Exercise for the brain – don’t forget to stretch!

Posted by Senay on Feb 28, 2016

The ideas communicated by Boaler and Duckworth have echoes of the ideas introduced in earlier modules in relation to natural “talent” (as opposed to Syed’s “high quality practice”) and the concept that anybody can learn given the correct support. The growth mindset notion is a further expression of the latter and what Duckworth calls “grit” is a colloquial but effective description of this mystical X factor in education. What is unclear is how this “grit” can be inspired and maintained in students to deliver success. Duckworth suggests that if this can be solved we will have solved the greatest problem in the delivery of modern education. She does not offer up a clear answer herself but makes a very important contribution to identifying the problem.

Dweck’s book is clearly worth a closer look and seems to be endorsed by Boaler and offer some clues to the “grit” Duckworth mentions. I wonder how seriously Dweck’s book and the wealth of research that supports these ideas is taken at the decision making level of the education establishment in the UK? It is very odd that this valuable research seems to be largely ignored in this country where we seem to be obsessed with labelling our young people as “talented” or “talentless” at a very early age. The state should be trying to change this culture but instead it seems to be encouraged. I have witnessed it first hand in children’s sports teams as well and it has often made me uncomfortable.

I like the idea that the brain, like a muscle, can be made stronger by exercising and can see the clear evidence for this in Boaler’s article. The same criticism of the Western obsession with natural “talent” and the damage this can do to students in Western societies comes through strongly again. The education systems of countries in the Pacific Rim are again given to us as positive examples and the sentiment that dividing students into classes or sets based on perceived “talent” (or lack of it) is detrimental are both ideas that I feel very close to. It is hard to ignore the social consequences of this division as well, with ethnic minorities and girls disadvantaged because of it.

I am still unsure how a young teacher starting out can challenge the status quo and I will make the point I have made earlier that a revolution is required to correct the issues in the current UK education system. Boaler’s conclusion is similarly downbeat and the suggestion is made that changing embedded learning and teaching cultures in countries like the UK will be very difficult indeed. All I can suggest is a level of pragmatism and employing the positive messages about growth mindset and “grit” where possible and compatible with the situations a young teacher finds themselves in. I really like the idea that mistakes can be turned around and made into learning opportunities. It is clear that the language we use is critical – which is another theme that has come up in earlier modules. This is an example of something practical that I can try and use in my next teaching experience. If we can plant the seeds of growth mindset in enough young minds then perhaps we can help these students at least to be more successful than they would otherwise have been. A collection of such small victories may be the best we can hope for in the short term.

1 Comment

  1. pepsmccrea
    7 March 2016

    Wonderful to see you begin to think about positive steps you can take to implement some of these ideas in your classroom. ‘Be the change you want to see’ and all that…

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