Monday, June 30, 2014

Pursuing a Growth Mindset

In the past few weeks I have been reading a lot about Grit and having an Growth Mindset.  In my online class on Blended and Online Learning last week was devoted to thinking about having a growth mindset, I am currently reading Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci, and in the last two weeks I have read thought provoking pieces in the New York Times by David Brooks and Alfie Kohn on the topic.  

In addition to doing this reading I have gone back to running this summer with the goal of running at least 1 mile per day until school starts again on August 13.  So far I have made it 23 days straight, and have had a lot of time to ponder my views on this topic.  Over the the coming week I am hoping to explore these thoughts more deeply on this page.  The first topic of my post will be a response to Mr. Kohn's article, which began this cycle of thought for me nearly two weeks ago.

In the May 3rd edition of the New York Times, Mr. Kohn wrote an article entitled Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easy? In this article, Mr. Kohn attacks the culture of Grit that he has seen developing within both conservative and liberal groups in America.  Early in the piece, Kohn states:

But seriously, has any child who received a trinket after losing a contest walked away believing that he (or his team) won — or that achievement doesn’t matter? Giving trophies to all the kids is a well-meaning and mostly innocuous attempt to appreciate everyone’s effort.
Even so, I’m not really making a case for doing so, since it distracts us from rethinking competition itself and the belief that people can succeed only if others fail. 
Rather, my intent is to probe the underlying cluster of mostly undefended beliefs about what life is like (awful), what teaches resilience (experiences with failure), what motivates people to excel (rewards) and what produces excellence (competition).   

Mr. Kohn then backs up his belief that creating competitive environments does not help improve outcomes for students by stating that, 
In any case, no one ever explains the mechanism by which the silence of a long drive home without a trophy is supposed to teach resilience. Nor are we told whether there’s any support for this theory of inoculation by immersion. Have social scientists shown that those who are spared, say, the rigors of dodge ball (which turns children into human targets) or class rank (which pits students against one another) will wind up unprepared for adulthood?
Not that I can find. In fact, studies of those who attended the sort of nontraditional schools that afford an unusual amount of autonomy and nurturing suggest that the great majority seemed capable of navigating the transition to traditional colleges and workplaces.
He then makes a compelling case that what we should seek for our students and children is what he refers to as "unconditionality", or the idea that children know that they are loved not because of what they achieve, but rather for who they are.  It is here that I have become confused about Mr. Kohn's views on this topic.  It appears that he is embracing the idea of building within students a growth mindset, but without the student having to put forth any effort in attempting to achieve their goals.

I believe part of this view comes from Mr. Kohn's interpretation of the intentions of those advocating for students to develop Grit.  Mr. Kohn, as outlined in his article, believes that those advocating for students to develop Grit have a very Hobbesian view of the world.  He states:
Rather, my intent is to probe the underlying cluster of mostly undefended beliefs about what life is like (awful), what teaches resilience (experiences with failure), what motivates people to excel (rewards) and what produces excellence (competition).Most of all, it’s assumed that the best way to get children ready for the miserable “real world” that awaits them is to make sure they have plenty of miserable experiences while they’re young. Conversely, if they’re spared any unhappiness, they’ll be ill-prepared.
 I do not believe that those who advocate for the development of Grit believe that the world is a very dark place, but I do believe that they realize that students need to experience work hard to develop their skills and improve.  This hard work, often comes with struggle and failure, and how we respond to these setbacks ultimately determine if we succeed or not.  I can have an immeasurable amount of self confidence born from knowing that my parents love and support me, that I have the skills to succeed, but what happens the first time that I face hardship, or fall short.  Without having a strong belief in my abilities, born from succeeding when the milestone was not easy, will I be able to push through the self doubt that comes with failure, or will I crumble and fail to meet that challenge before me.

Much like Michael Jordan, I do not believe that we are born with natural abilities that will carry us to our goals because we have them, but rather we need to refine these abilities through hard work and perseverance.  

While I struggle with participation trophies, and realize that even though the players got an award they still know they lost (much like when we have young athletes play the game but do not keep score so that the idea of competition is eliminated), I also understand Mr. Kohn's desire to lessen the influence of competition within our schools.  When we pick winners and losers by having students compete within the classroom we move into the realm of a fixed rather than growth mindset.  This does not mean that students should not face struggle and have to work hard to achieve the learning put before them.

When I am in the midst of my goal of running at least 1 mile daily, and it is late at night and I don't want to run because it has been a long day, will my confidence in my ability to run a mile get me off the couch and out into the heat and the darkness of a nighttime run?  Or will the Grit that I have developed that makes me want to succeed push me out the door, into the heat and darkness, not only to get in the minimum mile, but to go further than I thought I could when I started the run?  If we eliminate anything, it should not be the struggle, but rather that we evaluate each student based not on an arbitrary set of outcomes set for all, but rather by looking at where they began their studies, and where they finish.  Much like I runners who run in old age not against the pack, but against their own times and for their own goals.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Blended and Online Learning Class Reflection Week 2

This week's readings and videos all centered around the theme of Mindset and were very engaging to read and watch.  The materials started with  videos by Will Richardson and Ken Robinson speaking about the education system, and then had articles around adopting technology,  homework policies, giving students zeros, and how to start and online class.  The reflection for our blog post this week was to answer the following question:  How could you adapt or change one of your current courses/course policies to reflect a moving mindset?  Is this a change you are willing to make?  Why or why not?

As a high school administrator I thought that I would focus on a policy that I would change for it to reflect a moving mindset. One of the changes that I hope to make next year is to incorporate the VIA Survey of Character Strengths as part of our school discipline program.  The program already is centered around conversation with students who violate school rules in which we discuss what happened, and then have the student reflect on what occurred and what they can do differently in the future.  The foundation of our discipline program is based on a growth mindset, that being to not merely discipline the student, but rather to help the student to grow and make better choices in the future.

It is my hope to have students who have been assigned a suspension of any length to complete the survey as part of their discipline assignment.  They would then submit their top 5 strengths via a Google form, so that we can have a record of each student's strengths for when we meet in the future.  After submitting their strengths they would meet with an administrator who would then discuss what occurred for reflection, but this time through the lens of how they can utilize their strengths to avoid this situation in the future.  In addition to discussing how they might utilize their strengths differently in the future, if needed the idea of how sometimes strengths (like humor) can be used as a shadow strength that is in reality utilizing that strength in a way that is negative or harmful.  Finally, I would want them to reflect on the idea of self regulation, as exemplified by Dr. John Yeager (who co-authored the book Smart Strengths upon which this approach is based) in this article on self regulation.

With this change in approach, to helping students realize what their strengths are and how to better utilize them, but also to begin to move from autonomous responses within their environment, to those that are more reflective, as Dr. Yeager points out when discussing how being in a bakery can assault our virtue.

This is a change that I am more than willing to make as I believe that one of the primary functions of being an educator is to instill in our students the habit of life long learning, and a growth mindset is at the foundation of this belief.  Without the belief that we all can grow and develop new skills and habits of mind, then their is little point in continuing to work with students.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Blended and Online Learning Class-Reflection on my Responses

This summer I am taking an online course from Five-Star Academy on Blended and Online Learning, in addition to continuing my course work via EdX this time on Sabermetrics and Coding.  From time to time I will be posting reflections based on my learning through Five Star, this being the first.

For this week's introductory course we were introduced to the course software, learned about the expectations for our coursework and when assignments are due, and learned about the projects we will be doing.  I really liked the format for this introduction, particularly the use of rubrics to set the expectations for posts, as well as did some reading on the different standards for online educators from the State of Indiana, iNACOL, and ISTE.

I found this article about Online Discussion Response Techinques as that is something that I always struggle with when taking online courses.  Which leads me to today's assignment, an evaluation of how I did responding this week to the writing prompts and the writing of my classmates.  The three questions for this prompt were based on the rubric below:

  1. Where do you fall on the rubric?
  2. What qualities of your entries effective or exceptional?
  3. What qualities of your entries were emerging or evolving?
In reading over my response to the question:  Which set of digital standards would you be most likely to use as a point of reference in your professional situation? What characteristics of those standards make them the best choice?   I believe that I fall predominantly in the Effective area.  I did a good job of understanding the readings that we were asked to write about and incorporate professional experiences in to both my response to the question and my response to my classmate's posts.  I also felt that I could be considered exceptional in the area of the presentation of my ideas.  That being said, I believe that my response to a classmate's post was a little too shallow to be considered effective, and thus I believe it is emerging.  While I did reference other posts that I had read, and also expanded on the topic by bringing in my beliefs about the standards as they related to our adoption of MacBooks in a 1:1 environment 3 years ago, I felt that my post was too much on the agreeable side of the scale.  

Another drawback to my post, is that I always find it hard to evaluate myself.  I tend to fall on the "too hard on myself" side of the scale, but when it comes to my writing, I think I grade myself too easily, plus it is always nice to get another perspective, so I have copied both my post and response to a classmate below. What do you think?

My Post:
As we are embarking on expanding our online offerings from 2 courses (Economics and English Composition) that were taught in a blended environment to a more comprehensive offering of core courses (we are adding Government and English 12) I believe that the Indiana Standards for Online Educators would be a great starting point. They are concise (11 pages long), easy to understand, and provide details as to what is to be expected when establishing yourself as an online educator. I believe that the interactions between the instructor and students is in many ways more important than the content that is being developed for these courses. Without great communication skills, the ability to connect with your learners, and the ability to engage them in the content, even the best lessons will fall flat. Thus I believe that these standards which give a nice overview of the process are a great place to start. 

I would back these up by using the other pieces as supplemental readings and discussions using the save the last word for me protocol established by NSRF ( or a similar text exploration protocol as part of a summer boot camp for online instructors as they offer more meet to grow from.

 Response to a Classmate:

Amy, I like your take on the ISTE standards being very well aligned to the goals your corporation has established for the coming year. I think that they can serve as a great guide for students to see what direct their digital learning can take them. I, agree with Kelly's earlier post regarding wanting to blend these documents into one final document that takes the best from all. I think incorporating the Indiana Online Educator standards does this in many ways, as she pointed out in her post, that it blends items from INaCol and ISTE to try and create a foundations document for teachers. I believe that having teachers understand the unique environment that blended/online learning is will be vital in making any technology change go beyond advanced power point and word processing. It is one of my biggest regrets from our transition to 1:1 that we did not access similar standards and discuss them as part of our teacher PD.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What I Learned from my MOOC Experience

As I wrote in my last post, I recently completed a MOOC class for the first time.  In my previous post, I wrote about what I had learned about taking online classes from this experience in learning about Alexander the Great.  The focus of this post will be what I learned about facilitating learning in an online environment by taking this course.

The first thing that I learned is to make assignments not merely relevant but transparent.  Each week in my course our professor, Guy Maclean Rogers, started the week with an overview of the topic we would be covering.  This included links to any readings that we would be doing as well as essential questions to think about as we did our work.  There were no surprises as to what was expected.  This no surprises policy even went to the courseware. At the top of each lesson was a menu bar that showed all of the elements that you would be completing during the unit, with symbols for different types of activities.

The second lesson I learned was to keep lectures short, and if using video have it transcribed so students can choose to read the lecture instead of watch it.  This was one of the best features of the class.  Each video lecture was broken into shorter segments of 3-5 minutes around a common theme, with a transcribed version next to it so you could read instead of watching if you wished.  After each video, students were asked to answer a reflective question regarding the video, often either analyzing what occurred or giving an opinion on what happened.  They were then asked to comment on the posts of others, but not required to do so.

The third lesson was to give weekly updates and pep talks.  All of the feedback that I received on the course came from auto graded multiple choice quizzes and the end of each unit or from peers commenting on my posts.  The first type of feedback was immediate and helped me to see what I was retaining, but was not very intellectually meaty-the quizzes were like fast food in that they filled you up, but were not always a sustaining meal.  The second feedback, from classmates, was infrequent as the number of posts to read from others were overwhelming and comments were infrequent at best.  The class lacked a sense of community.  All of this being said, the weekly email I received from our instructor was gold.  He commented on posts that he was reading and discussions that were taking place among the students.  He encouraged us to stick with it, while giving updates on assignments and telling us what the next topic would be in a preview.  In short he gave us weekly pep talks to keep us going.

The final lesson learned was to truly have a successful course, you need to create community among the learners.  This was hard to find in my course, and in some ways I found the class less fulfilling than live classes because of it.  In the course that I am currently taking on Online and Blended Learning we have to comment on the posts of classmates, and their is a rubric for those posts so we can make sure we are giving substantial feedback to them.  Additionally, the class is small, so you don't feel overwhelmed looking through the posts of your classmates to comment.  Thus, if I were to teach a MOOC style course, I would break the large class into smaller groups so they can foster a community of learners.