Monday, February 17, 2014

A Skewed Growth Mindset or the Ultimate One?

So I have been reviewing my blog... not just today, but at least weekly since my last officially published entry in November.  I have 5 drafts waiting to be completed, some close, others not nearly.  I wonder, why haven't I posted anything new in awhile?  Why are my drafts staying just that, drafts?  I decided this should be the post that delves into this conundrum.

I realized most of my feelings and analysis of the Common Core State Standards are so negative that I have been avoiding finishing many of these posts.  But since I have been reading quite a bit about the Common Core State Standards, I decided once again to open my growth mindset.  In that vein, yet again I have learned that these set of standards are unfortunately the same old political set of standards we always get.  That's where the skewed part comes in.

The title refers to the action of yet again opening my mind to the Common Core State Standards but still finding them absolutely flawed to the point of being counterproductive to current educational needs.  Maybe that's why I call it a skewed growth mindset.  Really, though, it is the ultimate one.  By revisiting topics that are uncomfortable or obviously inane, the ultimate growth mindset is consistently being developed and becoming a more automatic way of thinking.

I have found through revisiting this research that still, the Standards are "handed down" to us from those who usually do not spend their days with children or in any classroom setting.  They do not follow any order of child development as we know it through innumerable decades of studies.  Now, to some of you that may not seem very growth minded.  However, this is really the crux of what I want to impart to early career teachers who only know the present testing atmosphere.  It is what I feel may be my most important job in the next decade.  My skewed growth mindset says to them, it doesn't have to be this way.  The feelings of overwhelming pressure, paperwork, and quantification are not real.  You will persist!  Don't give up!  The reasons you became an educator will prevail!

When I started teaching 20 years ago, portfolio, performance, and process were the preferred forms of assessment.  It was the "new" authentic assessment.  I was so lucky to learn that way from the start and was allowed to be the professional I was taught to be by using those practices.  I worked in a district that believed what was educationally sound was not necessarily what we were told to do from the state or federal agencies.  It certainly was not standardized testing of any sort.  It was best practices and current pedagogy and research and development that made our students shine and our staff motivated.

At my interview (my 3rd ever!), the Superintendent asked me how I planned to teach the way I learned (authentic assessment and differentiation) and still have high test scores as our school district population required.  I responded with such clear naivete.  I automatically came out with, "I will do what I do.  And you are my boss.  So I will make sure I have high test scores to back up my students' successes."  It sounded so easy.  It was tough, but always somehow doable.  The test merely got in the way of authentic teaching and teachable moments.  We learned to use the test-taking strategies as a way of incorporating good lessons and life strategies into student learning.

However, the new tests (notice plural), take so much time to prepare for and to give, that instructional time leaves out the student!  Since when do we teach the curriculum or teach to the test?  We teach students, children, people.  Not only are they each unique, but that makes each group, each year unique.  I have never taught the same way twice.  I constantly reflect, seek constructive criticism, and try to always improve but those are merely best practices for all educators.  The other is true differentiation for the special needs of ALL learners.

Our future workforce depends on these creative, out of the box, problem-finders (Pink, 2012).  The tests create the exact opposite kind of learner.  That kind of learner is robotic, out for the score rather than mastering the learning.  All current research and practical research point to this being the exact opposite of what education needs to grow into the next generation.  I have said this before and I will say it again, it is our job to say this is not okay!  It behooves us to show through clear evidence why this does not work and what does.

I recently read a great article called, How Free Play Can Define Kids’ Success by Katrina Schwartz.  She quotes Kenneth Ginsburg’s thesis and the core of his book Building Resilience in Children and Teens.  I found it to be so clearly stated and obviously true:

When kids are allowed free time to play, they learn how to work in groups, negotiate, share, self-advocate, and make decisions... Ginsburg cautions parents that putting too much pressure on children’s academics might have negative effects in the long term...
All the best ideas haven’t been thought of yet. If you have people who are only thinking about fitting in the box, then you aren’t going to get ideas outside the box,” Ginsburg said. Parents and educators shouldn’t be trying to shape children into cogs for an economy that hasn’t figured out what kind of machine it will be in 20 years...
Instead, one of the most important skills a parent can foster in children is resilience, which he says can be fostered through creativity. Ginsburg relies on the “Seven C’s of Resilience” as a road map for helping students to find their inner grit.
The seven "C's" of resilience that he shares are:  competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control.  Yes!  Our children/students are going to face unexpected challenges throughout life.  We need to prepare them to learn to handle these situations,  to build perseverance, resilience, and grit, and teach others using what they have learned from each unique situation.  This will illustrate true perseverance and success.

That is the only way to combat the standardization and the stunting of those brilliant minds we cultivate.  And that is how the ultimate (skewed) growth mindset, autonomous motivation, and true moxie will continue to inspire me to inspire them!