What is mindset? Why does it matter for instructors?
When instructors have a “weed-out” mentality or teach to the “best” students who seem likely go on to graduate school in our fields, it can result in helplessness and poor persistence for many other students. Professor Mary Murphy of IUB found that growth mindset reminds students course skills are malleable and the teacher can show students how to develop these skills. With an encouraging attitude towards effort and persistence, all students can improve their abilities and do well in a class. Instructors with a growth mindset approach the classroom with the attitude that all students can succeed. With growth mindset, the instructor might…
- Stress that improvement with the class comes with hard work and that anyone can be proficient if they try hard enough. Students will have the insights they need to do well in the class. Say: “I want you all to learn the material and I will help you learn it.”
- Provides a checklist to guide students through the elements of complicated projects or papers (Ambrose, et al., 2010, Appendix G).
- Develop exam wrappers after exams for students to characterize the nature of their errors and identify their individual strengths and weaknesses to guide further study (Ambrose, et al., 2010, Appendix F).
- Instead of office hours, hold a “FREE Help Session” twice a week around a large table possibly with bowl of snacks provided.
What is sense of belonging? How does this impact my classroom?
Over four years of study, Kevin Binning and co-researchers replaced student doubt about “Do I really belong here?” with the belief that adversity is universal and temporary. The 30-minute exercise below includes narrative writing, peer testimonials, and small group discussion that not only closes performance gaps between underrepresented and majority groups, and between genders, but also bolsters attendance, retention, and long-term performance for all students.
Introduction of Exercise: The instructor introduces the idea that everyone struggles. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed or to sometimes wonder to yourself, “Do I really belong?”
Writing prompt (10 mins): “Coming to college is a big transition. Write about the experiences and challenges you’ve had since coming to IUB. You can think about your experience with making friends, taking classes, adjusting to dorm life, and difficulties and challenges that have begun to improve as you have spent more time in college.” Collect the essays. Briefly scan and read from a handful of essays. “As I’m looking at some examples of what you all have written, I see a lot of very common concerns. I am also not surprised; I had some of the same concerns when I took first year physics.”
Peer testimonials: Show students quotes from graduating seniors collected in advance and chosen to highlight overcoming challenges and initial loneliness (and be sure and have examples of men, women, and diverse groups.) Some example quotes: “Sometimes I had difficulty with an idea that my classmates understood. But the important thing is not to give up and help each other out.” OR “I felt unprepared for the increased workload and differences in grading of college. I felt stressed as a result. But then I got some help from the instructor and AI. I found a study group and was able to turn things around. Looking back, I think my struggles were pretty normal. Even though they seemed overwhelming at the moment.”
Discussion Prompts (7-8 mins. in teams):
- Why do you think people often think they’re the only one who worries about whether they fit in the in college?
- How do you think your life will be different when you’re a junior or a senior?
Debrief: “Will someone share what you discussed in your group? This will help summarize the discussion for all of us and will give feedback for the physics department.” (The debrief is important to synthesize and summarize this exercise.)
This exercise pops the belief bubble that “I don’t belong.” It works great on the first day of class or when the class approaches a known bottleneck (a difficult concept or challenging task).
Binning, K. R., Kaufmann, N., McGreevy, E. M., Fotuhi, O., Chen, S., Marshman, E., Kalender, Z. Y., Limeri, L., Betancur, L., & Singh, C. (2020). Changing Social Contexts to Foster Equity in College Science Courses: An Ecological-Belonging Intervention. Psychological Science, 31(9), 1059–1070. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797620929984
Canning, E. A., Muenks, K., Green, D. J., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes. Science advances, 5(2), eaau4734.
Dweck, C. 2015. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine.