Monday, May 24, 2010

Mastery is a Mindset

I've been reading Daniel Pink's book Drive and am now about half way through. I've just read a chapter about Mastery and it was so interesting I just wanted to reflect on it here.

The part of the chapter that spoke most to me as a teacher was the section entitled Mastery is a Mindset. Here Dan Pink discusses the findings of Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, who has studied motivation and intelligence. Carol's findings are that people have one of two different mindsets: either they believe that intelligence is a fixed entity, in the same way that height is, or they believe that intelligence is incremental, that it is something that can be increased by effort. The argument is that if students believe intelligence is fixed, then education for them is just about measuring how much they have. If students believe that intelligence is something that can be increased, then education is viewed by them as an opportunity for growth.

Carol argues that there are therefore two forms of goals: performance goals and learning goals. With a performance goal, the student is trying to get the top score on a test or assignment - this can lead to motivation. With a learning goal the student is trying to get better at something - this can also be very motivating and it is what leads to mastery. Studies have shown that students who have learning goals, rather than performance goals, try harder when assignments are difficult and are more easily able to transfer their knowledge to new areas. She says:
With a learning goal, students don't have to feel they are already good at something in order to hang in and keep trying. After all, their goal is to learn, not to prove they're smart.
This leads to a different view of effort. Students who view intelligence as incremental see working hard as a way to get better. Students who view it as fixed require "a diet of easy successes" as they believe if you have to work hard it means you're not very good. These students therefore choose easy targets that affirm their own abilities but do little to extend them.

The second part of this chapter is entitled Mastery is a Pain. It's about how achieving mastery is often a painful experience - which is why many don't opt to become masters. Often students are called "talented" when in fact what they have achieved isn't something that has come easily to them, but something that they have practiced and worked hard at for many years. It is the effort that they have put in that gives meaning to their lives. For example, about 10 years ago when I was a Grade 5 teacher, I had a Korean girl in my class. She was a wonderful pianist and could also play the violin beautifully. During her year in my class, she decided she would also start learning the flute. She decided that in order to get better at music she needed to practice each instrument for 2 hours a day. She was already practicing the piano and violin in the evenings, so she decided that to take on the flute she would need to get up 2 hours earlier every morning. She did it! Everyone who heard this 10 year old girl play talked about how musically gifted she was, yet it wasn't something that came easily to her - it was something took enormous effort every single day, and yet she was happy to put in this effort because music meant so much to her.

This brings me to a blog post from Clint Hamada that I read yesterday about Celebrating Passion. Clint talks about Jordan Romero, the 13 year old who is trying to conquer the Seven Summits. He talks about how important it is to support others so that they realise their dream and about how if sometimes that dream takes students away from the classroom it is still worth supporting their passion. In the case of students I have taught, like the Korean student I mentioned above, most of the time the passion and commitment they showed to their "extra-curricular" activities, be it music, ballet or even girls' football, had a knock-on effect in class. Those were the students who were also prepared to go the extra mile, to give a little more effort to solve a maths problem, or put a little more time into editing their writing. These were the students who knew that what you put into something definitely influenced what you got out of it.

Photo Credit: On the Road Again by Morag Casey

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