Posted in Education, Teaching

How to Break the Fixed Mindset Student

When a new hospital was built in my town, the owners decided to dynamite the old one in order to make new buildings for the local college.  It was quite a big event in my community.  They even filmed the implosion.  While I did not attend the big event as I was in college at the time, my whole family went to see the building being knocked down.  It never really made sense to me.  Why would you want to watch a building blow up?  It seems a bit sadistic.  Then again, I was never a big fan of destroying things when I was younger.  I liked building and studying but not destroying.  Perhaps if I had been more interested in breaking things down, watching the destruction of an old hospital building would have been more appealing to me.

The irony of it all is that as a teacher, my goal is to break things apart and solve the mysteries of my students.  Unboxing the motivation of students is something I do daily to help and support them in and out of the classroom.  When students seem frustrated, I find ways to break down their frustration and transform it into success and learning.  When students seem upset or in a bad mood, I try to find a way to dynamite their negativity and turn it into positivity.  I look at my role as a teacher in terms of being a job foreman on a construction site.  I need to demolish the old and defunct and usher in the new.  However, sometimes this proves to be a difficult task.  Some sites don’t seem to want to be wiped out.

Today in Humanities class, the students completed a Quick Write activity in which they had to write a creative story based on a picture prompt they were given.  The pictures were of various geographical and fictional locations.  The pictures were labeled with the name of the location.  Each student was provided with a different picture.  It seemed like an inspiring idea.  The students needed to use the image as a springboard into their story.  Most of the students loved this prompt and completed a vast amount of writing in 15 minutes.  However, one student seemed to struggle with this task.  He sat for the entire time having written nothing but the title of the picture.  He claimed that he couldn’t write anything based on a picture.  But, he never even tried.  So, how would he know that he couldn’t write anything about a picture if he never even tried?  Even when I reminded him that he is being graded on his effort to work and sustain his writing, he got nothing accomplished.  So, why did he refuse to put forth effort to try?   Why was he insistent on employing a fixed mindset throughout the activity?  Why did he not seem to care about his grade?  It’s not that he couldn’t do it.  He has written many stories and completed several Quick Writes throughout the year.  He can do it but chose not to today.  Why?

The better question I need to ask is, was there anything I could have done to help motivate him to write?  If I had offered to help write the first sentence for him, would he have been able to get started?  What if I offered to trade pictures with him?  Would that have helped?  What else could I have done to support him so that he felt like he could write?  Would anything have helped?  Could it have been possible to break him of his fixed mindset and help him to embrace a growth mindset?  How might that have worked?  What could I have said or done to help him?  How do I help my fixed mindset students utilize a growth mindset?  What might that journey entail?

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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