Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mindset and "non-cognitive skills" - some roots of good education

Education has been full of many different kinds of debates, one being the basic and broad question: what is the purpose of our education system? The problem with this question is that not only does our answers influence the way we approach instruction, but this perspective greatly hampers (or strengthens) the learner themselves.

It is clear that there are some significant problems with education in America. So, who should we blame? The teachers who "just don't care"? What about those bad parents that don't push their kids to excel? Maybe it is the new generation of learners, the digital natives who are watching thousands of hours of TV or other media?

Asking who is at blame is a waste of time. Rather, we should be asking what can we do about it? Fortunately, many professionals are asking this question. Surprisingly experts are finding that students excel not necessarily by longer class hours or better media tools, but by developing what Carol Dweck calls a "growth mindset". Below is a short video of some of the views and findings she wrote about in her influential book.

 Dweck is not discussing effective ways to use Twitter in teaching, or really anything new when it comes to good teaching. What she is doing, is focusing us on the fact that children - and students in general - must come to understand that they can do better and continue to improve themselves. Failure is not the end.

Beyond these discussions of how to give feedback, and the influence of constructive feedback and learning by failing, is the subject of the most recent This American Life broadcast. I quote below from the program's website which gives a short summary of some of the content on the 1 hour show (I recommend listening to the whole thing of course!).
"Ira talks with Paul Tough, author of the new book How Children Succeed, about the traditional ways we measure ability and intelligence in American schools. They talk about the focus on cognitive abilities, conventional "book smarts." They discuss the current emphasis on these kinds of skills in American education, and the emphasis standardized testing, and then turn our attention to a growing body of research that suggests we may be on the verge of a new approach to some of the biggest challenges facing American schools today. Paul Tough discusses how “non-cognitive skills” — qualities like tenacity, resilience, impulse control — are being viewed as increasingly vital in education, and Ira speaks with economist James Heckman, who’s been at the center of this research and this shift."

I think by using the media that students are consuming, we can help "coach" them in a way they can identify with and gain motivation by. Obviously just exposing them to the content won't do, but sincere and meaningful discussion about things they care about is what will make a difference. Is it possible that by giving students such attention and leveling with their understanding we might help give them the sort of non-cognitive skills needed? Maybe not, but I think there is an argument here that is worth voicing.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I really resonate with this video. I totally agree that it is almost harmful to kids to tell them they are "smart." It puts a lot of pressure on them when the going gets tough. Whereas if a child thinks in a growth-mindset (love that term), they will tackle challenges with confidence. I think I can always use the reminder to have a growth mindset myself. :-)