David Dockterman on 4 Belief Statements Underlying Student Performance

1 Jul 2014

David Dockterman would like to see more productive failure. But as a lecturer at Harvard’s GSE, Dockterman sees students afraid to blemish a polished transcript. As Scholastic’s chief architect of learning sciences, he sees K-12 students all too familiar with failure and schools that don’t know how to support productive struggle.
I interviewed Dockterman in October on the groundbreaking efforts to measure mindset in Math 180.
Yesterday over breakfast, at the National Charter School Conference, David discussed the magic charter (featured image) from the CCSR report on Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Non-Cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance. (I discussed this report last week in Innovation Mindset = Growth + Maker + Team .)
Dockterman outlined 4 belief statements that underlie student performance.
1. “I belong in this academic community.” Evolution left us with a strong drive for status and belonging. Dockterman said it was critical that we “help students self identify with a positive group.” Mixed ability groups have the potential to improve everyone’s performance but the key is helping students see themselves.
2. “My ability and competency grow with effort.” Docterman reminded us that “Everything is relative.” He said “We need to shift the student point of reference for struggle.” He made four specific suggestions:

  • Words matter, for example, rather than “Let’s start with an easy question,” which won’t be true for every student, David suggests, “This may take a few tries.”
  • Model failure: Let students see you struggle, let them know you fail sometimes.
  • Use stories of perseverance: Success is almost always the product of lots of practice, failure, and struggle.
  • Teach children about their brain: Brainology, from Mindset Works, is a great example.

3. “I can succeed.” David said human beings “love making progress.” Conversely, “shaky confidence + early failure = total shutdown.” Learners need to “build a history of success.” Good games do this well–they start easy and ramp up difficulty gradually on a reward pathway.
4. “This work has value for me.” There are two ways to create a learning value proposition: interest or long term value–Candy Crush is an example of the first, career preparation is an example of the second. Using either interest or future value, powerful learning experiences connect to what Dockterman calls “purpose beyond the problem.” He suggested tying a topic to a possible future–and it’s better to show teams succeeding rather than an individual outliers (as stated above, human beings like to belong to groups). Connecting problems with projects with social value is another powerful strategy, it gives learners the ability to contribute to something bigger than themselves.
Dockterman is ’s working with Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, and Mindset Works, the company she started with Lisa Blackwell. They developed a growth mindset curriculum and assessment that is incorporated into MATH 180, Scholastic’s new blended secondary math intervention. A simple 8 question mindset scan can be used to track changes over time. (This Ed Week article includes a growth mindset quiz.)
Scholastic built Common Core alignment into MATH 180 and the updated READ 180. Both incorporates adaptive software, which allows students the opportunity to learn and master key concepts at their own pace.
For an update on READ 180, see Preparing Students and Teachers for Next-Gen Assessments
Scholastic is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

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