Mindsets

“The attention span of your average teenager is now over.”

The above was a great quote from a friend of mine that has just sort of stuck in my mind.  It’s just one of those cutesy things that grabs your attention and makes you smile if you’re a teacher and maybe a little angry if you’re a teenager.  Or not, if they lose interest.

It’s the phrase that I always used on the first night of my Computer Science teachable course.  My audience was students who wanted to be qualified with Computer Science as a qualification.  By themselves, they were all highly successful in university, some with Bachelor and Master Degrees with a concentration in Computer Science or, at least, have taken a number of courses in the discipline.  For me, it’s a nerdy dream come true.  My ideal class and I always enjoy teaching it.

In the course, they have to sit through 4 or 5 sessions with me before they go out for their first real classroom experiences.  In that time, I do my best to take them back to Grade 10 or 11 and demonstrate how to teach the essential teaching concepts.  It involves a great deal of manipulatives, grouping, manipulating, diagramming, documenting, etc.  We do eventually get to a bit of coding.  One thing that I learned that frustrated me was the amount of pushback that I received from them for this approach.  Unsurprisingly, their model of teaching Computer Science was from their university professors and their mindset was that teaching was just a matter of taking that approach and replicating it.  Sit down and read my Powerpoint slides.  However, attendance is taken and they have to force themselves to sit through my examples.

As they leave for their practicum, I give them my email address and it always happened.  Either through email during their two weeks out or the first week back where we would devote the first hour to debriefing (blowing off steam), the message was the same “Sir, now we get it”.  “We have to change our way of thinking about how best to teach the concepts for these kids.”

Well, my work here is done.

It’s very interesting to follow what happens after the course.  Many were fortunate enough to land teaching jobs and they do stay in touch.  Each course had its own private wiki where all of the classroom resources created were shared with them.  They still log in and poke around. 

It’s wonderful to see the amazing things that they’re now doing and their students most certainly benefit from their efforts.  Even those that didn’t get Computer Science teaching jobs have made the use of technology make amazing things happen.  Now, before my ego makes my head explode, my role wasn’t all that spectacular.  They had it in them and just needed to change their thoughts to make the magic happen.

Earlier this week, I had shared another of Sylvia Duckworth’s wonderful sketchnotes.

It was a collection of mindset statements based upon the work of Carol Dweck.  Based on my post, it had spurred the blogpost from Aviva Dunsiger
My Concerns With The Growth Mindset” and Brian Aspinall had written previously about his thoughts of two students “The Fixed Mindset of Student A & Student B“.  What I particularly liked about this whole thing was the exchange of ideas and challenging of assumptions from professional educators.  The more we question and challenge, the closer we get to fully understanding things.  Brian’s post describes two opposite students which I hope were contrived.  I can’t believe that any student is completely one way or the other.  It’s my belief that we all are an amalgam of these differing thoughts and approaches.  That’s why it’s so puzzling to be a teenager.

In education, we love theories to explain the unexplainable.  But, sometimes, we leap to a conclusion only to find that the conclusion moved and that we were wrong.

I wish I still had this book to make the reference but I recall reading a text at university about “bluebirds” and “buzzards” to describe students.  Hmmm.

I once worked with a person who had gone to a training session about Edward de Bono’s Thinking Hats.  Before a big presentation, she asked and we participated as crash test dummies for her work.  I still remember her statement of assumptions going into the exercise.  In particular, she noted that “Doug would be very concrete and sequential” because of his work with computers and helping people solve problems.  I’ll bet that he’s a white or blue hat.  She was quite surprised that green percolated to the top.  I was pleased, not only because green is my favourite colour, but it acknowledged that I was something more than the nerdy, computer guy that my school board had hired to do a certain job.  In fact, I would hazard a guess that most people who work so intensely with computers are like that in order to create something new or to go beyond a road block that would stop others.

Regardless, it disturbed me that a theory (and this is but one of them) could be used to categorize me in the eyes of others.  When you think about it, the educational path is littered with theories and ideas that well-intentioned people have created but never did the job perfectly.  Some were created by researchers searching for the concepts and, sadly, some are created by presenters/speakers who do their thing for a living and will charge you money to come and hear their latest money making scheme theory.

There’s a danger in hanging your hat on one particular theory that may well end up being disproved later.  Open minds are so helpful.

I think that this is why the concept of mindset is so intriguing to me.  It doesn’t attempt to classify students.  Instead, it takes a look at a particular statement or mindset and helps them develop an alternative.  For the teacher, working with students and helping them find the alternative is the recipe for success.  You can call it differentiated instruction or student choice, but the power of the approach lies in identifying the fixed approach and helping meld it into something that will help to engage and include the student, hopefully resulting in more satisfaction in learning. 

After all, isn’t that was teaching is all about?

You might find this research report interesting.  “Changing Mindsets“.

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