Britt Gow recently read Carol Dweck's Mindset – the new psychology of success and John Geake's The Brain at School – educational neuroscience in the classroom. Here, she elaborates on why she thinks they are worthwhile to a teacher's professional learning.
Image: Britt Gow.
These two books are polar opposites in terms of readability – Mindset is easy to read, popular psychology, while The Brain at School is a more serious scientific analysis of educational neuroscience and how it may relate to classroom practice.
While both books hold valuable information for teachers, my preference is the second.
Mindset – the new psychology of success by Carol Dweck
Although this book is easy to read and I agree wholeheartedly with the message, I found it a bit light-on in terms of practical strategies to employ in the classroom.
Professor Dweck provides a multitude of examples in which a growth mindset (willingness to put in effort) leads to success and a fixed mindset (one which believes that natural talent doesn't need practice) leads to failure. She uses anecdotes from business, sports and political worlds that demonstrate how people who have relied on their natural ability, without effort and practice, eventually stumble and don't achieve their goals. In contrast, those individuals that have had to work hard, and show resilience and persistence, eventually prevail and achieve their goals.
Professor Dweck recommends teaching students explicitly about the growth mindset and the fixed mindset and shares indicators that show the group you might belong to. She explains that teaching a growth mindset creates ‘motivation and productivity' in business, education and sports.
There are dozens of reader's reactions with positive reviews of this book, claiming it is ‘incredible' and ‘life-changing'. I think most educators would recognise that consistent effort over time is a better indicator of success than a few instances of high achievement. The longer I teach, the more I value effort over aptitude, and attitude over achievement.
The brain at school – educational neuroscience in the classroom by John Geake
This is a comprehensive analysis of past and current neurological research that may (or may not) provide policy makers and educators with evidence that impacts on students in a classroom setting.
Geake makes it very clear that some people have been very loose in applying current brain research to educational settings in an effort to improve outcomes, without considering the proper scientific method. In short, he exposes some ‘neuro-myths', such as left-brain and right-brain thinkers, the effectiveness of 'Brain Gym' exercises and Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, as not supported by scientific research. He also makes several suggestions about what the brain research actually may indicate and the research that needs to be done in the future.
I was particularly interested in the chapter on Numeracy and Mathematics; Geake has written and contributed to several articles about the mathematical brain in both primary and gifted and talented students.
Geake recommends the online mathematics club NRICH, run by a team of mathematics educators in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. Each week and month, mathematical problems are posted, with varying degrees of difficulty and are designed to have multiple solutions or can be solved using a variety of strategies. I have used many of the resources from NRICH and found them to be a valuable inclusion in middle years maths learning.
He also recommends LOGO Turtle (a simple computer programming language) as a great way for students to visualise geometric problems. This software provides opportunities for students to learn about geometry, Cartesian coordinates and how to create and follow step-by-step directions.
Geake's comprehensive analysis of how neuroscience research can inform education, as well as what we cannot infer from such research, makes this book the most useful, in my opinion.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.
Geake, J. (2009). The Brain At School: Educational Neuroscience In The Classroom: Educational Neuroscience in the Classroom. McGraw-Hill International.