DIVERSITY and the GROWTH MINDSET: Balancing diversity through scaffolding activities that target the Growth Mindset

Donna Fields
by Donna Fields

Welcome to Let’s Blog. We’re looking forward to sharing with you the most innovative practices – methods you can use immediately in your online or your face-to-face lessons.

Developing lessons for the diverse classroom means not only an understanding of the subject matter, but also an understanding of children, their abilities and interests, and how they tend to respond to different situations…

…and an appreciation of different teaching strategies and how various types of classroom activities might be managed.

Wilson and Wineburg, 1988). Calderhead and Shorrock

Diversity: What types of diversity are there? What is the Growth Mindset? What is the relationship between the two?

These are questions we need to know how to answer. So, let’s talk about them. The first one, you’ll see we answered in Let’s Blog Diversity and Inclusion. You’ll fnd a lot of ideas there on how you can balance the diversity in your classroom with students who are autistic, have ADD/ADHD or Down’s Syndrome. Today, let’s to see how proactively we can move our diverse classes to inclusion – for all types of diversity – by adapting elements of the Growth Mindset to our lessons.

So, first, we need to answer the question: What is the Growth Mindset? According to Carol S. Dweck, in her book Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your true potential, people adopt one of two types of mindset: ‘fixed’ or ‘growth’. In the fixed mindset, people believe that their intellectual or physical traits are fixed. They believe that we’re born with or without these talents. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe everyone can substantially change their knowledge base and personality with effort.

Which do you have – a fixed or growth mindset? The following statements are indicative. Which do you believe?

  • You are born with a certain level intelligence and nothing you can do can change that.
  • You can learn new things, but you can’t change your total capacity to know things.
  • Whatever intelligence you’re born with, you can develop your mind even more.
  • You can augment your capacity to learn through studying and effort.

If you believe the first two statements, you have more of a fixed mindset. On the other hand, ,if you believe the second two statements, you have a growth mindset. Anyone – including and especially your students – who has a fixed mindset, can change and believe the following overriding belief of teachers with a growth mindset:

If you believe this – if you believe that all students can learn – you’ll plan your lessons accordingly. What does this mean. Well, one thing you can do to help students believe that they can accomplish anything you present in class, by helping them change their thinking whenever they have challenges or don’t believe in themselves.

Look at the table below (please feel free to download it and use it often). You can use these positive statements as 5-minute warmups in their classes every day. How else could you use them to benefit your students?

Let’s put the table into action. For instance, you’ve come to a page in your student book on grammar. Your students say to you ‘I give up. I’m never going to understand this.’

You take this opportunity to encourage them to see the task differently by first getting them to repeat the phrase: ‘I’ll try a different strategy to understand this.’ Then, you introduce the following scaffolding activity to help them to believe that this works.

You’ve taken the image, divided it up into strips, and students work in pairs (you can even do this in social distancing) to verbalize what they see on each strip, one at a time. In this way, they break down the new information into smaller pieces, so that they are assimilating concepts and grammar structure without even realizing it. Later, when you ask them questions about the information, they are already familiar with the material, and so can focus more on the more challenging task of grammar. You’ve helped them use another strategy to succeed!

Let’s go back to the table and see another way we can help our students acquire a stronger growth mindset perspective. Your students open their books to a text they need to read, but say to you ‘It’s too difficult.’ You take a deep breath, and then are able to calmly encourage them to repeat ‘I can do it if I keep trying.’ To help them to believe this, you present the text a little differently at first, through the following scaffolding activity:

In pairs, your students answer the questions in this simple chart that you’ve created, in which you’ve included the more challenging words from the story. By clarifying these words in order to discuss them, your students end up with more confidence when they go back to reading the story. All of a sudden, the task feels more possible and they see the work with more of a growth mindset.

Let’s do one more phrase from the table that could be the most powerful one of them all, simply because of the last word: the word ‘yet’. You’ve come to a unit on a topic that incorporates a lot of different concepts. Your students say to you ‘We can’t do this.’ You take the opportunity to encourage them to rephrase this into: ‘We can’t do this, yet.’ This last word means that, with effort and perseverance, they can accomplish whatever they want – which is, in the end, the core of the Growth Mindset.

What can you do to make them believe this? Well – by giving them a scaffolding activity that presents the concepts as more of a game, like this one to the left. You also include academic language so that they can talk about the concepts more easily.

As for the task itself – all of these types of art are discussed in the unit, but with this activity, students have the freedom to express their opinions about the images before they begin the unit, and so become more comfortable with the concepts and the language. When they finally begin the unit, the word ‘yet’ takes meaning. They might not have been able to understand the unit before the scaffolding activity, but afterwards, they are.

And what about the last question from above:  What is the relationship between diversity and the growth mindset? You probably see this already: scaffolding activities present information through different learning styles, and they are collaborative, so, students who have strengths in one area can help classmates who are weaker in the learning style targeted in one scaffold. This dynamic reverses in a scaffolding activity that uses other techniques. In the end, everyone has moments in which they can show their strengths, and so the diversity balances out.

This applies to all types of diversity. For instance, gifted students often have challenges working appropriately with others. With collaborative scaffolding activities, they have to develop these skills more. For ADD/ADHD students, the activities can be done in more private settings, so that they are able to focus more easily (especially if these activities are done in Breakout Rooms online). Autistic students can be matched with classmates who are more patient, and so might more easily participate.

Once students interact with scaffolding activities, they believe in their abilities more (growth mindset) and so are more able to complete class work.

So that’s a quick introduction to the Growth Mindset and how it can promote inclusion in your diverse classes. See you soon for the next blog!

In the meantime…

please share the changes you see in your students as they foster the growth mindset and become more confident in their own learning!!