Mindset is Everything

In a previous post, I mentioned that we know grades on papers decrease students’ motivation. I’ve seen it in my room and I’m confident other teachers will agree that once a grade is on a piece of student work, the likelihood that the student will actually look at their mistakes and fix/improve their work is minimal (if it’s there at all). The experience of seeing kids dismiss their work after checking out the grade was the main driver behind my decision to REMOVE grades from any student work…until the summative assessment. Specific, task-based, and immediate feedback is now my main go-to, and it’s certainly helped me push my students. BUT…

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to join two standards-based grading workshops with Tom Schimmer. He may have thought I was one of them crazy, new-age, grades-don’t-matter teachers when I shared my internal conflict of the necessity of grades, but he was helpful as I bounced my thoughts and ideas off him. Let’s just say he has spun me in a completely new direction. I greatly appreciate the new perspective that he brought to the table:

Is it the GRADE or the student’s MINDSET that decreases motivation?

Just think about that for a moment. If a growth-minded student were to receive a summative grade below their expectations, couldn’t we expect that this student would be MORE motivated to improve their work? Wouldn’t a fixed-minded student dismiss an undesirable summative grade? So…is it the GRADE or the student’s MINDSET that decreases motivation? Hmmmmm…

I still believe that grades on formative assessments are not helpful for most students. However, the grade vs mindset question made me realize that my students do not, in fact, have growth-mindsets…yet. I still believe the desire to master skills and fully understand big ideas should be internally motivated (not externally motivated by grades, teachers, or parents). I now think that a strong growth mindset is a major component of internal motivation and THAT is what we, as educators, really need to promote more in our classrooms.

This new realization was a bit depressing to me as I was overly optimistic about how growth-minded my students were. More work clearly needs to be done in my room and here’s the starting plan, thanks to chapter 3 of Thrive by Arianna Huffington.

  • Student weekly reflections that currently include how students challenged themselves in and out of school will be enhanced with “My Favorite Failure”. The purpose of students sharing a mistake they’ve made is to normalize and celebrate the hiccups in our everyday lives.
  • I will find and share stories of kids and adults that have accomplished great things, emphasizing their individual paths and struggles that allowed them to succeed.
  • I will initiate more discussions that differentiate working smart from working hard. A lot of my students wrongly believe that the more hours they put into their studies, the better off they’ll be; more talk about HOW to be efficient as students will be put into our review days.

    “We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”  -Arianna Huffington

  • I’d really like to have some mastery options during our “getting stuff done” block that happens once a week. During this time, students normally write their weekly reflections, finish up assignments that are lingering, and then choose how to spend the rest of their 45 minutes. I’d like to include options that take time to master for this “free choice” time (Rubik’s cube, origami, chess, etc.). This will help reinforce that practice and playing with things over and over will improve their abilities.

Any other ideas that could help build a growth mindset?? Please comment below!



Grading from the Inside out. Tom Schimmer. 2017.

Huffington, Arianna. “3.” Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, WH Allen, 2015.

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