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Encouraging a Data-Driven Culture Towards a Growth Mindset

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October 19th, 2017

There has been much said about Growth Mindset since 2007 when Carol Dweck published her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, and introduced us all to the concept of a growth mindset. This book was the culmination of decades of research, which compares the differences between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.”

Carol Dweck and her team learned that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement. The premise was that if we could change students’ mindsets, we would be able to boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). When students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Also, having children focus on the process that leads to learning (i.e., through hard work/effort or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.

In 2015, Carol Dweck wrote an article to in Edweek to revisit the concept. One of the findings that she noticed as the concept of growth mindset was put into practice is that effort alone (and rewarding just effort) is not helpful: “It’s critical to reward not just effort but learning and progress, and to emphasize the processes that yield these things, such as seeking help from others, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward effectively.”

It would be like your GPS telling you, “Good job! You are driving really well!” but not telling you that you missed your turn three miles back and you’re still heading east when you should be on that other highway going north. It makes us feel good, but doesn’t really help us get where we want to go.

Unlocking true growth mindset

So, how do we guide our students (and ourselves) to a true growth mindset? It comes down to three things:

  1. Knowing where we are headed
  2. Reflecting on our progress
  3. Partnering with the students in getting to the destination

One of the things our GPS does really well is to constantly reflect on our driving actions and how they are impacting our progress to our destination. Upon entering in our destination, we receive a detailed, step-by-step guide to how to get there. The GPS will help us “recalculate” if we have a missed turn or other detour. It gives us strategies and options to try. We make decisions off of those options and partner with our GPS to reach our desired destination.

Learning is very much like that. Students are empowered if they know where they’re going, why they’re learning what they’re learning and how it all fits together. Teachers often accomplish this with learning targets and conversations to connect what has been previously learned with what is coming next. Students can then partner with their teacher to reflect on where they’re in their learning and what they need to do next to make progress.

Rick Stiggins, Judith Arter, Jan and Steve Chappuis highlighted this in Classroom Assessment for Student Learning, in which they outlined “Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning” that help students answer these three questions:

  • “Where am I going?”
  • “Where am I now?”
  • “How can I close the gap?”

Reflection is vital to this process. Both the teacher and the student need to spend time analyzing the learning data to determine areas of strengths, growth and improvement. In their words: “By reflecting on their learning, they deepen their understanding, and will remember it longer. In addition, it is the learner, not the teacher, who is doing the work.”

Teachers can support their students by providing descriptive, actionable feedback as they evaluate student work. They can also engage their students in conversations about their learning to discuss what they have tried, what is working or not working, where they need help and what strategies they might want to try next.

In a recent blog, Kristy Louden, an English teacher in Alabama, shared one way she is doing this. She delays putting a final grade on essays to help students focus on their work and the feedback she has provided. She provides time for students to reflect and reread their essays and her feedback. Then they write out their observations and questions, and finally, grade themselves with the rubric. Afterwards, short conferences are scheduled with each student. She will ask them, “What do you want to talk about?” and let them guide the conference. (She would often be amazed at the depth of reflection, the questions they ask, and the learning that they experience.) Finally, they discuss what grade they gave themselves and compares it to the grade she gave.

This is a beautiful example of developing a growth mindset and having students fully engaged in their own learning. Like driving, learning isn’t so much about the “recalculations” as it is the progress towards the destination. If we can guide them along the path, we will have played our part in creating student and educator success.

To learn more, check out our recent presentation slides around “Growth Mindset and Continuous Improvement” –


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