I have examined my first reactions to growth mindset, and other than the question of the student’s personal evaluation of the effects of a fixed or growth mindset on their motivation to learn it appears that it is just a fashion. To some extent it is of course worth having such fashions in order to keep teachers questioning the validity of their pedagogy.
I want first to note when education fashion arose in practice, and that was simply job interviews as we were too busy otherwise. Basically you boned up on the current fashion, and worked out what you had to offer on it and then trotted out your response if the question arose. Once in the job neither the administration nor the teacher actually considered the fashion in their teaching.
Now I want to examine teaching practice in schools so I start with UK state schools back in 1976. Now individualised learning was the fashion at the time especially in maths as there was a workbank with material resources system known as SMILE – an excellent system as far as it went, although I never personally wanted to take it up to the exam level it went to. It is my view that individualised learning grew out of disruptions in Inner City classrooms, and it was an attempt to allow individual students to continue working despite classroom disruptions – and it did that. Disruptions made class control that much harder so teachers were unable to deliver as much material so the intention with the individual workbase was that disciplined students were able to go at their own pace; this had to develop perseverance although I think it was referred to as independent learning. In my book I looked at it as autonomous mastery.
I would say that maintaining discipline dominates UK teaching practice, because in general the students are so badly behaved. But it was never discussed in those terms by education leaders because politically it was suicide. Ofsted was not big at my time but schools just hoped Ofsted did not label them so they put on a show. I left the UK at the beginning of 93 and Ofsted was gaining teeth sadly. Because of this ill discipline a certain level of individualised learning was required in order to make sure that bright students didn’t suffer.
But this approach started to go out of the fashion window with Thatcher and Baker’s political manoeuvring on education in the 80s – specifically the National Curriculum and Key Stage Testing. Once they were introduced methodologies were far more concerned with content. And then of course there were league tables so not only was it the national curriculum content but also the number of exam successes.
Thankfully I left when the worst of this was starting but I did return to teach sixth form for a year, 10 years later. I noticed that there were a lot of C passes doing A level, and they were out of their depth. In my view these students were well taught to pass the exam but did not have the maths ability to do A level; they were crammed because that was what was required of teachers. They couldn’t do algebra, an essential for A level, but algebra could be avoided to get a GCSE C pass. National Curriculum, Key-Stage testing and GCSE cramming out-trumped any other discipline and methodology fashion-imperatives.
Once teaching internationally methodologies went out of the window as a systemic consideration. Half my time teaching outside the UK was spent in Botswana state schools. Teaching methodology there was clearly teacher-centred, focussed on teacher delivery rather than any individualised or student-centred approach.
Then I went into private education, and the schools I taught at were not educationally good – not at the top end; and they were driven by profit. The rich kids were there for exam passes, and that was it. Because of the schools I was in – with their profit-emphasis, there was little continuity of staff – the longer good teachers were at those places the more they became a thorn in the sides of the administration because of their profiteering emphasis before education. I never felt that profiteering and exam passes were mutually exclusive as the better exam performance would attract more students. But in these places it never happened that they were in harmony.
There was of course the awful situation at the school I discussed in the footnote (labelled below) to this blog. Although the school was more established it was not educationally good, but they did pay for my IB training in the US because they wanted me to promote top-level passes. I think the administration did want such changes that I could have delivered as some students were very bright. But the administration did not have control of the school, some of the students backed by powerful parents had the power. The students were scared of change and their minds were stuck and could not accept the enquiring mind that was required; there was no motivation to try because they had the power to fire. As usual with administrations that are run on the end of a phone, I did not have the opportunity to answer my parental critics. The powerful parents were traditional and rich. The year 12 parents had a school meeting about me but I was not invited – I would liked to have stood up and argued my corner; I might well have garnered support. Before the meeting (that I did not know about) I was working late and a parent came to my classroom. It turned out she was a Ph D in psychology from a US university, I think. At the end of the discussion she wisely said I was too advanced for the school, the next morning the HOD (me) had been removed from teaching the year 12 class. Two months later I was removed from teaching year 11 and my contract was terminated. It had to happen – pack of cards. I assess this. The year 11 class was working well but two girls were not coping because they wanted “Here’s 1, do 10”; they had powerful parents. Before employing me the administration should have gone to the power – the parents on the end of the phone and asked if they wanted top grades and the change of methodology that was required. But of course the administration was too pompous to recognise they weren’t running their own school, the guy called himself President of the school. You might argue why did I go to that school, a friend had done well at the school and asked me to come. Once there he realised his mistake – as did I, but what could be done?
I have just realised that “Here’s 1 do 10” and the feeling they cannot do “problem-solving” is exactly what Carol Dweck is talking about in a student fixed mindset. Fascinating. In most situations I could have worked through this block but the students had no motivation because they had the power to fire. Students are always comfortable with “Here’s 1 do 10”, I call it “mentally lazy”, but if they worked with me I could have enabled a more problem-solving mindset in these students. In this school the motivation was to resist because students had power.
The comparison of “Here’s 1 do 10” and problem-solving is a comparison of teaching practices that are concerned with fixed and growth mindset. The guy before me at this school was a scientist – a biologist I think – never met him, so he was not trained in the nuances of maths teaching practice. I realised too late that at that school you conform, take your pay cheque and get another job. So a biologist teaching methods of “Here’s 1 do 10” just suited the mindsets of these students, they were rich but willing to graft to pass. But they were not willing to think, that part of their mindset was fixed. I was new so they didn’t trust me, they didn’t have to because they had the power to fire me; the phone-call administration was too powerful – not the education administration. Those students would not choose a growth mindset, they just liked ticks – success. But the students were conned because the best students in that group were easily capable of top grades. But they were mentally lazy, a fixed mindset of doing 10 correctly. And there was no motivation for them to grow as they had the power to fire. Fascinating.
In that situation the fault lay completely with the administration. Their decision to employ a head of maths whose methodology would require the students to enquire and problem-solve in order to get the top grades was not done in consultation with the phone-call administration – the deciders of education policy. When there was conflict with students they became job-protectors rather than confront the parents; typical of administration, jobs and profits first.
Here is a clear situation that is fixed and growth mindset – albeit the motivations and administration being unusual. But the prevailing teaching methodology and practice at the time were sufficient to educate for growth if the motivation was not so skewed. Growth mindset did not add to an understanding of the situation. There could have been an improvement if those students and parents did evaluate their fixed mindset, but equally there could have been improvement if those students were motivated to work with the teacher and listen to what the teacher said about the methodology. I was new and they did not have to listen, and the administration were happy to do the student bidding and fire teachers.
A clear example of fixed and growth mindset but no benefit here in the new terminology (the new fashion) as far as I can see. Interesting.
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