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Be a Mirror: Give Readers Feedback That Fosters a Growth Mindset

By Gravity Goldberg
 | Dec 08, 2015

shutterstock_77073655_x300One possible reason why some students progress more rapidly than others is their mindset. By mindset, I mean what Carol Dweck refers to as "the beliefs they carry about their own abilities.” When students develop a growth mindset about their reading ability, they believe that their hard work, struggle, and opportunities for problem solving are all important and valuable parts of the learning process. When students develop a fixed mindset about their ability, they believe their reading level, skill level, and proficiency are static and not much can be done to change them. With a fixed mindset comes resistance to working hard and putting extra effort in because there is really no point. When it comes to developing ownership and independence, having a growth mindset is imperative in the learning process.

The good news is that Dweck and her colleagues have shown that mindsets are malleable and we can help shape them with the kinds of feedback we offer. Regardless of whether a student first enters our classrooms with a growth mindset, we can take on a role that fosters a view of reading with a growth-based lens. When we offer feedback in this way, I call it “being a mirror.”

In my previous post, I wrote about being a “miner” and uncovering how a student reads. Once we have gained important information about a student reader, we can give feedback that shows students what they are doing and the results of that work. Focusing our feedback on the effort and the results emphasizes more growth mindset qualities. I call this role a “mirror” because a mirror’s job is to reflect back what is there without judgment. Our feedback can do the same.

There are five qualities of feedback that foster a growth mindset with readers. First, be specific. When we describe for students how they are reading, we can name the specific steps they took and name them one at a time. For example, instead of saying “You predicted,” which is a bit too general to be helpful, I might say, “You looked at the cover and title, thought about what you would learn, and then went page by page in your book seeing if what you predicted was actually in the book.”

A second quality is to focus on what the reader is doing (not on what is missing). A mirror cannot reflect back what is not there.

A third quality is to focus on the process and the work the reader put in. When we focus on the process, we show students that their efforts are valued and important.

The fourth quality is to make sure it can transfer. Although I do want to be specific with my feedback, I also want to name what the reader is doing in a way that he or she can use it in a different book and context. Instead of saying, “When you thought about why Jonas lied to his dad, it helped you understand why he left,” I might say, “When you thought about the character’s choices, it helped you understand his motivation.”

The final—and often most difficult—quality is to take yourself out of the feedback. This means not saying, “I like how you…” or “I think…” because this sort of feedback makes it about pleasing us adults. Instead of starting with first person pronouns, I start with the reader’s name or simply say, “When you…” and keep the focus on the reader. After all, a mirror stays focused on what is in front of it.

Try being a mirror with your students and notice how not only their reading habits change, but also their mindsets. This is so important because, as sociology scholar Brene Brown explains, “Without feedback there can be no transformative change.” In my next post, I will explain how to be a model and teach in ways that students can really understand.

Gravity Goldberg headshot-2Gravity Goldberg is a literacy consultant and author of Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge(Corwin, 2015) and coauthor of Conferring With Readers: Supporting Each Student’s Growth and Independence(Heinemann, 2007) in addition to managing her blog. This post is one in a series on how teachers can create more independence in the classroom by embracing new roles. She also can be reached via Twitter

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