Having a growth mindset means focusing on effort, revision of work, and learning from each situation in order to develop intelligence. But do traditional curriculum design efforts lend themselves to this type of thinking? Usually not. Traditional curriculum is often linear, and students are tested on whether they know something or not. Then we typically move on to a new topic, illustrated in the figure below.
This makes it difficult to find the time to help kids focus on a growth mindset. And it often feels like an extra thing we have to remember to do. There is another way to structure curriculum, though, so that it naturally fosters a growth mindset in students.
Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction designed by H. Lynn Erickson and Lois Lanning puts transferable concepts at the heart of the curriculum so that students are better able to retain facts and unlock complex situations. The curriculum design model can look more like this:
Let’s say we have a unit on U.S. Westward Migration. This is a topic that does not transfer to other situations. But if we use the facts and examples from this topic to understand larger ideas about migration, opportunity and resources, students could explore multiple contexts, adding sophistication to their thinking and understanding. For example, let’s explore the concept of migration in four contexts:
Context 1: We could start with an abstract conceptual question such as, “Why do people migrate?” or “What is the role of resources in migration?” Students would then use their study of the U.S. Westward Migration to answer the questions.
Context 2: Then we could transfer to another situation such as the current migration from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan due to the shrinking of the Aral Sea. It’s similar in many ways to the U.S. Westward Migration, but we encourage students to look for nuances that help to deepen their understanding.
Context 3: Next we could transfer to a different situation such as migration to Colombia from Venezuela. Again, one of the reasons for the migration is a lack of resources, but there is also an undeniable element of politics that will push students’ thinking further. Students will have to engage in far transfer (as opposed to near transfer).
Context 4: Finally, we could analyze the complex situation of Syrian refugees to Europe. Although an incredibly complex situation, students have built their understanding in preparation for tackling it. A linear approach to this topic would probably require an incredible amount of direct instruction from the teacher, but a conceptual approach prepares students to understand it with more independence.
Have students reflect on their deepening understanding of the concept as they explore each context with the journal entry below.
These types of routines naturally lend themselves to fostering growth mindsets as students start to see learning as a process and not the “yes/no” typical of traditional curriculum designs.