Lens into the Classroom – Academic mindsets

For this week’s Lens session (Thurs., Feb. 27 at 4pm Pacific), we’ll be doing a protocol with Matt Strand and Kevin Denton from the Polaris Expeditionary Learning School in Fort Collins, CO.  Polaris is a public (non-charter) “school of choice” in the Poudre School District that works in partnership with Expeditionary Learning to provide a unique and rigorous education for all students.

Their dilemma is: How do you explicitly teach academic mindsets and make it meaningful and authentic for students?

Here is some background on these teachers and their classrooms:

Matt Strand recently earned his PhD in Educational Leadership at Colorado State University while continuing to teach at Polaris.  He has taught 7th/8th Grade English in this Expeditionary Learning School for 13 years.  His students’ work has been featured in Expeditionary Learning’s Center for Student Work (example here), and his use of experts to engage Polaris students in compelling topics was featured in the September, 2010 issue of Educational Leadership.

Matt is finding the use of academic mindsets to be a powerful way to help students take more ownership of their learning.  Although he and his colleagues practice many approaches, two specific strategies he uses are self-assessment and peer critique.

Songwriting daily progress

Self-assessment involves students assessing and monitoring their progress on a project, level of sophistication with a skill or concept, or perception of effort on a task.  These assessments tend to be displayed briefly in the classroom but are anonymous to foster a sense of safety and honest reflection.  Their interpretations are not recorded in a gradebook or used to determine a final grade.  Self-assessment is meant to be a reflective strategy that helps students evaluate their learning and/or effort, make their progress in relation to their peers’ work more transparent, and clarify their next steps.  Self-assessment helps Matt get a sense of classroom trends and needs so he can adjust the instructional design and necessary scaffolding; when compared with other evidence of learning such as student writing or performance on formal and informal assessments, Matt also gains a clearer perspective of how well his students understand their learning targets. Self-assessment is therefore a reflection, progress monitoring, and goal-setting tool for both students and the teacher.

Peer critique for character maps

Peer critique for character maps

Peer critique is another powerful tool that can promote academic mindsets such as sense of belonging and beliefs about efficacy and growth (example here).  However, a general sense of emotional safety and careful scaffolding are prerequisites for this type of approach.  Matt has been a long time admirer of Ron Berger’s work, particularly his masterful facilitation of critique sessions.  Matt explicitly teaches students how to be kind, specific, and helpful when giving feedback to a peer.  He also helps students learn to evaluate a given learning target effectively by having them practice using strong and weak examples of work that model a specific criteria.  Sometimes these samples are anonymous student work; other times, Matt creates his own excerpts to illuminate high quality examples and common errors or pitfalls.  After practicing with these examples, students exchange work with a partner, assessing the work for the same criteria.  They use a short student-friendly rubric to give their own assessment.  They also jot down specific strengths and suggestions for improvement.  Matt is careful to coach students on this step, finding that it may take more than one experience with critique to provide written feedback that is truly kind, specific, and helpful.  Again, student assessments are not recorded in the gradebook and do not have direct bearing on a final grade.  Rather, peer critique is an act of service, a process that helps both the author of the work and the reviewer gain a more sophisticated understanding of quality work.

Self-assessment and peer critique help Matt bring academic content, instructional design, and academic mindsets together in his classroom.  But he also understands that his own learning with these approaches is never complete.  To this day, he continues to experiment and explore ways to engage students in deeper learning about content, skills, a healthy classroom community, and academic mindsets.


Kevin recently earned his M.S. in Instructional Design and technology and teaches primarily science and math content currently.  He has been a part of think tanks on academic mindsets with Camille Farrington, Eduardo Briceño, Ron Berger, Fund for Teachers and others in the past.  He and Matt recently presented a class on using peer critique to grow student mindsets at the Expeditionary Learning national conference in Atlanta.

Kevin admittedly started his journey with mindset work in the classroom after seeing much of what Matt was experimenting with in his English classroom.  Matt’s use of tangible protocols and strategies to have students reflect on theirs and their peer’s ability to hit learning targets was inspiring.  Making student progress visual as a part of the self-reflection process was particularly intriguing.

Kevin began experimenting himself with peer critique in the science classroom, but has focused the majority of his work in CREW–an academic advisory period.  Taking a familiar, but often ineffectively implemented strategy like goal-setting, Kevin sought to make this a more meaningful system. By providing frequent (weekly) and specific feedback on student academic goals he hoped to coach students on what it means to make goals that result in action and results, which in turn would impact their academic mindset about the possibility for improvement in many aspects of their life.  Additional feedback on consistent growth-mindset messaging (as opposed to fixed) was provided to help students begin to use this messaging in future goal setting and other opportunities to choose a growth mindset over a fixed one.

Here are some student work examples of goal setting toward academic mindsets:

Here is a video of some students talking about mindsets:

This is Polaris Expeditionary Learning School’s Academic Mindset Reflection Survey given to students to reflect before (and during) student-led conferences.


Here are the slides that we’ll be using for the protocol discussion:

 

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