I’m an educator, but I learned the value of growth mindset as a frustrated math student.

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Back in high school, Brian Story ended his Algebra course thinking that mistakes were bad and “I’m just not good at Algebra.” This experience led him to develop a growth mindset and made him a stronger educator.

For the children and young people waking up every morning for “school” these days, it is harder than ever to stay motivated and persistent when the learning gets challenging. The distraction of Zoom, the lack of in person connection to peers and teachers, and the realities of home life during a pandemic can get in the way. For teachers, getting their students engaged and motivated is an overwhelming challenge, and it can feel like a bit of a black box in terms of how to turn that learning light switch on. 

Luckily, there is some science behind motivation, and real concrete actions a teacher can take to support it. One such step is to foster a growth mindset, or the belief that intelligence can be developed and with effort you can improve. According to the Mindset Scholars Network, students with a growth mindset understand they can get smarter through hard work, the use of effective strategies, and help from others when needed. In contrast, those with a fixed mindset believe their level of intelligence is set in stone, and as a result, might think “What’s the point in trying?” when something feels challenging.

Research, including a recent large-scale national study, shows that a growth mindset really matters for student learning outcomes and that teachers can encourage a growth mindset both through how they interact with students and their language. 

As a teacher, of course I can consider the importance of a growth mindset in relation to my students; but as I write this, I’m really thinking back to my high school Algebra II class. I remember the class being a constant source of frustration. Our teacher would share new concepts once, have us practice without any feedback on our work, and graded everyday assignments for accuracy, making me feel penalized just for practicing.  I ended that course thinking that mistakes were bad and should be avoided and that “I’m just not good at Algebra II.” The lack of motivation I felt in the class was a direct result of the learning opportunities I was provided, or in this case, not provided. The experience led me to adopt a fixed mindset in my approach to the class, and ultimately affected my thinking around Math courses for the rest of high school.  

Conversely, I “knew” I was great at English. I was fortunate enough to have English teachers who didn’t refuse or hesitate to review concepts with me when I needed more support.  They consistently provided clear feedback based on the standards for each reading or writing assignment I submitted, and encouraged me to revise my work, so I could learn and grow my writing. The ability to practice, make multiple attempts, and get timely supportive feedback genuinely helped me understand how to become a better English student. Being in an environment where we weren’t penalized for making mistakes along the way was crucial.  

Research suggests that when teachers intentionally provide opportunities to students that foster a Growth Mindset as my English teachers did, their students will be more engaged and persistent in their learning. 

Imagine a student struggling with a skill. They devote significant time and effort on an assignment, and can become frustrated when they don’t know whether they are doing their work correctly or not. They turn in the assignment, but they do not get timely feedback on how they did, or follow-on support. When the end of unit assessment comes, they get a low grade and feel discouraged. They might conclude that they simply can’t do the work or that the subject matter isn’t “for them.”  

Imagine instead that this student had multiple opportunities to practice without penalty, and received quick timely feedback on their progress along the way. Their teacher explained to them the broader goals of the assignment, and provided targeted support on their specific misconceptions based on data. The student better understands both where they stand and where they are going, and developed confidence in their ability to successfully navigate the subject matter over time. 

Sounds easy enough right? Well of course, now more than ever, it’s hard for teachers to do it all. It can be time consuming and near-impossible to grade and analyze the data from every single assignment, and to provide all students with support on their areas of need.   

This is where ASSISTments steps in. When ASSISTments was designed, it was with the science of learning in mind. We have created a student experience that provides students with low-stakes practice, multiple attempts to get it right, and immediate feedback on where they succeeded and where they struggled. This helps them understand where they need more support, without feeling penalized. 

In addition, ASSISTments provides teachers with real-time data that they can use to better support students in the moment, rather than waiting until an assessment. Our teacher users are able to regularly identify common misconceptions and communicate with students that need more support, and modify activities accordingly. They can also assign additional practice, or allow a student to retry assignments by deleting their progress. 

Teachers using ASSISTments communicate that the score is not a grade, but rather information to help them grow and improve. Students have the opportunity to practice and build confidence on important skills without being penalized for making mistakes along the way.  

In ASSISTments, it’s not about right or wrong, it’s all about growth, and rewarding effort in math. In short, we make establishing an environment that fosters Growth Mindset more achievable.    

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