This week, prompted by a suggestion from a friend to look at the work of Carol Dweck, I’ve noticed something more about the so-called “avoiders” I talked about in a previous post. Though they still contribute their best effort when trying to get out of work, I think there’s something much deeper affecting them.
This TED talk was shown at our all faculty meeting before school started and does a nice job of explaining the importance of a growth mindset for learning. Unfortunately, I think the thing our “avoiders” have most in common is a complete and total lack of this mindset. Instead, they show the epitome of a fixed mindset; they are often rooted in their own ideas, convinced that they alone are right, or, worse, that they don’t understand, so they should not try at all.
One student, faced with a challenge, latches on to the first idea that comes into her head and refuses to let any others inform her thinking. She is often the first to contribute in a group, but her skills are on the low end of her peers, so she rarely provides a complete and correct idea. So her classmates build upon her offering, as a team should, until reaching a reasonable conclusion. Cue this student regressing back to her original answer with complaints of: “I don’t know why mine isn’t right” and “can I just use what I said before?”, leaving me flabbergasted. Another student has a habit of assuming they don’t understand or don’t know the answer before they actually read and consider the question. Sometimes, all it takes to remedy this is to make them read the problem aloud; other times, they will spend a full 3 minutes bemoaning that they “can’t” or that they “don’t understand” before I can get them anywhere. I find the latter much easier to manage, and typically work to incorporate appropriate praise when they inevitably reach the right answer (which they almost invariably do).
While I appreciate the idea of the fixed mindset to help me explain these behaviors and the ideas provided to alter their approaches, the thing that keeps nagging at me is that each of the three children in my class with this mindset are girls. Initially, when they would approach me with their whining and complaining I found my gut wrenching. I took particular offense to the mere possibility that these girls have been receiving messages that they can’t or that they aren’t smart enough to do absolutely anything they want. I cannot prove that gender is the cause as opposed to the fact that they just happened to be the children who internalized messages to lead them to a fixed mindset, but I suspect that conforming to the female gender role is part of it. All of the students in the class have been at the school for at least a few years, and none of the boys in the class have developed the fixed mindset. Sadly, I imagine that the school is probably sending the least of these messages – the majority are likely out of our control, coming from the outside environment, friends, and parents. It disturbs me that a child of 8 might think themselves incapable of anything, and I hope we can work to support the growth mindset in all of our children regardless of the role we fill in their lives, be it educator, parent, or community member.