academic success, student learning

Beyond Growth Mindset

I’m wrapping up my visit to San Antonio, TX and the First Year Experience Conference 2018 – waiting for my flight home and thinking about the past 4 days.  This is always such an outstanding conference.  Getting to connect with colleagues and friends from across the country and hearing about their programs, successes, and failures.  It’s funny how trends catch hold.  2017 certainly seems to be the year of the “growth mindset” with particular emphasis on teaching and learning.

Researchers like Carol Dweck and Barbara Oakley have done some great work related to growth mindset, metacognition, and an individual’s capacity to learn, and I’ve attended several sessions this week expanding their work. Given the numbers of academically underprepared students attending college today, it’s important that practitioners understand the power of the growth mindset related to student success.  At EMU, we added growth mindset mini-lectures/ activities into everything we do – first-year experience course, supplemental instruction, success coaching, tutoring, peer mentoring, etc.  It was a great first step.

We witnessed several “aha” moments in our professional development sessions with our success coaches, peer mentors, tutors, and other academic support staff.  Student workers were eager to share their new knowledge with our students.  Some students really embraced the new techniques.  Others were reluctant adopters.  Many viewed the strategies as tedious.  The thing these students failed to recognize is that while we can teach them about neuroplasticity, and share learning techniques to help improve learning, without effort and continued practice students will not see improvement.

So, the old saying about “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” really manifested itself this year.  We tried to lead lots of horses to water – most just looked around and stomped their feet.  Some tried the water and it paid off.  Participation in supplemental instruction (SI) sessions for our gateway biology course increased from 203 visits in fall 2016 to 409 visits in fall 2017.  Students earning a D, F, Incomplete (I), or withdrawing (DFWI) from the course decreased from 41% in fall 2016 to 25% in fall 2017.  Of course, we cannot attribute this dramatic decrease in DFWI rates to our increased focus on metacognition and learning to learn, but we like to think it contributed.  We’re in the midst of a thorough review and hope to have some statistical insights soon.


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