Several years ago in my teaching career, I realized that a student who earned a letter grade — say, a B+ — was given little if any information about student learning.
Since then, I have adopted mastery-based assessment as a means of generating more detailed feedback on students’ individual learning. What does this look like? By consistently giving students feedback on learning goals, I allow students more ownership over their learning experience.
As I instituted this approach, my students began to be able to articulate what they understood and what they needed more support in order to master. For example, some of my students could communicate that they understood number patterns, but still needed practice solving equations. This shift in their understanding of their math performance elevated our discourse from one about grades to one about learning.
But another outcome became apparent to me as I shifted my approach to assessing student learning: providing multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding and allow students to make mistakes without penalty lends itself to a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset is essential for student learning—not just in math. With a growth mindset, students focus not on what they’re “not good at,” but rather that their intelligence can be developed. Mistakes or failure are an opportunity to figure out new approaches or stretch their learning.
This year, we kick-started our math learning with an overview of Carol Dweck’s concept of growth mindset. On the first day of school, GDS Middle School students analyzed a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset through discussing optimal learning situations and viewing Dr. Jo Boaler’s video Four Boosting Messages from Jo and Her Students.
The video explores the brain research about making mistakes and the mindsets that enhance learning. One of my students used the GDS hand signal (see above) agreeing with me when I said I wished I had known about the growth mindset earlier, especially in middle school when I often heard my peers use fixed mindset messages rather than growth mindset messages. Overall, our students found the concept refreshing and useful as they enter into the school year.
Growth mindset isn’t just for students! We can all benefit from opening ourselves up to growth. View the poster above for some examples of statements that adults can encourage students to use in order to nurture a growth mindset.