21 Sep Assessment: Demonstrating Growth vs. Growth Mindset
So many schools are feeling the pressure to demonstrate “growth.” What we find sad is that the pressure to show growth has caused us to view assessment as something very removed from a growth mindset. We have had many conversations and have read many tweets, blogs and status updates over the past few weeks that express concern about assessing our students in the first few weeks of school. The concern expressed is that our young readers feel stressed over being tested and even worse may feel like they failures. We can’t help but think about how the pressure to demonstrate growth has pushed us to define assessment with a fixed mindset. In the growth mindset framework problems, challenges and errors are valued and challenging and novel activities are engaging. It is the fixed mindset that views problems, challenges and errors as indicators of one’s intellectual ability and challenging or novel activities as risky or stressful.
We can completely understand the desire to want to get to know our students and to take the time to create a rigorous, respectful learning community, but we wonder if it is our fixed mindset that is causing us to dismiss assessment’s role in meeting these goals. Isn’t assessment about understanding our readers? Isn’t assessment about getting to know and respect the differences in our classroom? Doesn’t assessment help us set goals so we can learn as much as we can? Does assessment make our students feel like failures? We think we need to be very careful about how we define assessment with our students in this current testing climate. When we talk about benchmarks, growth and progress we need to make sure that our focus in not on a number but on the reader. Assessment is not about making the benchmark, assessment is about getting the information we need so our students can learn, grow and love reading.
We have decided to face this testing pressure head on and choose to redefine assessment for our readers. In these first weeks of school we are letting our readers know how we view assessment and why we think assessment is important. This conversation is essential to creating a learning community with a growth mindset. We want our readers to know that we all have things to learn and that assessment is the tool that helps us make learning meaningful, purposeful, and fun! If we want our students to embrace and live with the mindset that says, “I don’t know how to do that…. yet” or I can’t do that… yet” then we need them to believe that assessment is our window into understanding how to get them to set and meet their goals. It is not something to fear, it is just what we do to make learning the best it can be.
John Hattie’s research in Visible Learning determined that, “Goals have a self-energizing effect if they are appropriately challenging for the student, as they can motivate students to exert effort in line with the difficulty or demands of the goal.” What is essential in this research is that students need to be aware of their goals. That makes perfect sense! How can we get better at something if we are not aware that we need to get better at it? The more we have been thinking about Hattie’s research around goals, Dweck’s research about growth mindset and Johnson’s research about the importance of our language in engaging our students to have a sense of agency, the more we are convinced that we must redefine assessment for our students! They must understand why we are assessing them and they need to be a part of the process.
We have been trying this in lots of K-6 classrooms and we are finding that kids are rising to the occasion. They are making connections to how athletic coaches watch them and set goals; how music teachers have them play for them and then set goals for the next week; and how video games show you why you did not beat a level and then let you try it again. Although we have huge concerns over how assessment is politically being used and will be used with the Common Core, we know we need to protect our students from these worries. We have the power to set the tone for assessment in our classrooms. If we define and use assessment in a developmentally appropriate way and with a growth mindset, then we hope that is how our students will begin to view it. We know we may be sounding overly optimistic, but what other choice do we have for our students?