Mark your calendars!! Next Monday, January 26th, your child’s first semester progress report will be available online. Parents will receive an email on Monday with instructions for how to login, view, and print their child’s report card.
Before we get down to sharing your child’s progress with you, I’d like to take a moment to focus your thinking before diving into looking at the standards with him/her. The purpose of the report card is to give a student and his/her parent an idea of his/her progress in mastering the skills, content, and habits we teach at Avoca West. I hope you’ll find that your child is doing extremely well, particularly in the “foundations of learning” section, as a result of diligent effort and perseverance. Perhaps, however, your child may find that he/she did not measure up to his/her own high standards.
At this time of year, I am reminded of the book we studied this fall as a Parent-Principal group. In the book, Mindset, Carol Dweck discusses studies that show how different types of praise can impact how students look at learning and intelligence. At the risk of being redundant for those parents who participated in the book study, I would like to take moment to summarize some of Dweck’s points.
Professor Dweck begins by explaining that many students (and grown ups!) have the mistaken belief that intelligence is fixed. They believe that people are either smart, or not smart, and that ability brings success innately. She claims that students with this mindset tend to have more trouble overcoming challenges and try to hide their mistakes. Additionally, students with a fixed mindset undervalue effort, often looking at it as negative, believing that, “If I have to try, then I’m not smart.” Many of these students hit a wall in school when learning gets difficult.
The opposite of this mindset is the growth mindset. Students who have this mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence and abilities through effort and education. Because they believe this, they focus diligently on improvement. They care about learning, viewing a mistake or deficiency as an opportunity to correct and an area in which to grow. For these growth-minded students, effort is not simply a positive thing…it’s the ONLY thing! Dweck cites studies in which “we find that those with growth mindsets outperform their classmates with fixed mindsets – even when they entered with equal skills and knowledge.”
So how do we foster a growth mindset? According to Dweck, we need to think about the kind of praise and dialogue that we use with our children. Specifically, if we praise effort over intelligence, we can foster a growth mindset. The following are examples of what she calls “process praise:”
- You really studied hard for that test, and your improvement shows it. You read over your notes several times, rewrote some parts, and tested yourself on it. That really worked!
- I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it!
- That was a long, hard assignment, but you stuck to it and got it done. You stayed at your desk, really concentrated hard on it, and kept working. That’s so great!
When our children work hard and do not do well, an inevitability at some point in life, Professor Dweck suggests comments like:
- I like the effort you put in. Let’s work together some more to figure out what you don’t understand.
- Why don’t we talk with your teacher to see if she can give us some suggestions of things to try working on at home.
One central theme of Mindset is the importance of teaching students that they have control over their intelligence. According to Dweck, when students “try hard and learn something new, their brain forms new connections that, over time, make them smarter.” This holds true for adults as well! We are, in fact, a work in progress, able to grow our talents as well as our weakness.
So as you and your child look over his/her report card, please pause to praise the effort, not the “mark” he/she receives. We can all encourage our children that through effort, they can master more skills, understand more of the content, learn to think more deeply, and develop important academic habits. I continue to suggest that parents and students use this as an opportunity to set goals for the second half of the year. Many students will say that they need to “work harder” for this duration of the year, but may not fully understand what that means in action. As parents and teachers, we need to help give students concrete examples of what “working harder” looks like such as:
- Completing all homework on time
- Taking extra time to check work before finishing up for the evening (or in class)
- Going to see a teacher for extra help – or checking in with a teacher to make sure he/she is on the right track!
- Making flashcards to help remember vocabulary or ideas
- Jotting down questions or things that are unclear or difficult to learn on a regular basis
Many of our students are already doing these things, and their success matches their efforts. As an Avoca West team, we will continue to look for ways to challenge students, to push them to think more deeply, to analyze more complex ideas, and to grow and reach their maximum potential. Thank you for your support in using a common language and set of ideals at home to help build a growth mindset and an excitement for learning in your child.