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Teaching Strategies For Growth Mindset

What is the most important factor in a student? Many people would say it’s talent, or effort, or persistence, or luck or some combination of these.

Behind all of this is something that is more important – the proper mindset. Recent research (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007) has shown that there are two different mindsets among students:
1) intelligence as a fixed, static trait or you got what you got
2) intelligence is a changeable, flowing trait, in other words:  you can learn whatever you put focus and effort to

Most of my music students do have a growth mindset, but may need some extra encouragement.   To do this I need to use a specific way of communicating.

The Dangers of Praise and How To Do It Right

Researchers have discovered that if you just praise the intelligence of the child, there are negative consequences.  So just being positive and saying “Good job!” is actually detrimental and has a backlash because given a new challenge, the child would rather not participate (quit) in order to “save face” and live up to the expected standard.  Rather if the child was praised for their effort, the next harder challenge was met with more effort.

Communicating Learning Goals

Almost daily I have a student who complains
“That’s too hard! I want to just stay on the same song!”

Here’s some things I say and you can too in your classroom, studio or with your own children.  Though I’ve made these specific to music, you can apply a variation of these to any subject.

  • Learning music is like playing a video game. Once you achieved the last challenge, we’re on to the next level.
  • You’re not supposed to know this already, this is brand new.

High Expectations For Forward Motion

  • I KNOW that you can do this, that’s why I’m showing you this.
  • This will be challenging, but I’ve seen you do amazing work before.
  • Remember how hard _____ piece was? And now you can play it so well. This is like that one only better.

Struggling Even With Effort

  • You are not there…YET (emphasis on the yet)
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remind yourself that you can’t do it…YET.
  • Let’s take a break and come back to this tomorrow.
  • I admire your persistence.
  • I appreciate your effort and focus on this.
  • I love how you never gave up on that last piece. Let’s do it here too.

Struggling But May Need Help With Strategy

  • Let’s work on just the one spot giving you trouble
  • What part is giving you trouble? Let’s just look at that.
  • How about we make a plan to learn this piece? You can do section A today and then section B tomorrow and then back to A…

By setting the proper belief system in place at an early age, we can guide our children to future success in music, and in life.

For more information, read this excellent article from Prinicipal Leadership, a magazine aimed at school principals.

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Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset

How To Teach Perseverance, Grit and Success

Soft Skills Vs Hard Skills

There’s been a lot of talk in the education world of late about the value of the soft skills, emotional and psychological.  These are the skills that are traditionally not tested.  Unlike math or reading or science, these skills are more nuanced.

Because I’m a music teacher and my wife is a long-time educator, I read lots of articles on this.

Grit & Self Control – 2 Determinants for Success

One of the researchers at the forefront of this movement is Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth.  Her passion is in discovering how self control and grit can predict future success.  Her research has shown that grit is a better determinant of future success than academic scores and achievement.   See below for her excellent TED Talk video.

And if you didn’t realize already, music lessons are a long term sustained pursuit towards goals.  They are the perfect example of a grit-enducing activity!  It’s less about talent and more about the “stick-to-it-ness” that determines success in music…and life!

How To Praise – Right and Wrong Ways

Since reading about these studies, I’ve been more careful about how I praise in my private music lessons.  Of course, praise is wonderful, but if you just say “good job” automatically you are sending a signal that any effort or any result is good.  What I’m trying to elicit is a long-term grittiness.  By praising the effort, focus and patience, I can now subtly influence how they are working towards their goal.  Some of my best students are a challenge because if I give them a piece and they play it very easily – they love it.  But if it’s just a bit too far out of their reach, sometimes they will shut down completely.

The never-ending process is finding the appropriate material that is just a single rung or two up the ladder of complexity.  This can be either conceptual like introducing a new concept such as chord inversions or a challenge technically with a certain stretch or position of the fingers.  By matching the material to a small enough distance, anything is possible.

With particularly challenging music, I have the student focus only on a single measure or sometimes even a few beats.  I like to use Post-It notes to cover up the rest of the page to truly give them nothing else to focus on.

So as you work through my lessons with your kids, think about how you are teaching life-long skills of persistence, patience, and focus while learning the beauty of music.

 

Watch These Short Videos

Congratulations Dr. Duckworth on yesterday’s MacArthur Genius Award!  Wonderful

Further Reading

“So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures. A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success. Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier. This was startling news. “Everybody said, Oh, it’s how kids achieve academically that will predict their adult employment, and health, and everything else,” recalls Mark Greenberg, a Penn State University psychologist. “And then it turned out that for both employment and health outcomes, academic achievement actually predicted less than these other factors.”