Yesterday I sat at the piano and played through the whole of Strauss’ Emperor’s Waltz. It’s a beautiful piece when played by an accomplished pianist. My fingers stumbled over the keys as I tried to read the notes from an old copy of Easy Classical Piano Music for Beginners. Still, a real accomplishment since I have not played or read music for decades. I gave up piano when it became too hard. All that practice was eating into my free time. My mom begged me not to, but twelve year old me knew better and the lessons stopped. Both my mom and I regret that decision.
I’ve had a few thoughts about why I didn’t persevere when I was younger. The process of learning a piece was long and arduous and not rewarded; the end product was not satisfying; playing for an audience caused great anxiety; I came to believe that I was not musical. If only I persevered.
I believe that tasks and projects which follow a design learning paradigm help students build the capacity to embrace failures as stepping stones to a better solution which in turn builds the ‘muscle’ needed to persevere with difficult tasks.
Recently three of my investigations have intersected and caused me to reflect that the reasons I gave up on the piano so long ago are not very different from the struggles I see my students experience with assignments and projects in class. I have recently been researching Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset and the subsequent proliferation of mindset theory, Project Based Learning, and Universal Design for Learning. What do they have in common? Each of them helps students develop resilience, tenacity, perseverance … stick-to-itiveness.
I have previously published information about Universal Design for Learning in a post which I have linked here if you are interested to read more about UDL: Augmented Learning Experiences for All Students.
To learn more about Project-based learning, go to pblworks.org. The linked page will take you to free downloadable guide for teachers which I highly recommend. Their website also offers a plethora of grade level projects for teachers to use.
To learn more about growth mindset, go to Mindset Works. The linked page will take you to an infographic which explains the theory. From there you can read more about the science behind mindsets and why mindsets matter.
Standard 4, Innovative Designer, states that students should use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions. This post will focus on standard 4d which addresses the issue of perseverance:
4d. Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
As soon as I read this standard I thought of some of my students who give up on a task and on themselves too quickly because of fear of failure.
I have come across many students who are reluctant to fail at a task. Some students are so anxious about assignments not being perfect, they would rather not submit them for a grade. I have students who want to have all their ‘iterations’ or ‘tries’happen at home, rather than in the open forum of the classroom. On the other hand, I also have students who have a ‘once-and-done’ attitude; they prefer not to rework a rough draft. This attitude is sometimes based on laziness or lack of interest, but often it is a defense mechanism to hide anxiety.
A blog post titled, Is Anxiety Hiding in Your Classroom, Claire Orange suggests various signs of anxiety in the classroom, including perfectionism and giving up easily. She explains that perfectionism is an exaggerated form of performance anxiety, perfectionism often results in a child failing to hand in his homework because he fears it is not good enough or failing to finish his work because he has been so busy erasing and reproducing his answers over and over again.
So, my question is: How can teachers use the design thinking paradigm to help students become accustomed to working through various iterations of a product, develop resilience, and reduce performance anxiety?
The Design Process is iterative. The designer is always questioning the efficacy of the model in order to refine their solution. The process requires the designer to learn from one solution, and then with their new understanding, find new strategies to create a novel, more precise solution. The prototype and testing phases repeat until the best solution is found. The design process allows for failure. Failed attempts are part of the process; they are iterations which lead to better solutions. Students who think in terms of the design process paradigm will expect failure and regard it as part of the process of refining a solution. Teachers who understand the value of process as well as the product will reward the process. Students rewarded for process will not fear failure and develop resilience.
Watch the video below, Embracing Failure: Building a Mindset Through the Arts. The students and teachers of New Mexico School for the Arts discuss failure and show how they have a built a culture that sees failure as a stepping stone to success. One student shares that being able to accept critique and not feel hurt by it is an important skill for us to learn, and we’re taking those critiques and learning how to put them to use. Another student explains that the whole learning process is that if you fail, then you know, you can do it again, and you can just make big leaps and bounds and learn from that. And yet another student: Failure is inevitable. Critical feedback is essential to growing oneself as a person in the world.
Embracing Failure: Building a Growth Mindset Through the Arts
In the following video, Carol Dweck explains her concept of not yet. This concept acknowledges that learning is a journey, a process. She explains that when the process is rewarded, students begin to value the journey as well as the end product. Dweck believes that making students aware of the process of learning and giving them the tools to explain their own learning journey helps to make them more mindful and takes away the anxiety related to performance.
As I prepare for my classes in the Fall, I am focusing more and more on the process of learning. I’m using what I have learnt from UDL, PBL and Mindset Theory to build rubrics which reward process as well as or even more than product. I am looking forward to seeing how this changes student engagement in general and specifically how it affects students with performance anxiety. And, I am also practicing the piano everyday. By the Fall I should be able to play the Emperor’s Waltz without hesitation.
Dweck, C. (2014, November). The power of believing that you can improve. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en
Goldman, S. (2018, February 28). Design thinking for kids? How teachers can bring this creative problem-solving process into the classroom. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://ed.stanford.edu/news/design-thinking-kids
The Impact of a Growth Mindset. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.mindsetworks.com/Science/Impact
ISTE Standards for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
Jones-Carey, D. (2018, October 14). Metacognition and Mindfulness Meet the Power of Not Yet! Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.gettingsmart.com/2018/10/metacognition-and-mindfulness-meet-the-power-of-not-yet/
Mishra, V. (2020, April 09). What are the Five Stages of Design Thinking and How it Works – Hidden Brains Blog. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.hiddenbrains.com/blog/stages-of-design-thinking-and-how-it-works.html
Orange, C. (2018, December 19). Is Anxiety Hiding in your Classroom? Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://bestprograms4kids.com/anxiety-hiding-classroom/
The PBL Journey: A Guide for Teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2020, from http://go.pblworks.org/pbl-journey-guide-teachers?_ga=2.117248774.1456519268.1593383489-1808497646.1593383489