Assessment for Learning
A blog for busy K-16 educators where we share ideas, strategies, and best assessment practices
that move the learning forward.
Cathy Box, PhD
that move the learning forward.
Cathy Box, PhD
Pursue, persist, grow: Learning through challenge
This article appeared in the Winter 2018 Reflections Journal, Volume 59, Issue 1 found at https://lcu.edu/alumni/publications/reflections/
Good things are happening at LCU. Just ask any student, staff member, or faculty about the University’s new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). The QEP is a university-wide endeavor that has been designed with students at the heart of this initiative, and it is guided by the desire to equip our students for 21st century living. Students walk through our doors from a vast array of life experiences and backgrounds, and some are more prepared than others to face the challenges associated with college life. In fact, our University recognizes that students, especially in their early college years, often face significant challenges that have the potential to derail them and keep them from fulfilling their dreams of completing a college education. Some challenges that students face are beyond our control—challenges such as balancing family and/or work obligations or navigating limited financial resources. Nevertheless, many are the result of social or academic interactions that occur on a routine basis and cause students to question whether they will be able to succeed in college or even belong there in the first place.
Challenges that hinder students’ success were identified during the 2016–2017 QEP topic selection process conducted by a committee of LCU faculty and staff. Consequently, a determined focus toward addressing these challenges was made a priority by the university in an effort to serve the needs of our students and strengthen the mission of the university, preparing students for lives of purpose and service. To do so we recognized that we must purposefully attend to factors that affect students’ potential for success and their ability to persevere through adversity. Based on this ideal, we determined that the purpose of our QEP would be to instill and foster academic tenacity among beginning undergraduate students in order to both establish and bolster persistence.
Academic tenacity refers to mindsets and metacognitive skills that allow students to look beyond short-term concerns to longer-term or higher-order goals and then withstand challenges and setbacks to persevere toward those goals (C. Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014). According to psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues, students who are academically tenacious feel apparent academic and social belonging, see school as relevant to their future, work hard with the ability to postpone immediate pleasures, abate intellectual or social difficulties, seek out challenges, and remain engaged over the long haul.
Important to note within this discussion is that the mindset that students have about their own intelligence or other personal attributes affects their learning, learning behaviors, and tendency to stay the course when things get difficult. According to Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), these mindsets refer to assumptions that students make about the malleability of personal attributes such as intelligence or morality. Some students have a fixed mindset—the belief that these traits are fixed, unchangeable entities—while others have a growth mindset—the belief that attributes such as intelligence or morality are indeed malleable and able to be changed or developed. Findings in cognitive and neurosciences fully support the second supposition. The brain is much more adaptable than we ever knew, and intelligence is certainly not fixed; it can be cultivated. In fact, contrary to popular belief, the brain does in fact change in structure and function in response to experiences throughout one’s life, even into old age.
As one might expect, most students demonstrate a fixed mindset about some traits and a growth mindset about others. However, problems arise from a fixed mindset when it is linked to a student’s academic development. Students with a fixed mindset are inclined to pursue performance goals rather than learning goals. In other words, they tend to worry about proving their intelligence and getting good grades, thereby preferring tasks that will verify how smart and capable they are. These students live under the assumption that they were not gifted with specific intellectual capabilities and will often say things like “I’m just not a math person,” or “I can’t write; it’s not my thing,”— or other various comments about their perceived inabilities. When tasks become challenging or difficult, fixed mindset students often disengage or exhibit other avoidance behaviors, because they are ill-equipped to cope with failure. In contrast, students with a growth mindset both see and believe the possibilities that exist through effort. They value hard work and tend to pursue learning goals. They focus on learning new concepts as well as improving their competence. When tasks become challenging, students with a growth mindset appear to experience less anxiety, put forth greater effort, and increase their engagement in the work at hand, accepting and even enjoying the challenge. With this in mind, a goal of the QEP, therefore, is to instill a growth mindset in our students and eliminate the inaccurate beliefs and misconceptions about intelligence that hinder success.
Equally important is the realization that the development of tenacity requires more than possessing a growth mindset, students must also be equipped with a repertoire of metacognitive skills if they are going to be able to put their growth mindset to work. Broadly defined, metacognition is knowledge about learning as well as having control over one’s own learning. Students who exercise metacognition are able to assess and monitor their current level of understanding, predict their own performance on various tasks, and manage learning processes that lead to understanding. Evidence from the research (Conley & French, 2014; Cury, Da Fonseca, Zahn, & Elliot, 2008; Jones, Slate, & Blake, 1995) indicates that students who hold a growth mindset tend to utilize more effective study practices and monitor their own learning. They are more likely to set learning goals, discover gaps in understanding, decide when and where to engage in learning tasks, and demonstrate efficacy in both self-assessment and study habits. Thus, it appears that growth mindset and metacognition are interdependent. Students need metacognitive skills to support a growth mindset and conversely need a growth mindset to fully employ their metacognitive skills. Accordingly, it stands to reason that metacognition has been strongly linked with improved college GPAs, college readiness, and retention (Conley & French, 2014; Lamar & Lodge, 2014; Mytkowicz, Goss, & Steinberg, 2014) making it all the more salient as we find ways to support students. Unfortunately, metacognitive acuity is often lacking in college students and must be purposefully developed if these skills are to be fully realized and leveraged to work in conjunction with a growth mindset. Developing these skills is another goal of the QEP.
And finally, in addition to developing a growth mindset in students and honing their metacognitive skills, faculty at LCU are learning how to adapt their coursework and curricula accordingly. In order to do so, faculty are studying principles of growth mindset and metacognition, utilizing practices that develop and support adaptive mindsets, and finding ways to implement assessment measures that allow for a greater capacity of learning through practice.
As you can see, this QEP is working diligently to create a campus culture that fully embraces the power of a growth mindset and fosters academic tenacity in students. The ideas that emanate from this initiative transcend academia and have far-reaching implications in all aspects of students’ lives. While, it has the potential to affect personal relationships, marriages, jobs, parenting, and achievements in athletic or other extracurricular endeavors, most importantly, it has the potential to affect students’ spiritual lives. As Christian educators, we are dedicated to caring for the whole student by preparing them for lives of purpose and service. For this reason, it is vitally important that we acknowledge each student as a beautiful gift from God and affirm the potential that lies within each and every one. We firmly believe that the QEP will go a long way toward contributing to that goal.
Conley, D. T., & French, E. M. (2014). Student ownership of learning as a key component of college readiness. American Behavioral Scientist, 58(8), 1018–1034.
Cury, F., Da Fonseca, D., Zahn, I., & Elliot, A. (2008). Implicit theories and IQ test performance: A sequential mediational analysis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(3), 783–791.
Dweck, C., Walton, G., & Cohen, G. (2014). Academic tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long-term learning. Retrieved from https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/manual/dweck-walton-cohen-2014.pdf
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Jones, C. H., Slate, J. R., & Blake, P. C. (1995). Relationship of study skills, conceptions of intelligence, and grade level in secondary school students. Study habits inventory and Thoughts about achievement questionnaire, 79, 25-32.
Lamar, S., & Lodge, J. (2014). Making sense of how I learn: Metacognitive capital and the first year university student. International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 5(1), 93–105.
Mytkowicz, P., Goss, D., & Steinberg, B. (2014). Assessing metacognition as a learning outcome in a postsecondary strategic learning course. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 27(1), 51–62.
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I am a former science teacher and currently work at Lubbock Christian University as the QEP Director and in the School of Education preparing future teachers. I am passionate about helping teachers find practical ways to improve learning!