If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try to grow your way out of it

A new study finds no support for the importance of a “growth mindset”:

People with a “growth mindset” – those who believe their intelligence can be improved with effort – are said to seek out challenges, persist in the face of difficulty and bounce back after failure. By contrast, people with a “fixed mindset” – those who believe their intelligence doesn’t change much – are said to give up when facing challenges and be devastated by failure.

But new research from Michigan State University and Case Western Reserve University suggests these claims are overstated.

“We found little to no evidence for the major premises of mindset theory” said Alexander Burgoyne, a recent MSU PhD graduate and study co-author. “In fact, the largest effect we found directly contradicts what mindset theorists have claimed.”

“Mind-set theory” has captured the imagination of education types for years.

I never objected to the theory myself, but I never cottoned to it, either, probably because I grew up in central Illinois, where bragging, showing off, and generally being too big for your britches were considered mortal sins.

Nobody in Lincoln, Illinois had a growth mindset or a fixed one as far as I know. 

Sad news and bad news in English class

So much badness where cell phones in the classroom are concerned.

I mentioned that a couple of years ago I had a classroom cell phone problem so oppressive I actually considered leaving my job.

Of course, I wasn’t going to leave my job, but what I did do was assign “cell phones in the classroom” as the final paper topic–the final paper happening to be, fortuitously, the “simple argument” assignment. (Simple argument in my department: write a 5-paragraph essay arguing for or against X.)

Unfortunately, assigning cell phones in the classroom turned out to be a misfire since more than one student took the position that cell phones in the classroom were A-OK,  the only problem being that we instructors were too boring to compete. Being more riveting than a cell phone, one student wrote, was the professor’s job.

So that was annoying. Since my policy is never to be annoyed by a student opinion, I regretted assigning the topic.

That said, the papers were a revelation.

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What we do and do not learn without trying

Useful line from Katharine’s last post:

…the conventions of written language, unlike those of spoken language, are not picked up incidentally by most native English speakers…

For some reason, I find the question of what we learn incidentally endlessly fascinating.

In my case, I actually did pick up most of the conventions of writing incidentally. I wrote by ear.

But how did I acquire an “ear”?

I’m sure my path to incidental learning of “school grammar” was obsessive reading. I was a bookworm: I read the backs of cereal boxes at the breakfast table; I read books when we had company; on vacation trips I read Agatha Christie mysteries as  my family walked along seeing the sights. [1/11/2020 – UPDATE: Had a conversation with Katharine yesterday re: learning to write without being taught to write. I’m not so sure now that obsessive reading was the ticket.]

At some point, I gained the ability to hear what I wrote.

Nevertheless, I would have been much better off if some teacher had sat me down and taught me the principles Katharine and I cover in Europe in the Modern World.

Basic grammar vs. “school grammar”

I still need wrap up my Structured Word Inquiry series (from last November!) with at least one more post, but some of the more recent twitter chatter on SWI has brought up a broader issue that I thought I’d address first. That would be the question of which aspects of grammar actually need to be taught to students who are native English speakers.

To address this question, it’s useful to draw a distinction between “basic grammar” and “school grammar.”

Basic grammar is the stuff that native speakers, assuming they don’t have language impairments/autism, pick up incidentally without formal instruction. This includes everyday vocabulary, word order, and word endings (morphology), and syllabification. Absent language impairments, native speakers, do not, for example, need to be taught that “crumb” and “crumbs” and “do” and “does” are related, or that we say “no bananas” rather than “no banana”–contrary to what some SWI proponents have suggested on twitter:

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App shmapp

It wasn’t so much that the new app … didn’t work. It was that people were struggling to even log in or download it in the first place.

‘A Systemwide Disaster’: How the Iowa Caucuses Melted Down By Shane Goldmacher and Nick Corasaniti 2/4/2020

This is reminding me of my friend who teaches in the city.

Last fall, word came down that this year teachers were to provide 21st century learning. Which meant Google docs. Everyone had to use Google docs in every class.

My friend teaches a combined SPED/gen ed middle-school class, and not one of the students could remember his/her password. Not one. So every day there would be 40 password crises, all of which had to be personally resolved by the two teachers in the room.

In case you’re wondering, the teachers couldn’t just have all the kids use the same password on one big shared Google doc (I asked) because my friend had already tried that the year before. A couple of the kids wrote bad words in the shared doc, so every student now had a document peppered with bad words, then admin saw the words and raised a fuss, plus a couple of parents might have seen them … I’ve forgotten the story now, but the upshot was that assigning the same password to an entire middle school class yielded exactly the kind of trouble anyone who has ever lived with a middle-school child would predict.

This school year the problem wasn’t just that none of the kids could remember their password. The possibly bigger problem was that they all freaked out when they forgot. So on top of individually logging 40 students into Google every day, the teachers had to talk 40 students down off the Forgot My Password cliff.

All this just to get into the system.

It took hours to get anything done. The class was taking 3 days to finish a lesson that had taken 1 day to complete the year before, and the kids were begging for release.

“Can’t we use paper? Please?

A couple of months in, the school did its usual quarterly testing, and the best teacher in the school had dismal results. After that the whole thing went away.

And see:
Blackboard shmackboard
Cell phone agonistes

Weekly roundup of favorite posts

Here are some of our favorite posts from the past week (and a bit back)

Common Sense Media on cell phone use (hat tip, David Fortin)

Angie and Emily Hanford on Balanced Literacy

Greg Ashman on the virtues of copying sentences

Greg Ashman and Jennifer Buckingham on Structured Word Inquiry:

Fordham Institute on

See Sth Say Sth on

Brightbeam on the secret shame of progressive cities