What type of person are we cultivating when we only praise the product without considering the effort? The average age to learn to ride a two- wheel bike is around five years old. However, this is just a guideline. Some learn at age three, while others don’t learn until age seven or even later. How are academic grade level expectations different? Creating pacing guides about what the average student can be expected to learn at each age is perfectly acceptable. However, not all students can be forced to ride a bike by age five; some will take a little longer. We just keep moving forward. What if the student has already learned to ride his bike or has reached the grade level expectation? Are they to stop there because they have learned all that is expected? We need to encourage continued improvement regardless of where we start or how far we’ve already gone.
If someone were to assess my instructional reading level, it would be discovered that much of what I read is far beyond my ‘instructional’ range. Some people thrive on pushing themselves to learn new things. Research of the brain has shown that grappling with something difficult and challenging can actually CHANGE a person’s mindset because neurons form new and stronger connections when something difficult is learned. It is this very act that makes people smarter. Students need to be made aware that their engagement with the material is what will shape their brain.
However, in schools all across America, at the end of the day, it is the teachers who are exhausted. We are so often putting on a horse and pony show to try to engage students who are unwilling participants. Too often students expect to sit passively and have teachers pour the knowledge into them. There’s an ownership piece to student learning that seems to be missing and what is causing this?
There are so many excuses to expect that a child won’t succeed. They are from a low income family, they are of a certain race, a parent is incarcerated, mother is unmarried, they haven’t developed a relationship with the teacher, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs aren’t being met, and the list goes on. However, despite these negative external factors, there are always inspiring stories of students rising above their circumstances. As important as these issues are, they are not reasons to excuse hard work and assume mediocrity. So how do we help students find the drive to put forth effort, to focus, to persevere, to continually improve?
We, not the students, are the problem. We have created a culture where the biggest goal is getting the next A or the 80% passing test score. We make sure students know their exact reading level and how far they need to go to get to grade level. We make sure they are aware of their failing grade and force them to work in a 2nd, 3rd, and sometimes 4th remediation group just to get their scores up. We are allowing students to risk associating their intelligence with a passing or failing test grade. An A for one student may come with little to no effort while a C for another student may have been earned through blood, sweat, and tears. When we stop focusing on the end product and praise the process they’ve taken along the way, we will have started to rebuild a generation of students who understand what it means to take work hard, engage in, and take ownership of their own learning.
Carol Dweck’s Mindset and TedTalk The Power of Believing That You Can Improve