Shaina Snyder will be presenting “Growth Mindset in EFL” at CELT Seoul 2016. I have had the pleasure of learning about growth mindset through this interview.
1) What is growth mindset?
Some people believe that ability is innate–great talents are born, not made. This is fixed mindset. At the other end of the spectrum is growth mindset. People with growth mindset believe that you can significantly improve your abilities and intelligence. Growth mindset is related to implicit theories of intelligence in the field of psychology; it was discovered by Carol Dweck and colleagues. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is a fun read and an excellent summary of the mindsets and related research. Dweck explains that mindset affects how people react to challenges, failures, feedback, and more, and she asserts that it is possible to change your mindset.
2) How did you as a student become interested in growth mindset?
One of my professors or classmates shared a TED Talk related to growth mindset, and I was intrigued. I decided to read Carol Dweck’s book. I recognized my own fixed mindset. Growing up, studying as little as possible and still getting an A on the test was evidence that I was a ‘smart’ kid. Smarter than the others. Good grades were assurance that I was good and valuable. Failure was evidence of my inadequacy, and it made me want to quit. For example, in my first year of college, I had to take a biology class for my psychology major requirements. However, for the first time in my life, I truly struggled to learn, and I felt I could not possibly get an A or even a B or C. The possibility of failing was an unacceptable threat to my self-worth and future transcript. Rather than working harder to learn biology, I withdrew from the class and changed my major to sociology, which did not require the biology class. These choices were directly connected to my fixed mindset. I believed that I was not good at science, and that I could not possibly catch up to the class. I quit rather than recognizing my failure as evidence that I needed to change the way I approached studying. That is just one example of how fixed mindset had affected my life. Since learning about growth mindset, I have been making an effort to apply it to my life. I have seen myself become so much more willing to take risks and push through challenges until I learn something and grow.
3) Why should Christian teachers be interested in growth mindset?
Christian teachers should be interested in this because it is in alignment with the word of God, and it can help students reach their potential not only in school, but in all of life. I think growth mindset is important for the Christian life. First of all, we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and God has said we can do all things through him (Philippians 4:13). So it is wonderful to see that he has equipped us with amazing brains that can create new cells and connections and turn things that used to be impossible into things that are now easy for us.
One thing that I found interesting is that students with growth mindset are more likely to seek help and not try to cover up their failures, while students with fixed mindset are more likely to hide their failures. In Christianity, so many people are hiding their sins and weaknesses rather than confessing their sins to one another and growing together. Also, people condemn themselves or others for their failures along the way in their walk with God. But the Bible tells us in Philippians 3:12-14 that we should keep growing and moving, unhindered by the past mistakes and failures. God does not condemn us. Carol Dweck notes in Chapter 8 of her book: “when people drop the good-bad, strong-weak thinking that grows out of the fixed mindset, they’re better able to learn useful strategies that help with self-control. Every lapse doesn’t spell doom.” In life and in school and in faith, growth mindset can help us.
4) What facts about language acquisition support growth mindset?
The exact mechanisms of language acquisition are a bit mysterious. There is controversy about a critical period and other topics like what exact skills or characteristics result in some people having more of an aptitude for language learning than others. While some students may have a greater aptitude for language learning than others at a given point in time, the reality is not so simple. Studies such as those included in the book Lessons from Good Language Learners edited by Carol Griffiths have shown that there are a myriad of roads to language learning success. Good language learners are diverse. Each person has strengths and weaknesses that can be harnessed to grow their language ability; if they happen to have a personality that is less suited to language learning, they can rely on or develop other crucial skills such as increasing their strategy use or learning to analyze language parts. The mental processes or skills that give some people an advantage in language learning can often be taught! Some people argue that working memory is key for successful language acquisition, and brain research such as Dingfelder’s (2005) supports the idea that it is possible to exercise one’s brain and increase working memory ability. Finally, studies about the brain and language learning are showing more and more the plasticity of the brain and the way it physically grows and makes connections while people of all ages and walks of life are learning a second language (Li, Legault, & Litcofsky, 2014).
5) How can students who feel they have plateaued in their language learning be introduced the possibility of further language development?
Developing growth mindset in the language domain will be helpful. Students can be introduced to the brain’s amazing ability to grow and form new connections, leading to increased ability in the language domain. As I mentioned before, neuroscience is finding the brain to be incredibly plastic at any age, and this plasticity includes language acquisition. Also, students can come to understand that a plateau is common, especially at the intermediate level, but that others have overcome the plateau. They can, too, by taking care of their brains physically and thoughtfully choosing and utilizing as many language learning strategies as they can.
6) What are the better websites that explore growth mindset for language learners or are easily adapted for language learners?
Carol Dweck and colleagues have created a wonderful comprehensive computer program and set of lesson plans to introduce growth mindset. Although it is not specifically for language learners, each lesson includes some alternative activities and options to scaffold for learners of all levels. You must pay to use the program; it is available at mindsetworks.com.
Additionally, I have found this blog to be helpful: http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2012/10/13/the-best-resources-on-helping-our-students-develop-a-growth-mindset/
Finally, I recommend checking out some videos or TED talks such as this one: https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en
7) What lesson plans, materials, and learning strategies have you developed on growth mindset?
I have developed a set of lesson plans that teachers can use to introduce growth mindset to their EFL or ESL students and help their students start changing their mindsets about language learning. The lessons include some language objectives as well as pictures or comics to help make the concepts comprehensible. They also include surveys to help students understand their current mindsets and learning strategies. I have only included resources that can be used without Internet, so teachers in any type of ESL/EFL environment can use them. I want to make these lessons available for teachers to use as is or to borrow from and adapt as needed.
8) How did you come to study at Messiah College?
I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, where Messiah College is located, so I had occasionally heard of Messiah College over the years. When I decided I wanted to make a career change from social services to education, rather than going back for a second bachelor’s, I thought it might be best to pursue a master’s degree. I wanted to stay out of debt, so I wanted to find a flexible program that would allow me to continue working while attending classes. Messiah’s flexible online program allowed me to do just. The professors are excellent as well!
Dingfelder, S.F. (2005). A workout for working memory: New research suggests that mental exercises might enhance one of the brain’s central components for reasoning and problem-solving. Monitor on Psychology, 36(8), 48. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/sep05/workout.aspx
Li, P., Legault, J. and Litcofsky, K.A. (2014). Neuroplasticity as a function of second language learning: Anatomical changes in the human brain. Context, 58, 301-324. Retrieved from www.elsevier.com/locate/cortex