how were you taught?

i just came from a lecture on mindsets and teaching kids how to approach learning in a certain way.

the quick-and-dirty version of mindset: there are two approaches to learning. if you have a fixed mindset, that’s just a fancy way of saying that you think that intelligence (in a given domain) is fixed – you either are smart or you’re not. if you have a growth mindset, you think that intelligence is malleable, and that we can all grow intellectually in all domains (and you understand that failure does not mean you should give up, but that you should analyze the mistakes and try again with a different approach).

the lecture was pretty inspirational. i do think it’s incredibly powerful for students to have an adult in their lives who believes in their ability to improve and work hard to succeed. there is a balance there – research shows that the “self-esteem movement” (rewarding kids for EVERYTHING) leads to kids who expect rewards for everything, and don’t want to try new and challenging things because they might not “win”. it’s good to praise students, but a lot of this lecture stressed the importance of what is praised – not how smart someone is, but how much effort someone put in. and the inverse: at failure, don’t tell a student “well, it’s okay, not everyone is good at ___”, but rather talk with the student about what he or she struggled with, where they got lost, how to improve, what strategies work to improve.

overall, the lecture really made me think about the teachers i had as a kid. in elementary school, i don’t remember too many who seemed to see my struggles in a given academic area not as evidence of my trying, but rather as evidence of my inability to succeed. it took me a long time to want to push back against that viewpoint, or rather, to know that i should. i had some teachers and my parents constantly telling me i could do this, that i had to get back on the proverbial horse (or in the case of horseback riding, the literal horse). they all helped a great deal. a lot of the change, though, was internal. i had to figure it out on my own – and i think that happened in college, sadly. at some point, i started to see that maybe, just maybe, i wasn’t “bad” at certain things. maybe i just didn’t know how to access my own abilities. i started talking to my professors and TAs more, changing my study skills, and simply applying myself more. and i started liking school a hell of a lot more. i started seeing myself as someone who could learn new things, and challenge herself academically, and realized that a bad grade didn’t mean i was an actual failure, just that i had more to learn.

this doesn’t mean that i don’t have days where my brain and i totally agree that i am terrible at math. or that a “bad grade” doesn’t occasionally give me a panic attack. but it does mean that i’ve learned how to think about myself as a learner, which i think will make me a better teacher. i know what it’s like to feel like a failure in school, and i know what helped me change and take control of my own learning. and so i think i can walk into my own classroom one day and genuinely tell my students that they can overcome failures, that struggling with something doesn’t define a person, and that my role is to help them figure out how to tackle challenges in a good way.

so. how did y’all learn? what did your teachers say (or not say) or seem to believe?