Category Archives: writing

what’s your mindset on “mindset”?

mindset

[IMAGE CREDIT: Edutopia]

One of the most common refrains I’ve heard from my students over the years is, “I’m just not creative.” When I taught high school, I heard and I asked my students to write in any genre beyond the five-paragraph essay (which is indeed a secondary school genre in that very few writers write in it past graduation, even English majors). In fact, if I dared suggest that my students write FOUR or FIVE+ paragraphs, oh the gasps that ensued! Oh the wringing of hands!

As determined as I was as a teacher to coax students out of their fixed mindsets as writers so that they could grow creatively, I have a confession to make: when I’m asked to move beyond a fixed mindset as a writer, I feel aghast sometimes, too.

I’ve been earning part of my living as a writer for “five-ever,” as my daughter would say, and though I definitely have my dark days, I’m pretty confident in claiming that identity once-and-for-all. In that respect, I’d say I have “fixed mindset” that yes, indeed, I am a writer. So that’s where my quibble with Dweck’s thinking about mindsets in dichotomous terms comes in. Rather, I see fixed and growth mindsets as related in potentially positive way.

When a fixed mindset is tied to an actionable identity, I believe it can be generative. That is, actually seeing myself as a writer is what propels me to engage in and grow through writing.

At the same time, when I dabble in varied genres and write for audiences beyond academia, I inevitably have to activate a growth mindset. I have to start over in a sense, but I can always come back to that anchor identity, that fixed mindset that I am a writer, just one who’s always stretching and growing. I ‘m not gonna lie, as with my high school students, there’s always some gasping and wringing of hands when I transition into a growth mindset, but it’s the fixed mindset that gets me through said grasping and wringing to the other side.

Thus I don’t see fixed and growth mindsets as either-or’s; I see them in potentially generative tension with one another.

I’m not the only one with a quibble about Dweck’s ideas. See, for instance, Alfie Kohn’s critique about buying the “mindset” mindset hook, line, and sinker, and then take a look at this critique of Kohn’s critique by whip-smart writer/gifted teacher/former student/luminous human being Jaime Wood. (Jaime’s piece is on a terrific site called Bark, which you’re going to want to start following right now, immediately. Just read this for starters.)

I think Jaime gets it right when she points out that an inordinate focus on the individual, which the notion of “mindset” (understood singularly) implies, ignores that the individual always exists in a sociocultural context of “family, teachers, economics, societal expectations, and a range of other factors beyond ourselves to contribute to our success.” In that case, “the notion that personal responsibility is the only condition that matters for success, or the most important one, is just plain false.”

Jaime’s conclusion: “growth mindset isn’t really the problem. The problem is that we have to understand the complex system in which this new strategy will take place and how other issues like forming positive relationships between students and teachers will have a substantial effect on whether a growth mindset will work.”

What she said.

weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down

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Okay, the truth is that Weebles actually do fall down, but the thing that Weebles do that other playthings don’t–the quality that is the essence of their Weeble-ness–is that they pop right back up again into their original pose. I bet you can see why a tagline like “Weebles wobble, then they fall down, but then they get back up again” didn’t make the cut.

I bet you can also guess there’s a metaphor at work here. You can take a look at this Morning Pages prompt for more details on what our community of writers is addressing today, but for now, it’s enough to know that we’re pose/wobble/flow-ing in relation to the pose of “Teacher as Writer,” that is of committing yourself to being a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. (See this previous post for details on the pose/wobble/flow model and how it can support your growth as a teacher.)

When I think today about how and where I’m wobbling as a writer, it’s in the justdo-ing it part, in simply “engaging regularly in the practice of writing” (Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 76). I rarely suffer from writer’s blog, but there are so many demands on my time that writing on a daily basis often gets pushed to wayside. I’m talking about a certain kind of writing here because don’t get me wrong, I’m writing all day long (and doing so right now, in fact). But the kind of writing that dominates my day tends to fall into Scardamalia & Bereiter’s (1987)  “knowledge-telling” genre rather than the “knowledge-transforming” genre that feeds my soul. Writing grant proposals, lesson plans, letters of recommendation, and teaching observations does not feed my soul. Even though I acknowledge its necessity, duty-based, knowledge-telling writing plagues me because it tends to crowd the generative, knowledge-transforming writing right off the day’s agenda.

Herein, I wobble.

In Pose, Wobble, Flow, Antero and I cover strategies for dealing with wobble in more detail, but there are always challenges (did I mention the time thing already?), so this is a really good example of why it’s important to go back to the pose: I am a writer who teaches. I am a teacher who writes. So as a note to self, here’s what I know I can do to wobble toward flow:

  • I know I can set up writing as a non-negotiable “meeting” in my calendar.
  • I know that coffee is a must, as is a quiet place or a place where I can be quiet in myself in a crowded place like a coffee shop.
  • I know it helps to have a writing partner who holds me accountable.
  • I know that just 25 mins. of knowledge-transforming writing a day, five days a week,  quickly adds up to a couple of hours on even the busiest week. If I can knock out 1,500 words in 2 hours and write 43 weeks of the year (yes, that’s over 2 months off), I get to right at 65,000 words, and that’s a book, my friends! Yeah, yeah, I know that amount of time doesn’t take revision into account, but you get my drift here.

And yet…I wobble.

There. I said it.Coming clean with my students about wobbling is sometimes a risk because I run into the do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do syndrome, yet I hope it helps to know they’re not alone. (Psst! You’re not alone!) Remind me to be a good Weeble and check in this time next week to see if I stayed true to my Teacher as Writer pose.

In the meantime, let’s all of us let the throwaway tagline be our mantra:

Weebles wobble, then they fall down, but then they get back up again.

 

  • Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1987). The psychology of written composition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • IMAGE CREDIT: Community Blogs