Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Growth Mindset

The article by Sarah D. Sparks,, starts with a powerful concept: “It’s one thing to say all students can learn, but making them believe it – and do it – can require a 180-degree shift in student’s and teacher’s sense of themselves and of one another.”

The General Studies Remedial Biology course I taught faced this challenge. The course was scheduled at night for three consecutive hours in a 120-seat lecture room. I refused to teach the course until the following arrangements were made:
  • The entire text was presented by cable online reading assignments in each dormitory room and by off-campus phone service.
  • One hour was scheduled for my lecture, after any student presentations related to the scheduled topic. 
  • One hour was scheduled for written assessment every other week.
  • One hour was scheduled for 10-minute student oral reports based on library research, actual research, or projects.

Students requested the assessment period be placed in the first hour instead of the second hour, after the first few semesters. This turned the course into a seminar for which students needed to prepare on their own before class.

Only Knowledge and Judgment Scoring (KJS) was used the first few semesters, with ready acceptance by the class. The policy of bussing in students from out of the Northwest Missouri region brought in protestors, “Why do we have to know what we know, when everywhere else on campus, we just mark, and the teacher tells us how many right marks we made?”

Offering both methods of scoring, traditional multiple-choice (TMC) and KJS, on the same test solved that problem. Students could select the method they felt most comfortable with; that matched their preparation the best.

The student presentations and reports were excellent models for the rest of the class. They showed the interest in the subject and the quality of work these students were doing to the entire class.
KJS provided the information needed to guide passive pupils alone the path to becoming self-correcting scholars. As a generality, that path took the shape of a backward J. First they made fewer wrong marks, next they studied more, and finally they switched from memorizing non-sense to making sense of each assignment.

Over time they learned they were now spending less time studying (reviewing everything) and getting better grades by making sense as they learned; they could actually build new learning on what they could trust they had learned. They could monitor their progress by checking their quality score and their quantity score. Get quality up, interest and motivation increase, and quantity follows.

The tradition of students comparing their score with that of the rest of the class to see if they were safe, or needed to study more, or had a higher grade than expected when enrolling in the course (and could take a vacation), was strong in the fall semester with the distraction of social groups, football and homecoming. The results of fall and spring semesters were always different.

There was one dismal failure. With the excellent monitoring of their progress in the course, the idea was advanced to recognize class scholars. These students, had in one combination or another of test scores and presentations, earned a class score that could not be changed by any further assessment. They had demonstrated their ability to make sense of biological literature (the main goal of the course, which, hopefully, would serve them well the rest of their lives, as well as, the habit of making sense of assignments in their other courses). The next semester all went as planned. Most continued in the class and some conducted study sessions for other students.

The following semester witnessed an outbreak of cheating. Today, Power Up Plus (PUP) gets its name by the original cheat checker added to Power UP. Cheating became manageable by the simple rule that any answer sheet that failed to pass the cheat checker would receive a score of zero. I offered to help any student who wished to protest the rule to the student disciplinary committee. No student ever protested.

[Cheating was handled in-class as any use of the university rules was not honored by the administration. You must catch individual students in the act. Computer cheat checkers had the same status as red light cameras do now. If more than one student is caught, the problem is with the instructor, not with the student. We cancelled the class scholar idea.]

We need effective tools to manage student “growth mindset”. The tools must be easy to use by students and faculty. Students need to see how other students succeed, to be comfortable in taking part, and be able to easily follow their progress when starting at the low end of academic preparation of knowledge, skills, and judgment (quality, the use of all levels of thinking).

A common thread runs through successful student empowerment programs: Effective instruction is based on what students actual know, can do, and want to do or to take part in. This requires frequent appropriate assessment at each academic level such as, in general, these recent examples:

Welcome to the KJS Group: Please register at Include something about yourself and your interest in student empowerment (your name, school, classroom environment, LinkedIn, Facebook, email, phone, and etc.).

Free anonymous download, Power Up Plus (PUP), version 5.22 containing both TMC and KJS:, 606 KB or, 1,099 KB.

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Other free software to help you and your students experience and understand how to break out of traditional-multiple choice (TMC) and into Knowledge and Judgment Scoring (KJS) (tricycle to bicycle):


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