Student engagement continues to be a topic of much discussion in the education community. A Google search for “increasing student engagement” will yield more than eight million results, including results from scholarly research articles. Teachers and administrators are continually looking for ways to engage students in learning, so much so that some teachers are creating infographics like the one below from Mia MacMeekin (2013) and other media to help teachers come up with ideas quickly to increase engagement.
Oftentimes a discussion about student engagement is merely a discussion about students paying attention in class. True student engagement goes deeper than just students sitting and paying attention in class. According to the Glossary of Education Reform (2016), student engagement is defined as:
In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. Generally speaking, the concept of “student engagement” is predicated on the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise “disengaged.” Stronger student engagement or improved student engagement are common instructional objectives expressed by educators (para. 1).
Rather than having simple discussions about way to get students to pay attention in class, we should be teaching our students a growth mindset to fully engage them in learning. Through a growth mindset, students can be empowered to take charge of their own learning and work through struggles to attain success.
Defining Growth Mindset
Any discussion of growth mindset must begin with a definition and thorough understanding of the topic. According to Carol Dweck, growth mindset involves teaching students that everyone is born to learn. Dweck argues that there are two types of mindsets seen in schools, fixed and growth. Students with fixed mindsets tend to believe that their level of intelligence can not be changed and that they are either “smart” or “dumb”. Students that embrace a growth mindset see intelligence as something that can be increased through hard work and personal belief and that anyone has the potential to learn and master any subject (Dweck, 2015).
Growth Mindset as Student Engagement
Growth mindset, therefore, can be a way that teachers can increase student engagement. If students believe they can learn any subject and are not afraid of failing, they can dive headlong into a lesson, provided the lesson allows for them to take control of their learning. Maxwell, Stobaugh, and Tassell, discuss how to craft a project or lesson that engages individual students by “finding the spark” (2015, p. 61). Growth mindset must be more than just teaching students that it is ok to fail while working on a math worksheet of 150 problems. For students to be truly engaged and put a growth mindset into action, students must become part of the learning process themselves.
At the highest level of the Create Framework, Specializing, students are focusing on topics and questions that they want to find the answers for and are creating inquiry-based projects on their own (Maxwell et al, 2015). These lessons are not led or constructed by a teacher but the teacher becomes a coach or a facilitator of learning. This level of learning certainly lines up with growth mindset as students are fully engaged and curious about the topic they are working on and, because of the engagement, are pressing past failures to true learning.
In the process of Prensky Partnering, students should become the facilitators of their own learning, working with the teacher to identify real and relevant topics that they want to learn about and the teacher creates lessons based around those tasks that allow the student to acquire the curriculum mandated skills they will be tested on at the end of the school year (Wilson, 2014). Sir Ken Robinson claims that all we are really doing with our education system today is putting kids to sleep when what we should be doing is waking them up to their own genius and what is inside of them (Robinson, 2010). These statements certainly line up with the concept of growth mindset and allowing students to take control of their learning.
Sugata Mitra took the concept of growth mindset to an extreme with his “Hole in the Wall” project (Mitra, 2010). This exercise in student driven learning and engagement had students learning new concepts completely on their own with no assistance from a teacher to astounding results. This example is in stark contrast to Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make” as in his talk he makes it seem like teachers are mostly responsible for a student’s success, disagreeing with the evidence presented by other authors and videos in my research (Mali, n.d.).
It is clear that one way to improve student engagement in a classroom is through the teaching of a growth mindset. However, teaching a growth mindset is not as simple as showing students one of Carol Dweck’s videos and rewriting learning targets on the board.
How to Introduce Growth Mindset in the Classroom
While telling a student what a growth mindset is can be a simple task, actually putting the concept to work in a classroom is another matter. Edutopia provides a list of 23 resources for teaching growth mindset in a classroom (Edutopia, 2016) that teachers can use to begin introducing the concept of a growth mindset. As a math teacher, one way that I have introduced growth mindset in my class is through a technique called “My Favorite No. (Blad, 2016)” Students are given a problem and solve the problem on a piece of paper or index card. When complete, I check over their work and answers and choose one that is not correct but shows several correct processes. As a class, we analyze what this student might have done to arrive at the incorrect answer and how the problem could be fixed. Student names are withheld during this process. “My Favorite No” allows other students to analyze someone else’s work and possibly see the same mistake they made. This process shows students that they can learn even if they are struggling with a concept and that failure is certainly an option and that they don’t have to be afraid.
Another way that I could teach growth mindset is the productive struggle (Cowen, 2016). I have used this strategy as students work on a problem or set of problems at the beginning of a class. Once they are complete, I have several students share their strategies for solving the problem without telling them which one is correct. As a class, or with partners, or with a group, students analyze the answers and how a student might have arrived at them. This process is similar to “My Favorite No” but the students are leading the discussion as they work toward finding the correct answer through varied solutions. In math, there are many times where more than one solution to a problem exists and encouraging students to find the path that works for them is teaching them growth mindset.
Prensky’s Concept of Partnering and Student Engagement
Prensky’s concept of partnering allows students to find answers on their own and then share those answers with their peers (Wilson, 2014). As students take more control over their learning, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator of learning and provides a learning environment where students can access resources or ask the teacher for supports along the way. Maxwell, Stobaugh, and Tassell discuss three different levels of student partnering that support Prensky’s model. The levels of student-student, student-teacher, and student-expert, collaboration or partnering offer models that can be followed in the classroom and outside the classroom (Maxwell et al., 2015, p.62). Sugata Mitra discusses the concept of a Self Organizing System and how the work he did with the “Hole in the Wall” project allowed students to become their own tutors and masters of their own learning, a great example of Prensky’s partnering concept (Mita, 2010).
Cowen, E. (2016, January 07). Harnessing the Power of the Productive Struggle. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/harnessing-power-of-productive-struggle-ellie-cowen
Blad, E. (2016, June 09). Teachers Nurture Growth Mindsets in Math. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/09/teachers-nurture-growth-mindsets-in-math.html
Dweck, C. (2015, November 3). Teaching growth mindset. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isHM1rEd3GE (14:29)
E. (2016, February 18). Student Engagement Definition. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/student-engagement/
Edutopia. (2016). Resources for teaching growth mindset. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/article/growth-mindset-resources
MacMeekin, M. (2013, July 21). Please, I need you to participate…. Retrieved from https://anethicalisland.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/please-i-need-you-to-participate/
Mali, T. (n.d.). Taylor Mali: What teachers make. [Video file]. Retrieved from
https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/teachers-make (3:23; clean version) (The not-as-clean version: https://www.ted.com/talks/taylor_mali_what_teachers_make)
Maxwell, M., Stobaugh, R., & Tassell, J. H. (2015). Chapter 3: Student engagement. In Real-world learning for secondary schools: Digital tools and practical strategies for successful implementation. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree. ISBN: 9781935249443.
Mitra, S. (2010, July). The child-driven education. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education#t-10241 (17:36)
Robinson, Sir K. (2010, October 14). Changing education paradigms. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&index=9&list=PL39BF9545D740ECFF (11:40)
Wilson, A. (2014, April 22). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning (Prensky Partnering Model). [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8ONsqfoyCQ&list=PLcUmE1FdOHUuZY5FXhcDD3oYOhnIxl_Lm&index=10 (5:11)