29 Oct Appreciating Growth Mindset on the Baseball Field
I spend a lot of time on baseball fields—waiting for practice to be over, watching games and waiting for the players to be done after the games. I have learned a lot from listening to how the coaches talk to the players. I notice that the language they use is more representative of a growth mindset. They continually focus on improvement, reflection and adjustment. This year one of my sons moved to the next level of youth baseball. This level has some new rules, a larger field and new plays. On the first practice the coach sat the players down and told them that for most players this is their first experience with this league. He went on to say, “This fall season is about learning. I am not concerned with the successful execution of a play – an out. I am focused on if you know what the play should be. We are going work on knowing the play.”
This team went on to practice plays again and again. The coaches broke plays down into step-by-step processes. They modeled their thinking as they showed the players how the play looks in practice. We watched these players try and fail, try and fail, and try and fail, again and again. Each time, the coach just focused on breaking down the play and getting the players to meta-cognitively talk through the steps of the play. These coaches never lost focus on the learning – the development of the player. There were times in a game when they made the correct play, but did not get the out. The coach celebrated knowing the play, “Don’t worry about the out. What is important is that you knew the play. It takes time – we need to practice it again and again.”
Yesterday was the final game of the playoffs. Our team was in the bottom of the seventh trying to hold on to a one-point lead to win the championship. There were two outs and no one on base. A long, hard, pop up soared into right field. It was as if the players’ heads opened up so that we could see their brains spring into action. The baseball cutoff diagram we heard described and observed practiced all season came to life. The right fielder took off to get the ball. The second basemen ran to the outfield knowing he would be the first cutoff position. The shortstop covered second. First baseman shifted to position himself to be the second cutoff. The pitcher saw the ball was going deep into right field so positioned himself to backup third base. The catcher braced himself for the play. It was magical. It all worked seamlessly for the first time all season. The play was made and the runner was out at home. The game was won.
Now what is amazing to me, as a teacher, is that this is not the end of the story. As the players ran towards home plate to celebrate, the first baseman, which was the second cutoff, halted the cheers. I heard him say, “Yeah, but next time the catcher and whoever is covering third base needs to tell me where I am making the play. I couldn’t see the runner. I had to take a few extra seconds to decide where to throw the ball. If you had yelled the play out it would have saved us a few seconds. We may need those seconds …next time.”
In classrooms how often do we plan to help our students manage failure? Do we let our students know that they need to learn “the play” before they can execute it? Are we comfortable when groups of students don’t work productively initially? Do we give up or do we see it as an opportunity for growth? I want students to have this same opportunity in our classrooms. So many students we meet just want to get the right answer and do the right thing. We need to shift this mindset and let our students know that learning takes time and practice. We have to help them envision mistakes or confusions as opportunities to learn. We need them to understand learning is messy and the process of learning something is more important than getting the correct answer.
I am hoping that the next time…
-a book club gets off task, I think they have not learned how to work as a group productively….yet.
-a student forgets to respond in her notebook, I think she does not understand the purpose of taking notes to support her thinking…yet.
-a student is stuck for an idea during writer’s workshop; I think he is not feeling confident living the writerly life…yet.
-a student gets stuck on a word and comes to ask me, I think he is not employing his strategies on his own….yet.
I want our students so involved in the learning that they are thinking about the next time and how they can continually become better readers and writers. Not so that they can win the game, but for the love of the game, for their development and for envisioning the next time…