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8 Tips to Enable a Growth Mindset Approach to Learning Recovery

  • 8 Min Read

As we emerge from the pandemic, our K-12 education system grapples with two primary challenges: learning recovery that supports the success of all students, and evolving expectations for schooling flexibility.

A single approach centered on growth mindset can support both the immediate task of accelerating learning and the systemic goal of providing a more personalized and equitable pathway to student success. We recently facilitated an EdWeb-hosted conversation of educators to further define this growth approach and asked them how they are applying a growth mindset lens to their work in post-pandemic schools and school systems. This blog outlines eight practices to help enable this asset-based growth approach as articulated by the expert panel.

An Asset-Based Growth Approach to Learning

The experts agreed that:

  • Fundamental to this approach is the collective understanding that a more authentic, student-centered approach to learning is both optimal and attainable.
  • Underlying it is Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research, which indicates that an individual’s mindset about their own capabilities impacts their learning efforts and therefore the outcomes (i.e., the more students believe they can learn, the more they try to and do learn).

Emerging from the pandemic, it’s important to not only reinforce this growth (rather than fixed) mindset but also to avoid the compounding deficit approach that may come when students believe they have experienced “learning loss.” An asset-based growth approach celebrates student success as a springboard to a proper mindset and learning. D2L’s Kassia Kukurudza encourages us to “use our challenges as an opportunity to grow,” while New Pedagogies for Deep Learning’s (NDPL) Michael Fullan suggests we “emphasize lift over loss.”

“Educators may be tempted to begin this year with a mindset that students have to be fixed . . . like students must be behind and broken after the pandemic. Although this may be true to some extent, our students have also continued to learn and be resilient. We can continue to build on the strengths and assets they bring after this challenging year and have always brought into the classroom.” —Marcella Barros, New York City Department of Education

This can mean learning acceleration that focuses not on repeating previous coursework but rather on having students progress through the scheduled course of learning with scaffolded supports to fill gaps as needed. We have seen a similar dynamic occur each year after the summer slide.

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Taking a Growth Mindset Approach to Post-Pandemic Learning Recovery

Explore how a single approach centered around a growth mindset can address both dynamics.

Watch the on-demand webinar now

8 Practices to Enable an Asset-Based Growth Approach

1. Go Slowly to Go Fast

It’s tempting to race out of the block at the start of the coming school year to test, remediate, and accelerate. Barros states, “I would caution everyone to not necessarily engage in that right away.” Given how the pandemic disrupted established ways of learning and routines, such an approach could be counterproductive. Instead, the priority should be getting to know students and supporting their well-being and connectedness, with particular emphasis on fostering equity.

“Go slow to go fast. Well-being is a fuse; it must come first and persist.” – Michael Fullan

2. Prioritize and Focus

Lost learning opportunities can’t be replaced in the short term given the practical limits of the school day and student attention spans. There is a need to target instructional time to the most important knowledge and skills. Focusing on priority learning standards will help ensure students understand key topics and concepts and gain enduring skills.

3. Design Authentic and Integrated Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Supporting students’ social-emotional well-being and growth is critical. It needs to be integrated with learning and not simply a check-in activity. Design instructional activities and tasks to be a safe place for students to take intellectual risks and increase their confidence as part of learning.

4. Apply Skills Developed During the Pandemic

While schooling during the pandemic impacted traditional instruction, it also provided an opportunity for students to grow resilient, nurture interests, and build skills. For example, Fullan suggests that many students are showing increased interest in and growth “on citizenship, on empathy, and on social purpose,” as that thinking was most relevant during the pandemic. Most obviously, many students and teachers gained increased skill and comfort with digital learning—not only with the mechanics of it but also with its self-directedness, flexibility, and creativity.

“We have to think of the student support as more than just academics and numbers and the data, but what are those social emotional competencies, those experiences, languages, cultural backgrounds, traditions, that diversity that they bring that can really serve as a positive foundation from which to start?” —Marcella Barros

5. Focus on Engagement Through Deeper Learning

A lack of student engagement, online or offline, isn’t a new challenge for teachers. Yet during the pandemic, it’s one that grew in scale and severity due to a lack of access, looseness of interactions, and other factors.

“[The question is] how to re-engage [students] in school when it was not so enticing in the first place. . . . This is a golden opportunity, a chance of a lifetime, almost a moon shot . . . to really create a learning force for students. Engage the world; change the world.” —Michael Fullan

Engagement requires that we activate deeper learning to foster student ownership and agency:

  • Foster purpose: Fullan states that during the pandemic, many students “have found the freedom exhilarating to do things learning-wise that they weren’t able to do before.” Schools should take the opportunity to help students continue to foster that purpose for what they are learning in ways that are meaningful to them.
  • Focus on learning transparency: Students need to know why they’re learning what they’re learning through shared learning goals and connections to the world around them. If schools jump directly into the academics, they can miss the chance to engage students in the learning process. Learner clarity of purpose and progress is fundamental to a mastery-based growth approach.
  • Connect learning to competencies: The 6 Cs of education must be at the core of learning to prepare students for their future. These competencies are character, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.
  • Codevelop learning: Create an environment where learning—including peer-to-peer, student-teacher, and with family—is codeveloped to build ownership and relevance. Partnerships and community help expand the learning environment beyond the dimensions of the text or the classroom.

6. Leverage Technology

Teachers have been creative in engaging students who are not in the same physical room, driving more meaningful participation. It feels more natural for students and teachers to identify the appropriate tool and jump right in to use it. Fullan states that it’s not about technology, but about “leveraging digital as an accelerator.”

“I would just say that we are not going back to business as usual … we need to come back to what blended learning really is and the different models and options are there for students to build ownership and agency.” —Marcella Barros

7. Utilize Authentic, Integrated Assessments

Focus on assessment for learning, not of learning. This can be aided by front-end diagnostics, more authentic and meaningful assessments, and providing students with ongoing feedback. “[Student data] needs to be as localized as possible to focus on supporting individual students,” said Jason Horne, Campbell County Schools. This also requires assessment of social-emotional competencies and skills that we want to develop in students, which again should be integrated into academic instruction.

“We need to start moving back to authentic assessment. . . . How can the tasks, the actual performance that you are requiring of students, be part of how they are learning? . . . I definitely encourage the use of more meaningful and interactive experiences.” —Marcella Barros

“It’s not just the method of data. It’s the attitude towards data [that is] nonjudgmental, growth-oriented, transparent, and is wrapped around with trust . . . that makes a different phenomenon.” —Michael Fullan

8. Create Professional Learning and Support for Teachers

It’s important to provide teachers with the time and space for recovery, reflection, and further development. Taking care of teachers, building communities, and forging trusted relationships will help students.

“I really love how much ambiguity tolerance people gained over this year. They’re comfortable with being uncomfortable. Being able to adapt and change is great modeling for our students.” —Jason Horne

We were collectively reminded during the pandemic that the role of teachers is not only to deliver instruction but also, more importantly, to facilitate student academic and social-emotional learning.

We have the opportunity to take advantage of this moment to further reimagine our schools and redesign our curricula and instruction to be more authentic and student-centered. We hope these eight tips help enrich the important conversations and changes to practice being considered in schools and classrooms

Learn How You Can Take a Growth Mindset Approach to Post-Pandemic Learning Recovery

Hear from our panel of experts about the research and instructional strategies that were successful for them over the past year and how these can be applied to support deeper, engaging, and impactful learning approaches.

Watch the on-demand webinar

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