November 15, 2016

by Karen Larson

When I worked as an administrator, we did our best to offer students choices of how to demonstrate their learning. One choice was giving a presentation of some sort. In other words, the dreaded public speaking assignment. Students often struggle with public speaking and aren’t confident when getting in front of others to show what they know. They are developing a “fixed mindset” about their perceived lack of public speaking ability.

Research shows that this fixed mindset begins to develop early in life. How do educators guide our students towards developing a “growth mindset” that encourages collaboration, managing one’s learning, and development of problem-solving strategies?

Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field of motivation, identifies strategies that move students towards a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the understanding that a student’s perception of his or her intelligence and talent can be developed, leading to greater success. Dweck’s research found that when students learned through a structured program, they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities. They, in fact, did better. Public speaking is a perfect area in which to practice developing a growth mindset.

Five Strategies to help students develop a growth mindset

According to Dweck, a classroom program should include five strategies to help students develop a growth mindset. Students must learn to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see the effort as a path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find inspiration in the success of others. The challenge for teachers becomes finding and incorporating the classroom practices that use these strategies. When developing a presentation, students—whether working individually or in small teams—do practice all of Dweck’s strategies. In particular, students can:

Embrace challenge. As educators work with them, students of all ages can improve their public speaking skills. Starting small, and with appropriate positive reinforcement and scaffolding, students can successfully conquer their fears and learn to speak “professionally” in front of others.

See effort as a part of mastery. Given support and practice opportunities, students will improve their public speaking skills. Recording student presentations periodically can be a powerful way to show students very clearly how much, over time, their presentations have improved. With the teacher’s help, they will recognize that their long-term effort is paying off with improved skills.

Find inspiration in the success of others. This may be the most important aspect of public speaking. As they watch their peers improve over time, students can see that they, too, can and will improve. This is powerful stuff, and can also support an overall positive classroom vibe conducive to learning.

This isn't a single endeavor

Engaging students with growth mindset techniques in the classroom provides many beneficial outcomes for the learner. Building a growth mindset, though, is not a single classroom endeavor. It requires all site stakeholders—administration, teachers, resource staff, and parents—to be on board with these strategies. What parents say to their children outside the classroom is equally important as what teachers do in it. What do you do to help your students see the positives and encourage their continuous development?


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Karen Larson

Karen Larson

Karen Larson is an academic technology specialist for the Santa Clara County (CA) Office of Education, working with teachers supporting the integration of technology in their classrooms. Previously Karen served as an educator and administrator in elementary education. She sits on the Board of Directors of Silicon Valley Computer Using Educators, is a professional developer for Leading Edge Certification, and is a certified educator with Common Sense Media. Connect with Karen at karen .larson

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