At the beginning of each semester, I have students write declarations of what they want to achieve in our science class. It’s always eye-opening to see what they write and how their declarations inform their attitudes and performance in class. I learn a lot about them through this exercise, and it gives me a great lead-in to talking about student mindsets.
This year, a large number of students in one class wrote declarations like “I will get an A or a B in this class” or “I will pass this class.”
Some of the declarations were more process-oriented, such as “I will turn in my homework” or “I will study for the tests.”
These statements reflect gains I would like to see for all students, but they reflect a hazardous, fixed mindset. Assessed according to these declarations, if a student achieves that A or B or turns in his homework, then he is a success. If he doesn’t earn the A or B, or forgets his homework, then he is a failure. They are all-or-nothing goals that I’ve seen students give up on early in the semester. They do poorly on the first test or fail to complete a few homework assignments, and in their eyes, the goal becomes unattainable, and they give up.
Some students wrote a different kind of declaration. One stated, “I want to understand more about the science of chemistry.” Another wrote, “I want to learn to like science this year.” Yet another declared, “I will ask questions when I don’t understand.” What great examples of a growth mindset and the belief that they will understand more, enjoy more, and ask more!
These goals aren’t easily measured by our standard school measurements of points and grades. There is no all-or-nothing in these declarations; they focus on growth rather than on measurable successes or failures. These declarations provide room for students to push themselves and embrace their learning without always thinking about the grade they might earn. Growth-mindset declarations allow students to see that understanding and enjoying a subject is valuable.
All of these declarations made me stop and think about what I wanted students to achieve. Sure, I would love for everyone to earn an A or B, and I would love it if every student did their homework every day, but does that sum up the kind of learning I want to see in my classroom? Isn’t a room full of students who want to understand, enjoy, and question a wonderful place for students and teachers to be? Isn’t this sort of classroom a place where learning goals can be attained?
Read more about growth mindsets in From “I’m not good at this”
to “I work hard.”
Show students how to turn goals into action in Creating Declarations.
Ann Larson Ericson has been using the Developmental Designs approach in her classroom for more than eight years. She teaches high school chemistry and physical science at Community of Peace Academy, a public charter school on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Posted March 2014