The Power of Formative Assessment in Shaping Mindsets

Many of us have spent much of the last year reading about and discussing mindsets. Based on Carol Dweck’s work, we have come to learn that there are actually two different mindsets: fixed mindset and growth mindset. Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is fixed. Therefore, students (and adults) with a fixed mindset that fail simply think they don’t have the intelligence, talent, or ability to do any better. They feel helpless to overcome any setbacks. Those with a growth mindset, however, believe that talents and abilities can be altered and that with perseverance, they can learn from mistakes made.

I recently came across a commentary in the June 2015 ASCD Update, “Why Glorify Failure to Enhance Success?” written by Thomas Guskey. In his commentary, Guskey qualifies the difference between failure and mistake. According to Guskey, “Failure implies the ultimate level of nonsuccess,” referencing examples such as failed peace talks, failed marriages, and failing a grade level, suggesting there is little to no chance of coming back from these setbacks. Guskey contends that learning does indeed involve errors and mistakes along the way, but that seeing these setbacks as failures invokes unnecessary negativity. Guskey points out an important qualitative difference between “I made a mistake” and “I failed,” explaining that the first suggests, “There’s a problem, but it can be fixed,” while the second suggests, “I bombed. I crashed and burned. I flunked.”

What do formative assessments have to do with all of this mindset talk? Well, according to Guskey, there are three important things teachers must do to help students experience success and avoid failure. The first one occurs during our lesson planning, before we even interact with our students. We must first anticipate any learning difficulties students may have and address those directly in our lesson plans. Second, we need to routinely use formative assessments to uncover additional unanticipated misunderstandings and remediate these difficulties as early as possible within the learning sequence. Which means we must also intentionally plan for formative assessments as we develop our lesson plans. Third, we must assist our students to develop and maintain a growth mindset, and an understanding that learning and success are within their own control.

In summary, it is our responsibility as educators to help students recognize errors in their learning early on and then guide them to correct those errors before they become major issues or “failures.” Utilizing formative assessments is one important way to accomplish this. As effective teachers, we must be very intentional in our instruction to plan for and consistently use formative assessments to not only guide our instruction, but to help with shaping growth mindsets in our students. Fulfilling this role as teachers will help students to see that academic success is within their reach. How are you using formative assessment in your classroom on a daily basis to help craft a growth mindset in students? We’d love to hear your ideas!

Mackey_Kim_WEBKim Mackey
kmackey@ocmboces.org
Special Education School Improvement Specialist

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