May 3, 2016

The Secret to Student Growth

Do any of these sound familiar? Mindset is everything. Challenges make life interesting. Think positive thoughts. Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond. 

Time and again, we realize how outlook influences outcome. The wisest among us leverage this fact to manage stress and respond to obstacles with novel ideas. At age 19, Jessica Matthew invented SOCCKET ball to help those living in developing countries recuperate from power outages. She is quoted saying, "It's not just about providing off-grid power. It's about believing what you put into something can give you something in return".

All too often, the connection between outcome and outlook becomes clear in hindsight. More important, students may not have the skills to develop logical connections between effort and experiences. Honing this skill requires heavy lifting. Much work is required to change the figurative zebra's stripes, but it's possible.

The old way
Traditional views of learning tend to align with the fixed mindset, the antipode of growth mindset. Individuals with a fixed mindset believe they are defined by things they're good at; having a fixed mindset fails to account for the value of effort and the benefit of mistakes. Promoting fixed mindset qualities in students decreases motivation, causes disengagement, and stifles growth. 

The new secret
Today's psychologists and educational thinkers are rallying behind a way of thinking coined growth mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. Adopting a growth mindset requires one to become self-aware. The secret to student growth involves training students to monitor their thoughts; then, use results to strengthen character. 

 There is a difference between not knowing and not knowing yet. (Shelia Tobias)

Monitor thoughts
By reflecting on internal processes, we identify helpful and abandon harmful story lines. The following questions prompt student reflection.
  1. What strategies worked well for me?
  2. What strategies did not work for me?
  3. What should I do next time?
  4. Do I need some help for next time?
As educators and parents, we want to model growth mindset characteristics through reflection exercises as well. Consider making this internal process visible to learners by "thinking aloud", and challenge learners to do the same. Demonstrate the thought process needed to improve a second (third or fourth) iteration of a task.

Strengthen character
Knowledge of character strengths helps us improve those traits working against student growth. Equally important as brainstorming solutions with learners is doing so with a positive attitude about options. (This may call for above average acting skills, at times.)

Not sure where to start? Character Lab offers a number of tools to help. It's a great option for aggregating student and stakeholder feedback on growth. Character Growth Cards are similar to Report Cards in that they promote discussion about strengths and weaknesses; this helps learners leverage strengths to build up weaker skills. The primary difference between Growth Cards and Report Cards lies in the qualitative nature of the former. In place of alphanumeric scores, Character Lab's Growth Card reports qualify student efforts in each of eight character strengths (or character traits). An added benefit is the goal-setting feature used to collaborate with families, build confidence, and improve performance.

Character development is the secret to student growth. Developing character strengths is a strategy for addressing academic challenges and behavior issues. Contact Jackson Education Support to learn how we can help.