Many of us are at least generally familiar with the idea of “mindsets,” and their relevance to teaching and learning. Carol Dweck, one of the most notable researchers working in the area of mindsets, makes the distinction between “growth” and “fixed” mindsets. Learners with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and abilities are essentially fixed, finite commodities, Dweck argues, and when they fail to accomplish a particular task, they assume they’ve reached the limits of their capacity for that thing. So a student who has told themself “I’m not a math person” is operating within a fixed mindset, and it makes learning extremely difficult—because they’re convinced that further learning is, at least for them, impossible. Far better, Dweck argues, is for learners to work within a growth mindset, where they understand, by adopting effective strategies, they can augment their skills and abilities in a particular area. To put it simply, a learner with a growth mindset, would react to a failing grade on a math exam not by saying “I can’t do this,” but rather “I can’t do this yet.” And it’s that “yet” which is the most important part of the equation.
This is the week where we report low midterm grades, and for many of our students, the prospect of failure becomes something a bit more urgent and real. This dilemma presents a series of choices for our students, and we hope that they are able to choose wisely in order to remedy whatever problems contributed to that low midterm grade. But how can we ensure that this is what really happens–that our students take the appropriate lessons from failure and use them to become more successful? After all, we know that fear of failure often leads students to make choices we’d rather not see: cheating, for example, or seeing learning as merely strategic instead of something deeper. Continue reading “Learning from Failure”