Current Trends and Issues in Education – Q&A Part 2

Here are a few more responses to questions on current trends and issues in education, including educators in faith-based learning environments cultivating growth mindset, the connection between personalization of learning and growth mindset, and the effects of social media and students’ belief about their intelligence.

Do you see a unique position that educators in a faith-based learning environment have in cultivating a growth mindset in students?

There is a definite command in Scripture to be growing. Peter writes “if these things” — faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, and more — are in us and are growing they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Christ. To remain effective in service, students need to understand growth is essential; it is critical that we foster a lifelong learning mindset in them.

I strongly believe Christians are called, in part, to redeem the world through their work. The command to be salt and light should inform the quality of our work. If we are not growing in ability, knowledge, and understanding, we will eventually become ineffective.

What connection do you see between personalization of learning and development of a growth mindset?

First, there is a connection between motivation and mindset: autonomy (I have some say in how I learn), community (I sense I am part of a team, learning together), and competence (What I need to be successful is available to me). A learning culture of all three fosters intrinsic motivation. A student can approach a task by asking either, “How fast can I complete this assignment?” or “Am I completing this assignment for the purpose of learning?” Personalization from a growth mindset guards against simply mastering tasks in lieu of learning.

Personalization requires that a teacher help each student find meaning in new material. Connecting students’ past experiences with new material will enable them to find value in it. Give students time to find these connections, and don’t make assumptions you know what their experiences are. Teachers can create a community experience to establish a reference point for the new material, but they should always ask students to think of additional examples from their experience.

By personalizing learning, teachers can guide student mindset toward growth.

How do you see the effects of social media intersecting with mindset and students’ beliefs about themselves and their intelligence?

A student’s mindset and beliefs about himself has a lot to do with how he interprets social media. He may respond to a friend’s training schedule: If he can do it, I can do it. vs I’ll never be as good as him. Also, if all a student reads are success stories, it is more likely he will feel inadequate (I could never do that), and is nudged toward a fixed mindset. It takes maturity and an ability to think beyond a social media post.

[Next month – Q&A Part 3 of 3 addresses the teacher and growth mindset cultivation, the direction of research, and a professional development recommendation.]

Do you have an education-related question? Just Ask!

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.

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,