once you try, you can’t say that anymore.
In this course [in our research study], everyone studied. But there are different ways to study. Many students study like this: They read the textbook and their class notes. If the material is really hard, they read them again. Or they might try to memorize everything they can, like a vacuum cleaner. That’s how the students with fixed mindset studied. If they did poorly on the test, they concluded that chemistry was not their subject. After all, “I did everything possible, didn’t I?”

The students with the growth mindset completely took charge of their learning and motivation. Instead of plunging into unthinking memorization of the course material, they said: “I looked for themes and underlying principles across lectures,” and “I went over mistakes until I was certain I understood them.” They were studying to learn, not just to ace the test. And, actually, this was why they got higher grades – not because they were smarter or had a better background in science. 
[Benjamin Bloom, eminent educational researcher, says:] “After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.” 
Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training. This is so important, because many, many people with the fixed mindset think that someone’s early performance tells you all they need to know about their talent and their future. 
[Story from one particular student, Tony:] In high school I was able to get top grades with minimal studying and sleeping. I came to believe that it would always be so because I was naturally gifted with a superior understanding and memory. However, after about a year of sleep deprivation my understanding and memory began to not be so superior anymore. When my natural talents, which I had come to depend on almost entirely for my self-esteem (as opposed to my ability to focus, my determination or my ability to work hard), came into question, I went through a personal crisis that lasted until a few weeks ago when you discussed the different mindsets in class. Understanding that a lot of my problems were the result of my preoccupation with proving myself to be “smart” and avoiding failures has really helped me get out of the self-destructive pattern I was living in.
After the exercise, have students pair up and discuss the consequences of using the fixed or growth mindset in different scenarios. Share one or two stories with the group.


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