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As an educator, I have always struggled with the concept of the letter grade. It has always been a double-edged sword for me. There are the practical skills of getting good grades: turn in all of your homework, do what your teacher says, and most of the time you will pass the class. But is a letter grade a reflection of knowledge, a reflection of effort, or just a reflection of “playing the game”?
To be fair, there are a lot of life skills to be learned by being able to “play the game”. Yet, is a student’s ability to play the game an accurate reflection of their level of understanding of a subject? Is the letter grade truly measuring what it is intended to measure? Or, and this may be most concerning to me, are there unforeseen consequences of a system that allows you to play the game and get by?
This last question is where my struggle lies: what are the unforeseen consequences of a system that has a finite line when it comes to learning?
Welcome to the world of mindset
The belief that intelligence and ability are static, that they cannot be changed. Fixed mindsetThe unforeseen consequence of things that lead to playing the game in education is that they can promote a fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset believes that intelligence and ability are static, that they cannot be changed. Some statements that you will hear from someone with a fixed mindset would be: I’m not good at this. It is good enough. It is too hard.
The letter grade system can promote a fixed mindset in two ways:
First, it can promote a fixed mindset by not challenging a gifted student. By completing all the required tasks needed for a project, the question is rarely asked, How can I make this better?
Second, it can promote a fixed mindset by not encouraging a student who struggles to work harder at a skill, because constant failure or low performance is looked at as a negative, and not a learning experience.
Dr. Carol Dweck is the leading expert on what is called a growth mindset. Watch her TedX talk below.
The belief that intelligence and ability are malleable.Growth mindsetA growth mindset believes that intelligence and ability are malleable. A growth mindset believes that they can be developed. Someone who has a growth mindset will say things like: I’m not good at this, yet. How can I make this better? This is going to take some hard work.
Now, I am not naïve. Eliminating the letter grade system in education is not going to happen anytime soon. However, there are things that we can do as parents to help encourage a growth mindset in our children. Here are three things that help encourage the development of that mindset:
Enroll your child in something that they struggle with.
Maybe it is playing the piano, swimming, or learning a foreign language. Of all of the things that your child can do, make sure they do something in which they will experience failure, and encourage them to continue to work hard. Say to them: That seems like it is difficult for you, but I know that you will keep working at getting better every day!
Replace the word can’t with yet.
When your child says that they can’t do something, correct them by saying: You just aren’t able to do it, yet. What are things that you can work on to be able to do this?
Praise hard work.
As a parent, this is the hardest one for me. The first thing that we want to praise in our children is their intelligence. Deep down we want to tell them how smart they are at something that they excel in. Developing a growth mindset in your child will cause you to have to fight this urge. Instead of telling your child how smart they are, consider this: I am really proud of how hard you worked on that. Because you kept challenging yourself, the end result was amazing!
Don’t hear this as me telling you to never encourage your children by letting them know they are intelligent. The purpose of this is to change what we praise, not to stop praising. Letting someone know that you value the hard work that they put into something encourages the development of tenacity.
So what do you think? Does the thought of a growth mindset sound hokey to you, or does it make sense? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
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