One of the main charges to teachers is to convey content to their students. Teachers need to express why the content they teach is important to learn. For elementary teachers, the necessity for students to learn how to calculate, read, and write is a given, but the answer is not as clear for other subjects: music, science, physical education, history, and art. Many parents do not see the need for their children to study a subject past a certain point. In order to ground why content is important, reflection and creation of a personal philosophy is essential.
In conveying content, teachers need to use the most effective strategies available. Different content might require a variety of approaches. Another factor to consider is if technology will enhance student understanding. Teachers with a good grasp of strategies along with a wide variety of ways to instruct students during a lesson will be more successful.
Students’ mindsets indicate how well and how much they are able to learn. Psychologist Carol Dweck, (2008) defines a growth mindset as the increase in ability to learn when a learner accepts that they may improve, and this improvement will lead to increased ability to learn more. Effort is valued because effort and self-efficacy lead to knowing more and therefore having more ability to learn. Individuals with a growth mindset also ask for help when needed and respond well to constructive feedback. In contrast, individuals with a fixed mindset assume that some people naturally have more ability than others and nothing can be done to change that. Individuals with a fixed mindset often view effort in opposition to ability (“Smart people don’t have to study”) and so do not try as hard and are less likely to ask for help since they believe that asking questions indicates that they are not smart. There are individual differences in students’ beliefs about their views of intelligence. However, teachers’ beliefs and classroom practices influence these students’ perceptions, behaviors, and willingness to adopt a growth mindset.
Teachers with a growth mindset believe that the goal of learning is mastering the material and figuring things out. Assessment is used by these teachers to understand what students know so they can decide whether to move to the next topic, re-teach the entire class, or provide remediation for a few students. Assessment also helps students understand their own learning and demonstrate their competence. Teachers with these views say things like, “We are going to practice over and over again. That’s how you get good. And you’re going to make mistakes. That’s how you learn” (Patrick, Anderman, Ryan, Edelin, & Midgley, 2001, p. 45).
In contrast, teachers with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe that the goal of learning is doing well on tests – and especially outperforming others. These teachers are more likely to say things that imply fixed abilities such as, “This test will determine what your math abilities are,” or stress the importance of interpersonal competition, “We will have speech competition and the top person will compete against all the other district schools and last year the winner got a big award and their photo in the paper.” When teachers stress competition some students will be motivated; however, there can only a few winners so there are many more students who believe they have no chance of winning. Another problem with competition as an assessment is that the focus can become winning rather than understanding the material.
Teachers who view assessment as promoting and developing learning rather than as a means of ranking students, or awarding prizes to those who did very well, or catching those who did not pay attention, are likely to enhance student willingness to identify and correct gaps in learning and understanding.