I developed this short class component in response to reading Saundra Yancy McGuire’s book, “Teach Students How to Learn.” One chapter focuses on the importance of mindset, a concept developed by Carole Dweck. Students with a growth mindset believe that they can learn how to learn challenging material, while students with fixed mindsets believe that ability is innate and unchangeable. Students who can cultivate a growth mindset are more successful, and recent work has shown that students enrolled in courses taught by faculty with a growth mindset also achieve at a higher level. Dr. McGuire’s book presents four strategies to foster a growth mindset: 1. Inspire belief in your students that they can learn the material, 2. Remind students that they have overcome other challenges in the past, 3. Provide the scientific basis of the growth mindset, and 4. Scaffold assignments to build in level of difficulty. In my general chemistry course, I address strategy #1 by detailing the successes of previous students.
As a result of seeing and hearing this presentation, a student should be able to:
- Emphasize that a low score on the first exam in the course does not eliminate the possibility of success in the course and beyond.
Dr. McGuire recommends delaying interventions until after the class has had its first assessment. In my general chemistry course, the first exam is usually about four weeks into the semester. When we hand back the exams, we also require students to complete an exam reflection assignment. Approximately the day after exams are handed back, I show the students this table of previous students’ scores. In the fall of 2019, I showed them scores from students who had enrolled in the same general chemistry course four years earlier. I organize the powerpoint so that at first, only the exam 1 scores are visible. (and I have chosen students who showed improvement from exam 1 and beyond.) Then, I reveal the second exam scores and final grades in the course. As a final point, I emphasize that all of the students whose scores are shown in my table graduated in the past few months with a STEM degree. I try not to belabor the point, but I want them to know that one exam score does not define them and that they can learn strategies to help them learn chemistry.
I suppose I could try to see how many students improved from the first exam to the second, or how representative the first exam scores are of the students’ final scores in the course. In fact, I did run a Pearson correlation function on excel comparing the midterm exams to the final score in the course. The first midterm was correlated by a factor of 0.67.
Informally, one student told me in spring 2020 that “I’m going to be on your table next year!” I just checked the student’s scores, and after scoring a 66 on the first exam, they indeed scored in the 90’s on the second two exams and earned a B+ in the course. The first exam can certainly be a wakeup call for students to change their learning practices.