Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Building Meaningful Mentoring Relationships

Ian Althouse

At the CTL this semester, I have the opportunity to run a workshop alongside my co-facilitator Stuart Duncan in which we will explore a teaching fellow’s role beyond the classroom. One of these roles can and likely will be developing a mentoring relationship with our students and that’s what has inspired this blog post that you’re reading now!

In preparation for this workshop, I wanted to see what others had been saying about mentoring especially as it pertained to academia. As it turned out, the last few years have seen much discussion of mentoring in academia. Time and again, authors discussed the same two questions: how does one mentor well, and how does one become a mentor? From this pair of questions, there has even arisen a debate about what we mean when use the word mentor. Are we discussing an active verb, to mentor, or an inactive noun, a mentor?
I want to think about that debate for a moment. If we conceive of mentoring as a verb, that puts a lot, if not all, of the agency in the hands of the mentor. This idea gives me pause because it turns the mentee into a passive recipient of the mentor’s guidance. Shouldn't our mentees be active learners? And yet, I don’t believe an effective mentor can ever be, like a noun, entirely inactive.
In the end, what I concluded was that trying to define this word as noun or verb was insufficient. Mentor is too rich a word. We need to embrace that mentor can be either active or inactive as the situation demands. A student seeks out his or her mentor. In this, the mentor is inactive. However, once in the role of mentor, the mentor transforms into an active participant in the mentee’s life.

But if we can’t solely discuss mentoring as a verb, and if agency in this relationship is divided between mentors and mentees, how do we become mentors? If students need to seek us out, we need to show that we are ready and willing to be found. That means we need to be approachable. We need to show them that we are here, we are present, and we are listening.

So, as I read through various articles, I compiled a list of the things that we, as teaching fellows or as professors, can do or keep in mind to show our availability in fostering meaningful mentor-mentee relationships:
·      Chatting with students: This may not always have to do with academics and may not be a formal meeting in your office, but consider accompanying a student to their next class to continue a conversation or grab a coffee with them one afternoon.
·      Confidence, trust, and unanxious expectations: Your mentee needs to find that they feel these elements in their relationship with you; working or meeting with you should not be cause for added stress.
·      Commitment: Following up with students and following through on your word shows your investment in your mentee.
·      Seeing the student holistically: They are not just students in your class, but people with a host of factors affecting their lives.
·      A student-centered relationship: It’s easy to tell a student your opinions, but mentoring really happens when we listen to our students and help them hear themselves.
·      A collaborative and dialectical relationship: We as mentors must try to learn from our mentees just as they are learning from us—what do they need and how do they work?
·      Time: It takes time to mentor someone, so you’ll need to put time into getting to know your mentee.
·      Cyclical: Good mentors inspire new generations of good mentors.

We consistently see in course evaluations that those instructors who genuinely noticed and paid attention to a student stood out and often factored into a student’s reflections on the university as a whole. What this shows us is that when our students look for a mentor, they are looking for a genuine connection with another person who they trust, respect, and admire. Students are searching for authentic interpersonal relationships everywhere on campus. Our students are seeking connections to people and these relationships are the memories students will carry with them for a lifetime.

If you are interested in reading more about why we should mentor, the state of mentoring in academia, and other instructors’ experiences, I would encourage you to take a look at some of the following links:

Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On being a mentor to students in Science and Engineering. National Academy of Sciences. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

What's Exciting about Course Design?

Eleonora Buonocore

As a teacher and a graduate student, there is nothing that is more exciting to me than the  possibility of designing my own course. I think many of you will agree! We are here because we love to research and to teach, and designing a new class represents the perfect occasion for merging together the two things we love the most.

This is what draw me to course design: I wanted to become good at creating and developing new and exciting courses for my students. I attended an Advanced Teaching Workshop at the Yale Teaching Center on Course Design back in 2013, and since then I started researching techniques for course design, trying to understand what makes an effective course and how to recreate it. This led me to design my own course and then to propose it as part of the Associates in Teaching (AT) program, for which it was approved in the spring of 2014. Co-teaching a new course that my advisor, Prof. Giuseppe Mazzotta, and I had designed from the very beginning was an exhilarating experience. We used all of the good practices I learned on Course Design: we began with our goals, designed to be student-centered and focused on active-learning objectives; then we created assessment methods that would reflect our goals; and finally, we selected the best material to match our goals and our assessments. We paid particular attention to varying instructional techniques and to appeal to different kinds of learners: each class period included both a PowerPoint presentation, a reading of the text, a student’s presentation and a student-led class-wide discussion. The course was a success, and the students seemed to enjoy it a lot.

I used my AT experience as a way to stress the possibilities that course design opens up to us. When you put time and effort in designing a course, the students notice it!

But it wasn’t until last semester, when I had the opportunity to run an Advanced Teaching Workshop with my co-facilitator Robert Wickham, that I discovered the full potential of Course Design. Specifically, I understood how its core competencies can be applied to all sorts of disciplines, spacing from the humanities to sciences and the social sciences. It was an eye-opening experience, since I could finally see with my own eyes in action what I always instinctively knew: that good teaching techniques are independent from the discipline you are teaching, and that they are not simply innate skills, but can be learned and reproduced. In short, I learned that you can teach how to teach, and specifically how to design a successful course.

If you were unable to come to our workshop, don’t fret! I will quickly summarize here the most important points that we covered during our workshop…

1. Familiarize yourself with the principle of Backward Design: how to design a class starting from your goals and not simply from the material you want to cover. You can find more information on Backward Design here.

2. I cannot stress enough the importance of goal-setting: set goals for your course at the start, and then set specific goals for each class period. What makes a goal good?  Objectives should be specific, clear, and measurable. In particular, it is useful to formulate your goals in an active-learning and student-centered language. Active verbs help!

3. Understand what possibilities are available as assessments (both formal and informal) for your course, and how your choices in assessment should reflect your goals and should correspond to your choice of materials. On available assessment methods, you can find a list of Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT) here.

4. Finally, take your time to create a course schedule and to develop an appropriate syllabus! Course design is a time-consuming activity that also requires some breathing time in between the initial idea, the planning stage, and the finalized syllabus creation.

Oh, and there are plenty of resources available online on the subject of course design, so do not forget to check the links offered below:

On goal-setting for your course check out this website from University of Berkeley:

On Backward Design, check out this evaluation and summary of the excellent book Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe:

On aligning your assessment methods with your goals, see this website by Carnegie Mellon University:

For a complete guide to course design, consult University of Vanderbilt Center for Teaching website here:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Webinar on Online Learning and Teaching: A Reflexive Autobiography

Simona Lorenzini

December 3, 2014 marked my debut online. For the first time the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning offered an Advanced Teaching Workshop in a webinar format that I co-facilitated with my fellow Tyler Smith. Webinar: what is it? A friend of mine has suggested this definition: a seminar on the web. I think is the simplest and straightforward definition for a webinar. Personally, I only heard about webinars for the first time a few months ago when I started being interested in online education. As both teacher and researcher, I like challenging myself with new tools and resources and, following my curiosity, I have come across the virtual world of webinars. There is a mare magnum of webinars: you can find a webinar on almost anything, from education to marketing, from technological to cooking tutorials. And many of these webinars are completely free—a feature that speaks to the high level of “democracy” of such tools.

As a Yale Online Teaching Fellow, I had to take some webinars as part of my training for the webinar Tyler and I co-facilitated in December. I have to say that my first experiences with webinars were somehow discouraging. Even if the topic was of interest (mainly about education), I often felt overwhelmed by the content’s delivery. Many of these webinars were lectures of one or two speakers, with one person acting as moderator. After half an hour of talking and slide sharing – when you cannot actually see the speaker – my attention flagged and I started watching time, looking around, and eventually getting distracted. So, when it came to plan our webinar, Tyler and I agreed in approaching it as a traditional CTL workshop. That meant to keep it as interactive, dynamic, and engaging as possible. For me, this was the most challenging part of the webinar. You cannot have a sense of the importance of a physical interaction with the audience until you lack it. In a face-to-face environment, you can easily measure the level of attention of your audience and bring it back by eye contact, direct questions, or just simply by moving around the physical space. However, in a virtual space, everything becomes more difficult. So, the first thing to keep in mind was avoiding a lecture-style webinar. We did not want to lecture our participants about webinars and online learning. Instead, we presented ourselves as facilitators for a discussion about the costs and benefits of online teaching, and we started our webinar with a very successful icebreaker that asked our participants to share their previous experiences with online tutorials. The answers varied from ‘how to tie a bow’ to ‘how to fix a leaking faucet’; this way, we were able to put our participants at ease and open a discussion without presenting ourselves as “experts.”

Going through all the aspects of a webinar (from technical to pedagogical issues) was challenging and rewarding at the same time. I experienced the entire procoess as a learning experience for myself, strongly believing that doing something is the best way to learn something (a pearl of wisdom that comes from my parents).

And so the question arises: what did I learn? Here are my “pearls of wisdom” for developing and conducting a good webinar:
  • Surf the net: you will find tons and tons of tutorials, tools, and materials (free!!) on the web. It is a good starting point, especially if you are a newbie.
  • Choose the right platform: Google Hangout and Skype are just some of the platforms you can use for hosting a webinar. The good news: they are free. The bad news: they can allow a limited number of participants. Here you can find a list of the most reliable webinar platforms:
  • Learn the technology and become familiar with the platform: before the December webinar, I used Google Hangout in many pre-webinar meetings and with my family to become accustomed with tech troubleshooting and interactive apps.
  • Work in a team: a successful webinar is often a team project. Even if you are the only facilitator/presenter, it is a good practice to ask for suggestion and help to your colleagues or friends. They can help you with resources, feedback, tech support, and rehearsals.
  • Rehearse: before the event, you should rehearse with colleagues and/or friends (maybe from the same location and at the same time of your real event) to be sure that everything will go smoothly, and to allow yourself to feel confident with virtual interactions.
  • Have a good lesson plan: you should set your goals and expectations from the very outset. This way the participants can follow you easily and be more focused.
  • Treat your webinar like a face-to-face event/workshop: maybe it is the most challenging part because you miss the physical contact with your audience, and you cannot control its attention. But if you do not lose your participants along the way, you must remember that they are there. So…
  • … engage your audience: you should avoid lecturing-style webinar by thoughtfully dividing your time between content delivering and interactive learning activities. Interactivity is a good strategy to promote engagement and attention; and engagement is fundamental for a successful webinar.
  • Use the chat function to share documents/worksheets, website resources, and links with your participants: the chat app is an excellent tool for live Q&A, small group activities, video clips, and feedback. And last but not least…
  • Keep it simple and short: especially if it’s your first experience with a webinar, do not entrap yourself in those cool apps that some platforms allow. Instead, go straight to your goals, deliver not more than two or three topics, and engage your audience in a lively discussion and interactive activity for no more than 50 mins.

The webinar tool is a very flexible technology and it can respond to different specific communicative purposes. It also allows you to break down time and space barriers, making it a more suitable choice in this age of tight schedules. At the same time, missing visual and bodily cues poses a challenge. In my personal experience, facilitating active participation and preventing participants’ distractions were the hardest obstacles to overcome. In a traditional f2f workshop, you can split your participants in small groups (even in pairs), easing the anxiety of talking in front of a large group. That is harder to accomplish in a virtual setting. Of course, you could call on people to speak, but the majority of them could not feel comfortable in being on the spot. This downside of the webinar was counterbalanced by the high appreciation and usage of the chat tool that, surprisingly or not, played an important part in our webinar.

Being an online teacher/presenter is demanding, challenging, and overwhelming in terms of lesson planning, setting clear goals, keeping your audience attentive. However, in the spirit of the CTL’s workshop, I found the December webinar on online teaching to be a stimulating learning experience that I had the privilege to share with my co-facilitator, with the staff of CTL, and, of course, with all of our participants whose precious feedback serves as a helpful tool to rethink and reshape future online workshops.

To my readers: Have you ever taken a webinar? Would you like to take one? I would really enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Teaching Students with Disabilities: A Brief Introduction

TJ Dumansky

Last week, Robert Wickham and I led a workshop on “Creating an Inclusive Classroom: Diverse Learning Styles and Disabilities.” One of the questions that this workshop addressed was: how can students with learning and sensory disabilities be empowered to actively participate in classroom discussions and activities? We considered a variety of tools and practices that can be utilized to accommodate students who have processing challenges, visual impairments, or hearing impairments that impact their learning experience in the classroom.

The theme of disabilities in education is familiar to many elementary and middle school teachers, but may get less attention in the training of college and university teachers. One study found that the percentage of teachers who felt adequately prepared to teach students with learning disabilities dropped from 44% of elementary school teachers, to 10.9% of university science teachers.[1]

A recent study from researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, funded by the Research in Disabilities Education program of the National Science Foundation, noted a particularly striking statistic: when college freshman entered a required remedial math course, only 15% of students with hearing impairments achieved or exceeded their recommended performance level, leading to gaps between these students and their peers. However, when appropriate learning interventions were implemented, the percentage of students with hearing impairments who exceeded their performance levels jumped to 68%.[2]

More research needs to be done to determine if these kinds of results are typical, but it should nonetheless prompt university educators to consider the sorts of habits they can adopt in ordinary classroom practices to improve the learning experience of students with disabilities. While colleges have programs dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities, such as Yale’s excellent Resource Office on Disabilities (, accommodating diverse learning needs is a team effort. It requires that teachers both create space for individual students to articulate their needs, and that teachers become aware of how their own verbal and nonverbal habits might present additional challenges for students with disabilities.
Here are some examples of the types of things to be aware of in your preparation and in the classroom:
·      Always include information for students with disabilities on your syllabus. A school’s disability resources office can provide information on school policies and services, but also indicate how a student can contact you confidentially if they so desire.
·      For people who are visually impaired, make sure to read aloud what you write on the board. Say “this painting by Rembrandt,” or “that glass jar” instead of just the words “this” or “that.”
·      For people who are hearing-impaired and need to read lips, be sure not to stand where you are backlit.
·      Treat students as individuals first. Two people with the same type of disability can have different accommodation needs and different levels of functioning. If you aren’t sure what language to use when talking about a disability, take a cue from how a student talks about him- or herself.
·      Provide multiple modes of instructional communication: if you give verbal instructions for an activity, repeat the instructions on a handout or on a visual aid; or, provide information through both text and graphics or images.
·      Consider sharing your lecture notes with students in advance, as this can be very helpful to students who need extra preparation time.
·      Be on the lookout for “trigger phrases.” Suggestions that students who need accommodation just need to “work harder” or that they are getting “special treatment” can marginalize students with accommodation needs. Students with disabilities encounter misunderstanding and negative attitudes about their learning abilities and teachers also have a responsibility to support their social inclusion in the classroom.

If you want more information on Yale’s policies and services, check out this Faculty Guidebook (

[1] Norman, K., Caseau, D., and Stefanich, G. (1998). Teaching students with disabilities in inclusive science classrooms: Survey results. Science Education 82(2): 127-146.
[2] Moon et al., (2012). “Accommodating students with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM),” SciTrain: 37 (

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Math: Does the U.S. Teach It Well?

Elizabeth Boulton

I love math. Is that a weird thing to say? I love algebra, calculus, problem-solving math. I love working with equations and making them say what I want them to say. I like looking at the world in terms of math. When I’m driving on the highway, I try to guess how fast the cars around me are driving. Given that I am going 65 mph and I have gotten 5 car lengths (about 50 feet) closer to the blue Honda in front of me over the last 5 minutes, how fast is the blue Honda moving?

Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who don’t feel the same. Not everyone has to like math, but everyone should at least be given the tools to be comfortable with math. I have tutored many people in physics, and since physics has so much algebra in it, in reality, we spend a lot of time talking about math. It is always frustrating for me, when my tutees cannot rearrange an equation in order to find the variable they need, when they can’t figure out what equation to use, or when they can’t see how to make an equation out of the words in the problem. Let me be clear: I’m not frustrated with them. I’m frustrated because I can’t articulately explain how they can know to do those things. I can lead them through rearranging equations until I am blue in the face, but I can’t communicate any general rules that they can use for every problem.

A few months ago, a friend of mine sent me an article, “Teaching the Conceptual Structure of Mathematics.” She described herself as having hated math in school and we have discussed her frustrations many times. When she ran across this article, she sent it to me saying, “When I was a kid in math I would ask, every time, ‘but why would you use that formula there?’ and my teachers would (without fail) tell me I didn't need to know why—I just needed to memorize it and apply it on the exam.”

After I read the article, everything made sense: why so many of my students have trouble using algebra in physics, why my friend suffered through math classes, why I was frustrated at my own inability to teach my students the patterns of math. Could the answer to all of my questions be that math is very poorly taught in the United States public K-12 system?

According to the article, schools in the U.S. teach math by teaching the rules of math and having students apply these rules over and over. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad way to teach, except when you consider that this doesn’t give anyone a framework to approach new math problems that maybe don’t look exactly like the ones for which they were taught the rules. The article lays out two main features of instruction that would allow students to form a framework for math. First, teachers and students need to explicitly discuss mathematical concepts. Second, students must struggle with the concepts in order to fit them into their emerging framework.

The authors of the article note two studies that corroborate these findings. The two studies looked at about a hundred teachers in each of the following countries: Germany, Japan, the U.S., Australia, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The conductors of the study found that what separated the high-achieving countries (all of the above except the U.S. and Australia) from the low-achieving ones wasn’t the class size, the kinds of problems used, nor the teaching style, “but the kinds of learning opportunities teachers created for students, namely, making explicit connections in the lesson among mathematics procedures, problems, and concepts and finding ways to engage students in the kind of productive struggle that is required to understand these connections in a deep way.” The teachers in each country gave their students two main types of problems: problems that can be solved using a procedure and problems that must be solved by making connection between previously solved problems. In every country except Japan, many more procedure problems were given. However, in every classroom, the teacher transformed some of the connection problems into procedure problems by giving extra instruction. For example, a teacher might present a connection problem, and then solve a sample problem that was exactly like the connection problem, which would transform it into a procedure problem. Figure 1 shows the percentage of connection problems the teachers in each country transformed into procedure problems.

The compelling evidence from this articled supported by my personal experiences makes me firmly believe that the U.S. is teaching math the wrong way. What can we do about this? How can the system be changed in order to provide better math education? How can we in higher education correct for all the damage that has been done in lower level math? I don’t have any of these answers, but I’m hoping that together we can come up with some.

If you found this post interested, I urge you to read the full article that I discussed, “Teaching the conceptual Structure of Mathematics” by L.E Richland, J.W. Stigler and K.J. Holyoak. Another interesting read on the same topic is “A Mathematician’s Lament” by Paul Lockhart.

Figure 1

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mindset: What is it and why does it matter?

Megan Ericson 

As instructors, we all have moments in the classroom that embody why we teach. For me, one of these happened this past summer when giving a seminar on my research to 7th-grade students attending a two week SCHOLAR program at Yale.1

I would see these students just once and had wracked my brain to figure out how to make an aspect of infectious disease research interesting, eventually deciding to work through two of the major discoveries in my field with them. My class met in the late afternoon, at the end of a long day and right before the students would be eating dinner.  They were a bit restless and a few pairs of eyes began to glaze over after ten minutes. Rather than spend more time continuing planned activities and risk seeing more unfocused gazes, I paused for a moment to talk to the students about the nature of science and discovery. 
In many classrooms, milestones in biology are presented as facts that were simply uncovered by very smart individuals. None of the backstories and pains of discovery are mentioned, but it’s important for students to know that scientists are not born, but made.

After a very brief exchange on the fact that science itself is actually very hard, but entirely worth the challenge, the students’ body language relaxed, facial expressions became more open, and (most excitingly!) levels of engagement increased. The students began working through major questions in my field and sharing ideas with each other. I even had a few students approach me at the end of the seminar to ask if they could do a research internship at Yale!

What was it about this quick discussion that made the students feel more open to participating? How could I capture that moment and replicate it multiple times during a semester? - I wouldn’t have the lexicon to discuss what I had a brief glimpse of in my classroom until a few months later while taking a MOOC entitled, “An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching,” offered through Coursera .2.  One strength of the MOOC was its focus on the affective domain and its influence in the classroom. Of all the content used to cover this, I found that the idea of being cognizant of the mindsets of students and how this impacts their learning resonated with me the most.  The discussion not only prompted self-reflection on times when I was a student, but also reminded me of my experience with the7th-grade students this summer.  I was so intrigued by this initial discussion that I decided to go back to the source of mindsets and read Dr. Carol Dweck’s fantastic book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”.3

Although I am still learning much about mindset myself, I’ve broken down what I gleaned from the book into two key takeaway points. The first will focus on what mindset is and how it affects learning. Secondly, I want to touch on how our interactions with students affect mindset and offer a few suggestions for supporting growth mindset in students.

What are the mindsets? How do they impact learning?

After extensive research on self-conceptions and motivations, Dr. Dweck and colleagues found that most individuals fall into one of two mindsets. One, the fixed mindset, occurs when people have a view that certain aspects of their personality, intelligence, athletic ability, etc are set and cannot be changed. At the other end of the spectrum is the aptly named growth mindset. People who have a growth mindset embrace the notion that they can push the boundaries of their abilities by working hard. 

The mindsets affect all aspects of how people perceive themselves, but the rest of this discussion will be focused on the self-perception of intelligence. (I refer you again to Carol Dweck’s phenomenal book3 if you are interested in learning more about mindset.) 
Pupils with a fixed mindset feel that their intelligence is constant regardless of how hard they work. One manifestation of the fixed mindset is found in students who believe that they are “stupid” and refuse to try in class because nothing can change that. On the other hand, as instructors we might encounter students who have always performed well but have only had to put in minimal effort with coursework. These students believe that they are just inherently smart and when they are suddenly confronted with an academic challenge, such as beginning college, a crisis of self-perception may occur as they worry that they are not as smart as they believed. Ironically, these students often won’t put effort into their courses because if they don’t try they can blame their lack of success on the fact that they didn’t put in effort. After all, if you believe there is nothing you can do to increase your intelligence and you don’t understand a question right away is there any point in trying only to fail? This mindset prevents students from reaching their full potential by restricting them to the boundaries that their self-perception has created and making them afraid to try as failure is a reflection of who they are.  

On the other hand, students who enter a classroom with a growth mindset will have a deep-seated belief that if they work hard, they can increase their knowledge. With this conviction, comes an appreciation of hard work and an idea that failure is not a bad outcome because the worst case scenario is not trying at all. These students are motivated by a challenge because when something is hard it only means they will learn that much more once they succeed. When students have this mindset, they are able to reach their full potential and will gain much more from their classes than peers with a fixed mindset. 
When discussing my excitement about mindsets with a friend, she, being a good skeptical academic, questioned whether any instructor actually supports the idea of a fixed mindset. After all, isn’t there a paradigm that hard work can lead to success and haven’t we heard this time and again when we were students? Unfortunately, even after having taught for only a few semesters, it is apparent that many students have a fixed mindset about their intelligence. What is fostering this self-perception in students and what can educators do to help promote growth mindset in students? 

How can we as instructors support the growth mindset in the classroom? 

Instructors may stress the importance of hard work, but when we think about education and how we classify students’ intelligence levels, it’s clear that we begin pigeon-holing them from the very beginning. Test scores when children are very young determine whether or not they can move to the gifted-and-talented class, placing a label on those “gifted” and those who are not. IQ scores, GPA, PSAT and SAT scores, and AP and IB results are all numbers that students use to classify their intelligence levels. If we think back to our own high school and college days, the kids considered to be the smartest had maximum achievement with minimal effort. After all, when was the last time that you were praised for the process you worked through to solve a problem or the amount of effort you put into a task? 

We are all so fixated on the end result that many times we praise students for the product, ensuring that their focus is on that number or letter grade. When that end product is so important, students believe it reflects their intelligence. They may even be driven to measures as desperate as cheating or lying about scores to ensure others don’t perceive them as less intelligent. All of the subtle messages students might obtain from teachers, parents, peers, and society at large about grades and test scores being a direct reflection of intelligence drives the formation of a fixed mindset. What are some ways that this can be ameliorated? 

First, we as instructors must be conscious of how we speak to our students about their performances in the classroom. When students perform well, this should be acknowledged, but we should praise them not for doing well quickly or with a lack of effort, we should focus instead on the effort they put into their work. By praising the process the student worked through to get to the end product, you encourage the student to put in that extra energy again. In the same vein, we need to be honest with students when their performance is lacking either in effort or in reaching the correct answer. The fixed mindset does not accept constructive criticism well, but the growth mindset accepts this criticism as a tool for growth. 

Students need to become accustomed to hearing the truth, in a helpful way, and not being constantly praised. Constant praise, which is something many parents and instructors may be guilty of, feeds the fixed mindset. If a student is already wonderful and is told this all the time, why bother changing? Instructors can help correct this stream of constant praise by ensuring that they are honest with students about their performance. This constructive criticism can help create a classroom environment where failure is an accepted process of learning. When students are no longer terrified that failure means they are stupid but just a part of becoming more intelligent, what reason do they have not to try? 

Finally, make sure to model the growth mindset for students in how you talk about yourself and other professionals. Discuss any challenges that you had pursuing your chosen field and think about how you overcame them to succeed. Introduce students to personal skill sets that they will need to develop to be successful in certain disciplines rather than just focusing on what content or techniques they need to know. One example of a focus on discipline-specific personal development can be found in the pedagogical use of rubrics delineating STEM skill sets.4.  The instructors in this example generated a rubric focused on specific traits students would need to develop to be successful in their courses, like perseverance with a difficult question and self-compassion. Periodically, students would be asked to evaluate where on the rubric they fell and think about or ask for concrete things they could do to build up these skills.

To conclude, I’ll refer back to the moment in my classroom with which I began my blog post. By having a conversation that good scientists are made and not born, I hope that some of the students realized that if they continued to strive at their studies, they could become proficient in whichever career path they would someday choose. This one instance was not enough to shape the growing psyche of students or change any fixed mindset opinions, but it was a start.

To continue this conversation, what are some ways that you have incorporated growth mindset (consciously or subconsciously) into your classroom? Have you ever run into the challenge of trying to “reset” the mindset of a student who believed their intelligence was a fixed trait? 

1) Scholar Program link,
2) Vanderbilt University, CITRL. (2014). An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEMTeaching. Fall 2014. Retrieved from
3) Dweck, Carol. Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.
4) Measuring Growth, Part 1: Origin of the Self-Evaluation Rubrics. (2012, November 28). Retrieved November 9, 2014, from  origin-of-the-self-evaluation-rubrics/