Tag Archives: Carol Dweck

John Hattie and Gifted Education

If there are rock stars in the field of educational research, John Hattie is definitely one. His seminal work “Visible Learning” which was published in 2009 has been called “the Holy Grail” for teachers. If you want to know what will make an impact in the classroom, he’s gathered together the effect sizes from more than 800 meta analyses (more than 16 000 studies) into a list that is both affirming and at times surprising. You can view his list here. (Note where acceleration appears.) Make sure you read the preamble regarding what Hattie would consider a significant effect size.

I had the chance to attend a PD day with John Hattie at the beginning of this school year where he spoke to his work to give us some direction as we continue to meet our goals of engaging students to become ethical citizens with an entreprenuerial spirit…Alberta Learning’s triple E agenda. I think the message I found most surprising was his assertion that 90% of teaching was based on surface learning and as he looked through the research, most studies reflected this focus. I couldn’t help but wonder about how surface learning impacts our gifted students…from the ones who actively work to know all that is possible to be known to those whose need to question can create considerable psychological tension.  Given that I had just returned from the Dabrowski Congress as well as subsequent PD from Lynn Miller on anxiety where she indicated those with high IQ tending to suffer more from anxiety…I kept wondering if all of these things be linked somehow.

While I mused for some time over whether asking good questions and digging into curriculum could avert anxiety, I was cautioned against finding a “Dabrowskian curriculum” as going past a uni-level and perhaps even a surface understanding of the world, tends to be a personal journey. I began reading Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by John Hattie and Gregory Yates and this past week I got to the chapter where they address feedback, which Hattie has placed near the top of his list alongside formative assessment for having impact on student learning. The chapter not only addresses how we can support our students on this “personal journey” but differentiates clearly the type of feedback required for students of varying ability.

While teachers may have a different conception of what constitutes good feedback, Hattie and Yates tell us that students want feedback to focus on their goals and giving them what they need to get where they want to go: “how to close the gap between where they are and where they need to be.” (p.70) While novice learners require corrective feedback and proficient learners require process feedback, highly competent learners require sincere efforts to extend and apply knowledge even further. (p. 66)  In providing this kind of feedback, the teacher must have some understanding of where this child wants to go and a good understanding about what could come next and not succumb strictly to praise.  In citing Carol Dweck’s work on praise Hattie and Yates reiterate that praising students at this point for their ability can paradoxically raise self-doubt. (p. 69) But don’t imagine that all gifted students want to be rocket scientists either. In a final word in the chapter they write, “The feedback you offer your students provides the tools they need to be able to perceive the immediate path ahead, and so decide that it is really worth the effort. Since effort is a limited commodity, it cannot be squandered on things doomed to fail, or chasms too wide to bridge.” (p.70)

One Simple Intervention

If you are looking for one thing that could make a difference for your gifted child/student this year, you might want to take a look at Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Carol Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University and her work has been hailed as one of the greatest breakthroughs in how we think about learning. In a nutshell, she explores two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. On her website she asks us to “Think about your intelligence, talents and personality. Are they just fixed or can you develop them?” How you respond to that question can make all the difference.

Now to most of us the answer appears obvious. Of course we must work to develop these things. What is important about Dweck’s work is how we develop and influence the mindsets of children through the use of instruction and praise. When we focus our praise on innate abilities and/or outcomes we can inadvertently develop a fixed mindset. When we focus on effort, we develop a growth mindset. The difference between an underachieving and a successful gifted student might in part involve how we speak to them about their intelligence. “I know you’re smart.. now I want to see what you can do!” According to Dweck’s research, comments like this could do more damage than good. The New York Magazine did an interesting story on it here.

So if intelligence, talent and personality can be developed through a growth mindset, then why would we need a gifted program? The answer to this comes from an understanding of how we organize systems to meet the need of the majority. Education systems organize classrooms based on age as physical and cognitive development tend to follow a certain timeline. But we know that not all students don’t fit that timeline. Just ask my daughter, who in grade six towers over most of her classmates. Her body is on its own timeline and it’s all I can do to keep her fed these days! Cognitive development of gifted students can be on a different timeline as well. Finding ways to keep their minds “fed” so they can continue to develop their intelligence, talents and personality is important work.

There have been years as a teacher where I started students off with the question “Who Am I?” as a way to get to know them and create self-awareness. Perhaps this year my question should be “What am I doing to become the person I hope to be?” Maybe you have another question that might work. If so, please share!