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Current Trends and Issues in Education – Q&A Part 1

As part of her graduate class requirement, a teacher asked my perspective on current trends and issues in education. She asked some very thoughtful questions—here are the first three of nine:

What practices do you think are important for teachers, administrators and other interested professionals in staying current with research and trends in mindset and brain sciences?

Read books, and read widely. While journals tend to be laser-focused, books cover a wide range of disciplines. I read books by neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and sometimes business leaders, especially when they cover a topic like coaching. The perspective they share is rich and can be applied to mentoring teachers.

You will want to read books that relate to your focus. Because my curriculum work may require knowing about the teenage brain just as well as the preschool brain, I need as expansive an understanding as possible.

Also, try to attend at least one conference each year. I enjoy attending the Learning & the Brain conference primarily to know who to follow. I want to know which scientists are doing work in areas related to the fields I think are important for education. This is where I attended sessions by John Medina, Tony Wagner, and Howard Gardner. Experiencing them in person offers a different perspective of their work.

Beliefs about intelligence seem to be domain-specific—where a person can hold a fixed mindset with regard to his ability in one subject area yet hold a growth mindset in another. What do you think is at the root of that phenomenon?

We believe different things about ourselves depending on context and whether we can or cannot be successful. Here are four key sentences to a summary of growth mindset I recently read:

  1.   I can change my intelligence and ability through effort
  2.   I can succeed
  3.   I belong in this learning community
  4.   This work has value and purpose for me

Pride may convince us we don’t belong in a learning community because those around us know so much more and it appears to come easily for them. Our mindset becomes fixed. When actually, it could be easy to belong if we are willing to act like someone seeking knowledge as opposed to someone who possesses it. The opposite can also be true; we can walk into a room with all the expertise we need, but if we perceive others to know more, our sense of belonging is challenged.

Research shows kids ask fewer and fewer questions as they get older. Why is that? It is not that they become less curious about the world, but it is possible that they perceive asking questions creates an appearance of not belonging to an all-knowing community.

Our response to how we perceive ourselves in relation to others is key. Mindset is heavily influenced by context and is not necessarily a stable trait.

How do regional differences influence mindset and motivation?

Regional differences that may influence have to do with interaction. For example, having grown up in the Northeast and living in the Southeast, I notice humor is used differently. In the North, humor is used as an icebreaker and can create an immediate bond with a stranger. In the South, if humor is used that early in an interaction, it is perceived as too familiar and therefore rude.

Differences in interaction exist, but I don’t see mindset and motivation being directly impacted. However, it does influence where a parent or teacher may both intentionally and unintentionally emphasize a fixed mindset. Values—what is important and profitable—differ in various regions of the country (e.g., math and science may be valued more in areas of the Northwest than elsewhere), and may influence the messages we send to our kids and to our students.

4 Benefits of a Vertical Alignment Initiative

Curriculum review, a process often referred to as “vertical alignment,” involves a thorough examination of topics and skills being taught. It is both a discovery and school improvement process with each discipline, such as science or language arts, being reviewed from beginning to end. Teachers from each division and discipline, as well as members of a school’s leadership team, engage in conversations about the strengths of the current program and make improvements where repetition or interruptions are noted. Basically, curriculum review establishes the “what” and “when” of a school’s instructional program.

Schools that engage in this process gain four significant benefits:

  1. Balance. Students learn about a wider variety of topics. For example, if teachers in several grade levels teach about mammals but none of them teach about magnets, a science program will be imbalanced. Curriculum review reveals and corrects such issues.
  2. Flow. Skills build on previously learned skills. Skill instruction from grade to grade must be structured so that consistent skill development can occur. For example, if two-digit multiplication is taught in one grade level, but then not addressed or further developed in the next grade level, students may not be prepared to apply the skill in more advanced classes.
  3. Achievement. Research indicates a strong correlation between schools that engage regularly in curriculum review and student achievement. A more reflective learning community produces more robust learning.
  4. Communication. Teachers gain deeper understandings of how their material fits into a student’s development, and this fosters better communication between grade levels and disciplines. It also helps ensure accuracy in what a school communicates about its curriculum.

We’ve been honored to lead this process in schools, and to witness the dramatic advancements and curriculum developments that arise from it. Many discovered improvements can be implemented immediately; others require strategic program and/or professional development. However, the process always results in improvement.

When was the last time your school or organization engaged in this process?

Can we help get the conversation started?

Increasing Learning By Minding Mindset

The story of “The Little Engine That Could” illustrates the ideas of belief, effort, achievement, and confidence. If we connect these ideas, we notice the following relationships: belief influences effort; effort influences achievement; achievement influences confidence.

This video clip explains how these relationships influence student learning and behavior.

For a succinct summary of the research findings regarding mindset, it’s tough to beat this quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

The complete “Increasing Learning by Minding Mindset” is available via ACSI’s Nexus portal, http://my.acsi.org.