So here's what I don't get.I know what that's like. I wonder, too, how I can model, teach, infuse, or otherwise inspire the friendly failures to succeed.
Both research and common sense show that students do better work when they like their teachers. I think all of our personal experience supports this, whether we were A, B, C, or marginal students.
But even a cursory look at my evaluations reveals that I have a significant subset of students who really like me--often effusively so--but who don't do a damn bit of work.
Is it hopeless? I hope not. Research seems to support my optimism. Peddlers of "positive thinking" and its ilk are on to something: attitude equals potential. Carol Dweck is perhaps the world's leading psychologist of motivation. In an interview with NewScientist, she shares some of her most recent findings [sub. req.]. Here's the passage that struck me:
What is your advice to parents who want to avoid trapping their children in a fixed mindset?A "growth mindset" is a basic belief that learning and experience can mold one's intelligence and achievement. It is highly predictive of academic success in a secondary environment.
First, teach your child the growth mindset, and then praise effort, strategy and improvement. Do not praise intelligence and talent. This harms them.
How easy is it to influence people's mindsets?
We have shown that you can put college students in a fixed or growth mindset by having them read compelling scientific articles that support one view or the other. After the students read the articles, we gave them a difficult reading comprehension test on which they did poorly, and asked them afterwards: "Would you like to look at the tests of people who've done worse than you, or better?" The students who had read the articles supporting a fixed mindset chose to look at the work of people who had done worse. It made them feel better about themselves. But the students who had read the literature favouring the growth mindset overwhelmingly chose to look at the tests of people who had done better, so that they could learn new strategies. They also felt better about themselves.
Could more be done to foster growth mindsets in school?
In our study of the transition to junior high, a control group was given extensive training using study aids. The experimental group got those study aids but they also got several workshops in the growth mindset. They were told that every time they stretch themselves, the neurons in their brain form new connections, and over time they get smarter. They were also taught how to put that into practice in their schoolwork. Their grades rebounded, while those of the control group continued to decline.
I'm going to try this approach at the start of the school year, first finding, exploring, and presenting the data on a "growth mindset," then reinforcing it throughout. I'll report back and discuss whether it's working.
For more, read this older interview with Education World.
Update: In this video (which, for me, had mismatched audio, but was worth a listen) Carol Dweck explains her methods in more detail.