Growth Mindset: The Importance of Schema
When we think about the critical importance of growth mindset in supporting students' persistence in the face of academic challenge, it is tempting to focus heavily on effective effort, i.e., teaching strategies to students they can use to make progress. Another very important factor to consider, however, is schema. Schema describes a pattern of thought or behavior that organizes categories of information, skills, and the relationships among them. In short, the how we learn and eventually know how to do something such as riding a bike. Yet the schema itself can make it really difficult to learn how to do something differently; it can prevent us from seeing different possibilities and can inhibit the transfer of what we do know in the service of learning and doing something quite different. We want our students today to do more than simply learn skills and know important information; we want them to demonstrate the understanding of how to apply and transfer what they know to new situations. The important distinction here is that knowledge does not equal understanding.
In the video linked below, Dustin talks about how he knows how to ride a bike, so making one change really shouldn't change the skills needed. However, redesigning the handlebars to go backwards changes it just enough so that he no longer understands how to apply the skills he knows and has used in the past to be successful. Watch how the schema he has so deeply internalized continually foils his efforts at mastering this newly configured bicycle. And when his young son joins him in the experiment, we have a wonderful example of neural plasticity.