The Power of “Not Yet”, Learning Outcomes & Assessment

Professor Carol Dweck talks about a powerful message:  “not yet”  Her studies demonstrate that when students understand that learning occurs on a continuum and they simply have “not yet” mastered a concept, they develop a “growth mindset” that leads to significant learning gains.

Professor Dweck notes that students with a “growth mind set” engage with the material and develop a passion for learning. They want to see how far they can push themselves. They realize they can improve and that they just have to figure out how to do so. This growth mindset actually engages neurons – a physiological process which paves the way to significant learning gains.

In contrast, she notes that students with a “fixed mindset” seek external validation of their self-worth via a “good grade”.  A fixed mindset causes students to run from failure rather than look at mistakes and failure as opportunities to learn. Students with a fixed mindset literally activate many fewer neurons than those with a growth mindset.

Professor Dweck emphasizes that a growth mindset involves understanding that you will be able to master a problem but you may need to work really hard, try new strategies and seek input from others when you get stuck – – all critical components of good lawyering.

Learning outcomes present the opportunity to create a growth mindset in ourselves and in our students. Learning outcomes remind us that our job is to facilitate student growth along the learning continuum.  They are a tool to help students learn how to think deeply about the processes and strategies necessary to tackle new material and challenges throughout their careers. They help students move from “not yet” to “I got this step, bring on a new challenge”.

The cycle of learning outcomes and assessment puts the growth mindset into practice. As educators, we identify the outcomes, gather and interpret evidence about achievement of the outcomes, and we use the evidence to modify our teaching to further improve student learning.  For both student and teacher, learning outcomes present an opportunity for intellectual engagement with the material as we strategize how to improve.

The growth mindset can also be incorporated into our formative assessments. These assessments allow students to see if they have mastered the material “yet” or if they need to work harder and  try different approaches.  Law professors can  use formative assessments to reward the effort and perseverance that lead to mastery of the material and in doing so, we can reinforce the concept of “you don’t have this yet, but you have the ability to figure it out.”

For example, in her doctrinal courses, Professor Sandra Simpson periodically posts a five question multiple choice quiz on TWEN. Each correct and incorrect multiple choice answer comes with an explanation.   She awards points toward the final grade when a student gets all five answers right. The kicker: a student can take the quiz as many times as he or she wants in order to get all five correct answers. This kind of assessment shifts the focus from the need to immediately get an “A” to the process of developing ways to identify the information and strategies needed to master the material in order to get an “A”.  It encourages the growth mindset.

Accreditation standards now require us to identify and measure learning outcomes and engage in formative assessments. When we do so, it is useful to keep in mind the power of “not yet” and  growth mindset principles.

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