Tag Archives: Growth Mindset

[MTBoS Blaugust] New Teacher Orientation, Day 4

Today was the last day of the new teacher orientation. I’d rank it below the previous days, but it had some necessary stuff: license renewal info and continuing education. One cool thing they did was talked about Growth Mindset!


At my school in NM, I found out about growth mindset through the MTBoS (twitter & blogs). It’s something that I had talked with my students about, and would even go so far as to say that I convinced some of my class of the validity and value of having a growth mindset.

Most of the talk was great, I’m just going to nit-pick one small thing some people were saying. There was a line that went something like this: “A fixed mindset focuses on the grade or the outcome while a growth mindset focuses on the process.”

I think I understand the sentiment behind this, but I want to push back on this a bit (if for no other reason than to start discussion!). Here’s my example/justification: LeBron James has a growth mindset when it comes to basketball. He works incredibly hard and (correctly) believes that this hard work makes him better at basketball. However, he is laser-focused on winning the NBA Finals, as that is one of the main things that, for many, will put him ahead of MJ in the argument for “greatest player ever”. The NBA Finals is an outcome: either you win or you don’t. Sure, he understands the process of improving himself as a player and athlete, but his focus is on the “assessment”.

I think equating fixed mindsets with “too much focus on the assessment” detracts from the main point of fixed vs. growth mindset discussions. The real core of it is showing students that hard work can improve intelligence and ability (or math ability). So what if they’re doing that just to get a better grade?

Agree or disagree? Discussion is welcome: please comment below or on twitter with me (@newmanmath)!


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Growth Mindset Discussion

Getting students to have a Growth Mindset is something that I’ve been working on and improving every year I’ve taught. This year I had a discussion about it later in the year than I should (at the end of the 1st quarter), but it was still a very valuable discussion.

The Discussion

I started by giving them a Google Form with this question:

How does math work?

I only gave them two possible answers:

People are born with math skills or aren’t. How good you are at math mostly depends on that.

People who work hard in math class can get better at doing math. How good you are at math mostly depends on that.

I intentionally left off the “something in between” answer even though many students immediately complained they thought it was a combination of both. I wanted to see which they thought was more important. The results surprised me:


Growth Mindset Results

They surprised me because I thought a vast majority would vote for “people are born with math skills.” Perhaps my students are starting to believe the opposite of that simply because of the way my class works and the classroom culture I try to cultivate, despite not having an overt discussion on this topic before now? [1]

Me: Forget, for a second, whether Fixed Mindset (blue above) or Growth Mindset (red above) is true. Some scientists did a study and looked at whether students had a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixed Mindset, and who got better grades. Do you guys think one group of students had better grades?

Students: Maybe…

Me: Well it did affect it, significantly. Like, the students who had the Growth Mindset did way, way better, on average, than those with the Fixed Mindset. [2]

I asked for a little input on why people voted for the one they did, and some students spoke up. I confessed to them that I used to have a Fixed Mindset, well into college. And I told them about a student from a few years ago, who they mostly knew, who made the comment at her senior presentation “I didn’t think I was that good a student.” I explained that I could believe that because early on in her junior year, she didn’t really “stand out” from others beyond the fact that she worked really, really hard.

She’s the only student in the history of our school to get into the BA/MD program.[3]

I then showed them this cool diagram and we talked about how changing their mindset:


I’m really glad we had this discussion, even if it was a bit late in the year. It was one of those times in the classroom where I could almost feel the students grabbing at the inspiration with their eyes and wanting to be better students and people because of the discussion. Or maybe that’s just all in my mind. Either way, the one thing I need to get better at is mentioning this discussion more often in the future whenever a student is bummed about a grade, frustrated with a problem, or envious of another’s success.

Already a few students have started coming in much more often to demonstrate standards. Wohoo.


[1] Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

[2] I can’t quote this study, but I’ve heard it before. If you know of the study, please leave it in the comments below so I can show my students!

[3] It’s a program at UNM (several school have it) where you receive admission to medical school prior to entering undergrad. Needless to say, it’s a very competitive application into the program.

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Practice Logs

After going to Rick Wormeli’s conference on SBG, and after reading Tina’s post on Goal Setting, I was challenged to give my students the ability to grow on their own. In previous years I had participation points, but Rick convinced me of the “fluffiness” of those[1], so I’ve done away with them this year. However, I was convinced that students need to keep track of their practice habits and their own grade (without having to go online). So I created the practice log. See my Chemistry Practice log below:

At the start of the year we talk about ways to study, and I provide them with my website, which has a page for each standard and lots of study and practice stuff for them on each page.

Seemingly unrelated event: I got my first smartphone for my birthday at the start of the year. I use it to take pictures of students’ practice logs every 2 weeks so that I have a point of discussion with the students and (if necessary) with their parents. I try to tell them a few times a week “everyone take out your practice log and fill it in with anything you’ve done lately!”  Students could lie and say they’re doing stuff when they’re not, but since it’s not for a grade, I don’t think that’s too big of a worry. Furthermore, it would be readily evident if they weren’t doing the thing they said they were doing (“So where’s this worksheet you claim to have completed?”) and it’s more for the students’ benefit (“You have been studying these types of things, let’s look at a more effective use of your time.”).

Since I’m (almost) following the nice and neat format of one standard a week, it’s a rhythm that, I think, students appreciate. It’s easy to know where we’re supposed to be and what you can be working on at this moment. Here are some examples of students’ practice logs 7 weeks in.

As you can see, some students are better about keeping up with their grades and practice than others. The “Pretest” and the “Checkup” are multiple choice quizzes that don’t affect a student’s grade. I leave my iPad on at the front of the classroom and they scan their little quarter-sheet of bubbles using GradeCam. Then the quizzes are 1, 2, or 3 (no, 2/3 isn’t 66%… one day I’ll blog about it), and I take the most recent grade. So their grade for each standard is at the very bottom of that column.

The hope is that this empowers students to take more control of their learning, but I can definitely get better at this. One thing I can do is talk with students individually more about their practice sheets. Or I could reference it in e-mails or phone-calls home. I do neither of these things. But the structure is there and the students are getting used to it–I just need to reach out now.

How do you empower students to take control of their own learning?



[1] These participation points were me giving a grade for effort alone. It obscures the grade that is supposed to represent how much knowledge & understanding the student possesses at any given time, which is one ideal of SBG.

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