In the first few weeks of school, students watch us closely. They tune in to how we frame lessons, they read our feedback, and they listen to the kinds of questions we ask. We may not think they're paying attention, but they are, and one aspect of our classroom culture that they notice is whether they are in a GROWTH classroom or a GET-IT-DONE classroom.
We've all been in “get-it-done” classrooms. The focus is on students completing work, turning it in, and receiving a grade. Success is praised above all else. When the work is done, the learning is done. Everything feels final, and somehow it's not a pleasant learning environment.
Growth classrooms, on the other hand, have a different feel. Everything–from how the teacher frames the unit's first lesson to the reflection discussion at the unit's conclusion–points to ongoing learning. Students take risks and ask questions. They collaborate with their peers and share interesting ideas. They give each other tough feedback because the teacher has cultivated trust among the students and has taught processes for providing feedback. While the work is in progress, learning is occurring, and it is expected to continue.
Project-Based Learning (PBL) is the perfect vehicle for promoting a growth mindset culture that emphasizes persistence and learning from mistakes. PBL units not only allow for students to develop expertise in the content they are learning, but students can also exhibit growth in skills through PBL units across the year.
For example, in a middle school science PBL unit, students take on the role of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation experts. They are to design an optimal temporary habitat for a displaced animal after a disaster. In this unit, they are learning about ecosystems and relationships within them, and they have the example of real-world Wildlife Biologists on which to model their growth. In this unit and others throughout the year, they are also growing in their ability to collaborate, communicate, research, solve problems, persist, and exercise key Science and Engineering Practices.
How does a teacher take steps to build a growth-centered classroom? Here are a few ways you can begin to embed key features of a growth mindset culture in your PBL units:
- Uphold Examples: Find real-world examples of products that scientists, engineers, and mathematicians create. Show students what they are aiming for in their work. Connect students to STEM professionals in person or through video, Skype, or articles so students can see their journey of expertise.
- Build Processes: Help students develop the language of a growth mindset through sentence- starters as they provide feedback to each other. Have mini-deadlines within the project so students get feedback along the way and make revisions. Structure peer-feedback sessions using protocols.
- Integrate Reflection: Either as exit tickets, warm-ups, or other points throughout the unit, provide students with opportunities to reflect on their learning and progress in the project. Assess their prior knowledge as well as their initial thinking about the content. Have students revise their thinking midway through the unit and at the end.
- Give Meaningful Feedback: Nobody likes feedback on a paper that they can't resubmit, and feedback that corrects but does not instruct isn't helpful, either. Consider focusing your feedback on the highest-leverage areas. Provide feedback on aspects you want students to grow the most in.
- Circle Back: When you move on to new units, remind students of skills or content they've learned before. Reiterate that you're deepening knowledge and growing skills. Be intentional in your growth language, and students will remember to build on their progress rather than feel as if they are starting from scratch.
For more on cultivating a growth mindset classroom, check out this Edutopia post with several teaching tools and ideas.