Growth Mindset. Fixed Mindset. Failure Mindset?

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Ilene Kanoff, South Strafford, VT,  ikanoff@cpm.org
Penny Smits, De Pere, WI, pennysmits@cpm.org

Mindset. A simple word, yet the implications and power behind the meaning has transformed the educational world for over a decade. The focus has been on the impact of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, and how that can impact the day-to-day interactions within the classroom.

Children with a growth mindset view their level of intelligence as malleable and can be shaped by hard work. These are the students in the classroom who have a desire to learn, embrace challenges, and persevere in light of failure. On the other hand, children with a fixed mindset see their level of intelligence as fixed at birth, and feel as though they cannot increase their knowledge or skill level. These are the very students who avoid challenges and shut down in light of failure.

Up until now, researchers believed that the child’s mindset was linked to his parents’ mindset. In essence, if parents exhibited a growth mindset, then so would their child. Could there be a different link between parents and children that is a stronger predictor of the mindset that the child will exhibit?

In a research article, What Predicts Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mindsets? Not Their Parents’ View of Intelligence but Their Parents’ View of Failure (PDF) (2016), Carol Dweck and Kyla Haimovitz of Stanford University investigated a connection that is not only literally visible, but is also found to be a predictor of whether a child will exhibit a growth or fixed mindset.

What is this new connection on the education mindset forefront?  A parent’s failure mindset, which is more visible to their child, is at the center of the authors recent research study. Dweck and Haimovitz noted, “Parents who see failure as debilitating focus on their children’s performance and ability rather than on their children’s learning, and their children, in turn, tend to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than malleable.”

So, what is “failure mindset” anyway?

Imagine this: an individual is working on a challenging problem, which requires perseverance to figure out. Let’s say the individual “fails” at the task for one reason or another. Does that individual see the failure as one from which s/he can learn, or is it seen as something more negative, something that inhibits future learning?

According to the article, the former is called a “failure-is-enhancing mindset” while the latter is known as “failure-is debilitating mindset.”

How an individual reacts to her own failure is much more visible that how she perseveres and demonstrates growth mindset (happening internally and not really evident.) An individual’s reactions to her own failures carries over to how she reacts to another individual’s failure. This is especially true between parents and children. So, if a parent demonstrates a “failure-is-enhancing mindset,” then her child is more likely to follow suit, and vice versa.

The table below highlights the differences between a “failure-is-enhancing mindset” versus a “failure-is-debilitating mindset.”

Perhaps the most significant results that emerged from the studies conducted in the article were that:

It may not be sufficient to teach parents a growth mindset and expect that they will naturally transmit it to their children. Instead, an intervention targeting parents’ failure mindsets could teach parents how failure can be beneficial, and how to react to their children’s setback so as to maintain their children’s motivation and learning. This type of intervention not only could lead children to adopt a growth mindset but also could directly teach them perseverance, or ‘grit,’ if failures become interesting, informative, and motivating rather than discouraging.

As educators, this very study on failure and mistakes is something we need to consider and embed within the culture of our classrooms. How can we promote a “failure-is-enhancing mindset” within our classroom and among our students? Also, equally as important, is how can we help parents develop a “failure-is-enhancing mindset?”

This study offers us new opportunities to work with our students (and their parents) to help them understand that making mistakes and learning from them is what learning is all about.

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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
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Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

This series contains three different courses, taken in either order. The courses are designed for schools and teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM curriculum materials. Teachers will develop further understanding of strategies and tools for instructional practices and assessment.

Building on Equity

In this course, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their  classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for implementing Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Follow-up during the school year will support ongoing implementation of equitable classroom practices.

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In this course, participants will apply assessment research to develop methods to provide feedback to students and to inform equitable assessment decisions. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

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This professional learning builds upon the Foundations for Implementation Series by improving teachers’ ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rigorous, team-worthy tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.