Do we have time for “yet” in public education?

Guest blog by Janelle Safford, Innovative Learning Design Specialist in Sulpher Springs ISD.

Our job is not to prepare students for something, our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything.      

                                                                                                                                      A.J. Juliani

    Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Dweck explains the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. Students with a fixed mindset believe their qualities are fixed traits and therefore cannot change.  This leads them to shy away from challenges, cheat, and compare themselves to other students who perform worse than them. In contrast, a growth mindset conveys a student’s underlying belief that their learning and intelligence can grow with time and experience. They see difficulties as a challenge to overcome. They believe they can get smarter and that effort has an effect on success, so they put in extra time, leading to higher achievement. Dweck states that as students begin to change their mindset from “I can’t do it”, to “I can’t do it YET”, they learn to think differently about their abilities. This is especially beneficial as a coping mechanism when students encounter challenges and struggle with learning new and increasingly difficult concepts.  Dweck’s ideas are important to help students understand that failure is not a dreaded, permanent experience, but instead, a necessary stepping stone to true learning. However, our students are trapped in an antiquated education system that was not designed to allow time for students to benefit from a growth mindset.      

    A growth mindset is dependent on allowing students to work at their own pace. The concept of “yet” implies that some students need more time to learn in order to “get” the concept.  However, our rigid educational system does not currently support this notion. Students that grasp a new concept “first and fast” are typically the only ones that experience success. Teachers simply do not have the opportunity or privilege to allow the extra time that is often necessary for “yet.”  The concept of “yet” often gets pushed by the wayside as we shuffle students in and out of classes and require teachers to cover more learning objectives than there is time to teach them. Many students simply never experience the type of authentic, deeper learning necessary to transfer knowledge beyond the classroom setting.

    Thankfully, many schools are beginning to realize the importance of leveraging technology to provide a more personalized, flexible learning experience for students. Incorporating instructional methods like blended learning, inquiry-based learning, and project-based learning allow students to tap into their own interests while providing opportunities for them to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to answer complex questions and investigate meaningful, real-world problems.

    Do we have time for “yet” in public education? Our students are depending on us to prepare them for a rapidly evolving world that will require resilience and perseverance. Since it is difficult to know what a digitally reliant, knowledge-based economy will require from the future job market, maybe we should be asking a different question. Can we continue to rely so heavily on outdated practices like memorization and procedures while ignoring the kinds of authentic problems and projects that are more often encountered in nonschool settings? Yes, this type of learning will inevitably require more classtime, and no, all students will not learn at the same pace or in the same way. However, we must make time for “yet” in education if we want to prepare our students for their future.

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