Technology for Learners
New View of Student Learning Potential
Author: Rick Phelan
One key shift in the transition to Common Core Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessments centers on how educators see student learning potential.
New models of cognitive development recognize multiple learning paths and acknowledge the learning potential of every student. This is a shift from the fixed models of intelligence that were prevalent in the past.
The way we view learning potential affects our ideas about how instruction should be organized and delivered. Twenty-first century educators will be most effective if they realign their views on learning potential and provide engaging opportunities to promote student learning.
Fixed Mindset: Predetermined Success or Failure
Psychologists and other social scientists have long debated human learning potential. Varied experiments and studies have probed the human brain to better understand how people learn.
Some people believe that the brain’s learning abilities are fixed and have very limited ability to change. Following this thinking, the role of the teacher would be to impart learning through lectures and to administer tests that result in “standard curves of distribution” in student achievement.
People holding this view of intelligence believe that the brain’s capacity can be measured with various assessments. Assessment outcomes define average, below average, and gifted intelligence ranges. Success or failure is pre-determined based on the brain the individual is born with. Feedback from teachers comes in reporting a score, grade, or performance level.
Purposeful Engagement: Lifelong Opportunities for Learning
The alternate view maintains that the brain develops based on purposeful engagement and that people have the capacity for lifelong learning and improvement. Here, the thinking is that a person’s brain can be continuously expanded and the individual’s basic qualities can be cultivated and improved upon.
Stanford cognitive psychologist Carol Dweck puts it this way, “Although people may differ in every which way in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments, everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
This distinction brings new understanding to the core belief that underlies many school professional learning communities: the belief that all children can learn. Given this way of thinking, educators have opportunities to work with students and expand their thinking abilities.
Chart of Intelligence Mindsets
The chart below is based on the work of Carol Dweck. Learn more at the Brainology website.
|Static Mindset||Growth Mindset|
|Intelligence is static
Leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to …
|Intelligence can be developed
Leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to …
|Challenges||Avoid challenges||Embrace challenges|
|Obstacles||Give up easily||Persist in the face of setbacks|
|Effort||See effort as fruitless or worse||See effort as the path to mastery|
|Criticism||Ignore useful negative feedback||Learn from criticism|
|Success of Others||Feel threatened by the success of others||Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others|
|As a result, they may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential
All this confirms a deterministic view of the world
|As a result, they reach ever-higher levels of achievement
All this gives them a greater sense of free will
As 21st century educators strive to “shift” their understanding of intelligence, many questions emerge related to instruction, materials, and assessment. Instruction needs to move away from “one size fits all” lessons to more personalized learning. Materials and assessments need to be more adaptive to individual students.