Klingsi Day 2: Reflections for Teacher as Diagnostician

  1. What are the major assumptions, principles, and methods of behaviorism as a theory of learning?

Behaviorism seems to imply that learning is a conditioned process. Like Pavlov’s dogs, who through repetition and reward internalize a behavior of salivation, students will build connections in their brain through repetition and reward and this is learning. I can see how operant conditioning works in basketball. My girls practice shooting over and over again with correction, and their reward is that the ball goes in the hoop. When their form is not correct, generally the ball does not go in, and so they are not rewarded. I think that behaviorism is an interesting theory of education when more rote tasks are involved such as acquisition of knowledge through memorization. I do not think, however, that it applies as well to higher types of cognitive tasks since they require a behaviors (thinking) that are not rewarded with the end result, even if successful. This reminds me a lot of Daniel Pink’s ideas about motivation.

  1. How is cognitivism or cognitive science as a theory of learning (described in Willingham) similar to and different from behaviorism?

Cognitivism seems to take up where Behaviorism leaves off in my opinion. Willingham references that the brain does not like thinking because it is hard (aka, there is no reward for thinking itself) but that people are curious and take pleasure in solving problems (the end result of thinking, where the reward occurs). Behaviorism and Cognitivism seem to both revolve around the fact that humans will learn when there is a positive stimulus at the end of the journey. Willingham’s article also reminds me about Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Willingham writes, ” If we get a little burst of pleasure from solving a problem, then there’s no point in working on a problem that is too easy– there’ll be no pleasure when it’s solved because it didn’t feel like much of a problem in the first place. Then too, when you size up a problem as very difficult, you are judging that you’re unlikely to solve it, and therefore unlikely to get the satisfaction that comes with the solution.” People are motivated to think when they are appropriately challenged.

  1. How do students think about successes and failures if they have the fixed mindset? How do students think about successes and failures if they have the malleable (growth) mindset?

This article was the one that has had the most impact on me. I read Carol Dweck’s book about growth mindsets a year ago, and it floored me.

Fixed mindset thinkers believe that intelligence is static. They are “given” a certain amount at birth, and by luck of the draw they may be “smart” or “dumb.” Therefore, if they succeed at a learning task, it must be because they’re smart. Clearly, they’re also attaching some of their self worth to this title. If they fail at the task, it is because they’re “dumb” or not smart enough to solve it, so of course they won’t try. Dweck’s idea relates a bit to the theories of behaviorism and cogntivism in that the reward for success plays a role in how a person learns. With a fixed mindset, the students think every failure demonstrates a permanent road block.

With a growth mindset, students believe they need to work harder or try a different strategy. They never doubt their ability to achieve the “reward” for success, they just know that it will not come immediately. Fixed mindset students seem to have a wider Zone of Proximal Development because they will be willing to keep working at challenging problems that they do not first succeed in because they know that with work and new strategies they can succeed. For a growth mindset student, success or failure do not determine his self worth, rather they are a reflection of his effort.

  1. How can teachers design learning environments in order to help students operate with a malleable (growth) mindset?

1) Teachers must allow students who haven’t quite gotten it to KEEP WORKING! Just because a unit is “over,” does not mean that the student who earned a D is done. That child must be prompted with new strategies for the area in which he struggles and then encouraged with time to continue to learn and work.

2) Teachers must be mindful of the praise they give their students. Praising effort instead of “smartness.” We can also encourage parents to do the same in order to help reinforce a growth mindset.

3) We cannot accept failure from our students. When we let students stop with an F or a 0, we are reinforcing to them the idea that that is all they can do. At my school, we have let the Zero “die” so to speak. No teachers are allowed to give zeros. I think this has especially helped with students’ mindsets. If they don’t turn in a homework assignment on time, they don’t get zeros, rather, they earn an incomplete. The work must be done. We do not let students settle for failure. They must keep working until they get it right!

4) Our policies about grades need to change both in the way that we report them and in the way that we let them be “permanent.” If a student turns in a paper and earns a C, if she revises it and the new paper is an A paper, will you average the two papers to give her a B (thereby punishing her for her prior mistakes?) or will you change the C to an A because she has demonstrated through effort and hard work her capabilities?

Moreover, if I had my way, I’d get rid of grades. Students, especially those with a fixed mindset, often say “I’m an A student, or I’m a C student.” This implies that they will forever be as such. Personally, I love what I heard from George Couros who has eradicated all grades at his elementary school. Instead of grades, the teachers’ feedback contains two elements: 1) where the students’ strengths are shown in the particular assignment, and 2) where the student can continue to build the skills needed for the assignment. Now THAT will promote a growth mindset!


About epdwilliams

Junior High English Teacher The Westminster Schools
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4 Responses to Klingsi Day 2: Reflections for Teacher as Diagnostician

  1. jgough says:

    Hi Peyten…Have you read The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by Daniel Coyle? It fits nicely into the stream you are reading with Gladwell, Pink, and Dweck.

    While we are working to let go of grades entirely, how would you feel about A, B, C, and NY (not yet)? Not yet conveys that we are going to continue to work on it together. You are not there yet, but you can be!

    We are considering not grading homework at all. We think we might have each learner turn in their best work of the day. We want to bright spot the daily work. If your best work today is less than you desire, you can try again – you get a 2nd chance to learn and demonstrate this learning. I know I work better in the bright spots. I choose to analyze the bright spot work to help me improve the rest of my work. I want my bright spot work to “count.” Wouldn’t our learners want that too?

    We will change the C to an A because if there is improvement that has been demonstrated through effort and hard work. We do get push back from some learners, their parents, and some of our colleagues, but many learners comment about the motivation factor of having feedback and another chance to improve. A few quotes from my learners back this up:

    “I feel that when in this class when I didn’t understand you would do anything and everything to help me out. Also I feel like you knew that I could do better sometimes and pushed me so I could realize that too.”

    “I never thought having a second chance test could be such an effective learning tool. A lot of the time I take a little longer than my peers to fully grasp the mathematic concepts that I’m taught,and everytime that I felt the I did not fully understand the material by the date of the first test Ialways understood the material by the date of the 2nd Chance Test. This is a revolutionary teaching concept that I think should be implemented in every academic class the way that you have utilized the concept in Algebra I.”

    “The only reason I still was motivated to learn the material in math was thanks to the SecondChance Test. Knowing that you have another chance to show what you know really helped mesucceed better as a math student because you shouldn’t never get another chance just becauseyou made a mistake that you’ve now learned from. I strongly encourage Second Chance Tests to keep being used.”

    “I LOVED the second chance test. It was great to not have the usual thing where we take a test then move on, and I never learn from my mistakes in that unit. I love how we take our time on each unit and don’t leave any student behind. Second chance tests have helped me a lot.”

  2. Jill, this caught my eye;

    “While we are working to let go of grades entirely, how would you feel about A, B, C, and NY (not yet)? Not yet conveys that we are going to continue to work on it together. You are not there yet, but you can be!”

    A few questions;

    When you say, “While we are working to let go of grades entirely”, was that a *literal* remark? i.e. is this a stated, ‘official’ goal of the group that you refer to as, ‘we’? If so, who (or what) is the ‘we’ group? (I wouldn’t be surprised if I was ENTIRELY out of touch with what is going on in the JHS, but I am dutifully trying to catch up, here!)

    Would you accept that in some discipline areas, ‘NY’ (for some students) may never turn into A, B or C?

    Is the use of the phrase, ‘my learners’ (as opposed to students/kids etc.) a fundamental plank in your philosophy, or am I reading too much into that?

    Thanks for engaging me.

  3. jgough says:

    Hi Adrian…I have seen too many children quit because their score was below 70%. Just quit; they don’t see any point in trying again because they are a failure. They have a fixed mindset. We (in this case I think I mean the Algebra I team, but there are others too) are working to help our learners understand that if you first don’t succeed you should try again. We (bigger team of JH faculty) are working on helping our students develop or keep a growth mindset. Our children are too young to label themselves as failures when maybe they need more time to learn.

    This is particularly true, for me, in Algebra I. They start the year saying that they are not good at math and never will be, AND they seem to accept that as a fact. Developmentally, are they really ready for abstract reasoning? Some are not; some are. But, if we keep working at it with them, we see a BIG difference between their abstract reasoning ability in the spring. They have had time to mature, and they have not “given-up.” We just kept working on it; we try to send the message Not Yet but we will help get you there if you will work with us.

    You can read my learners’ student course feedback comments on my blog to see what they have said. Here are a couple of quotes:

    “I realized that I’m not just dumb at math, I just need to be careful and make sure my head doesn’t get ahead of my pencil.”

    “I think having the leveled assessments helped me see what I needed to work on more, and when iwas at like, level four, I was insanely proud of myself. I dont think ive ever put so much effort intolearning before this class and the leveled assessments, and i’ve honestly never been this excited and self confident about knowing material. It made me happy to be able to say, “i can do this really well because i understand.” And i really dont get all too excited about school much, until this class this year.”

    “I hope that my attention and strong belief that i can do really well in this class has been showing. I have really improved my listening and wanting to know what i have been doing wrong and right. I enjoy knowing what i am good at and i love helping others that are confused.”

    Will I accept that in some disciplines “NY” might not turn into an A, B, C? No. Does it happen? Yes. I am only half of the equation, the partnership. My goal is for 100% of my learners to learn, to become proficient. Have I ever reached that goal? No. Do I feel like a failure? No. Weird, isn’t it?

    About the phrase “my learners”…I just think that way. They are students; they study algebra. They are the learners in my care; I want and need them to learn with me.

    We (small group of JH faculty) have been participating in an assessment study group through the CFT. We have been thinking about assessment, grading, and feedback. We think about how to be a bridge between our ES where there are no grades (lots of feedback) and our HS.

    Great, great questions. Let’s keep talking.

  4. So, it is your stated goal to lose grades entirely? Are we talking JUST in Algebra I, or across the JHS or in Math? I’m still not clear on that.

    Your logic seems a little odd when you say that you won’t accept that sometimes ‘NY’ does not change, BUT that you also say that you know it happens! I wasn’t suggesting that there should be some kind of resignation of that fact at the beginning, but (as you seem to agree), it’s an absolute reality.

    I’m also confused a little over the ‘new’ word ‘learner’ being used quite so overtly. Like Gavin said in one of his comments to a post on the WMS Blog, I have always taken ANY method of teaching to mean that the kids were ‘learners’.

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