By Anthony Armonstrong
Anthony Armstrong is an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Del Mar Middle School in Tiburon, Calif.
One of my goals as an instructor this year was to nurture a “growth” rather than a “fixed” mindset when it comes to my students and their learning. The idea of the “growth mindset” comes from Stanford University Psychology professor Carol Dweck who believes that students can be taught that their intellectual skills can be cultivated through their hard work, reading, education, and confrontation of challenges.
One of the biggest impediments to students developing and maintaining a growth mindset in my classroom is testing. A key component of the idea is getting students to understand that the outcome of their test is simply a reflection of their current -- not permanent -- abilities.
Understanding this, however, can be difficult, if not impossible, when students typically get only one chance at passing an exam. If they pass, their intellectual skills and learning capabilities are validated. If they fail, it’s the opposite.
If students get a single chance to take the exam, results are permanent and reflected in their grades. There’s little reason for students to hold out hope that they will do better on the next exam. They’re also relieved of any responsibility in going back and actually learning the material they had previously missed.
Imagine if you only had one chance to getting a driver’s license, for example. In California, more than half those who take the written driver’s test fail. While that would surely alleviate traffic problems, not having the option to try again and pass would cripple many aspects of life.