Growing Beyond The Classroom
You’re sitting in your elementary school math class when your teacher asks someone to name what 7x7 is. Your eyes dart to the floor while your brain tries to come up with the answer, but before you do, your teacher calls your name. Now there is an inconvenient sweat on your brow. All eyes are on you. Your head is blank. You say something, but it is not 49. Everybody shakes their head. A couple of people laugh. Even your crush laughs! The world is over. There is just one thought in your head, clear as a bell, “I am not good at math.” And then, for the rest of your academic career, this turns out to be the case.
Now imagine an alternative. You’re sitting in the same class, and yet this time, when the teacher calls on you to answer, your brain briskly submits the answer to your mouth, and you say “49.” Everyone is just stunned. Why does this classroom of kids put such a high premium on inherent math ability? I don’t know. But you soak in their approval, and this time you think, “I am good at math.” And everyone agrees. Your parents are proud, they declare you Einstein the Second, and for most of your academic career, it is a cherished part of your identity that you are good at math.
Both of these scenarios are unhelpful, and though hyperbolic, they happen all the time. They are both examples of children forming what psychologists today refer to as “fixed mindsets,” also known as “entity learners.” Though these examples are opposites (one child views themself as bad at math while the other views themself as inherently gifted at it), they are both about to run into the same problem. At their core, they believe their aptitude for math is a fixed entity. Whichever decision they make will determine how much they’ll engage with the subject. If they decide they’re bad at math, that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if they believe they’re good at it, that will come with its challenges. Because they view their talent as a fixed entity, when they finally come to an equation that causes them difficulty, the students immediately feel that they have reached the limit of their talent. They do not view the skill itself is malleable. If something is too hard, they give up or undergo an existential crisis over whether or not this fact about them was ever really true.
Being an entity learner, or having a fixed mindset, is one of the most limiting traits a student can develop. Yet, it is a permanent fixture in live classrooms. How could it not be? Kids naturally learn a curriculum at different speeds and in different styles. When everyone is together for the same amount of time and given a fixed amount of opportunities to showcase their understanding with each other, when called on, you better get it right! If you don’t, that ship has sailed.
The alternative to a fixed mindset is a “growth mindset,” or an “incremental learner.” Though this may seem a little self-helpy, it’s a very rigorously studied phenomenon in kids. Incremental learners don’t view themselves as inherently gifted, and therefore difficulty poses them no personality crisis. When something is hard, which is often the case, they know it can become less challenging by working at it. Over time, incremental learners soar past fixed learners because they don’t give up. They might feel undeveloped at younger ages, but nearly everyone who becomes a life-long student, who lets their curiosity lead them through their lives and careers, are incremental learners. It is one of the most professionally helpful traits a person can adopt.
Now, what does this all have to do with 8x8?
There is a fixed mindset crisis in our schools. It has many causes, like how we lionize talent and how we admire our children for their inherent aptitude like intelligence over appreciating their hard work and improving abilities. I want to suggest that one part of this problem is that kids have mostly had a live-learning setting to engage with the material. This model convinces kids that they either have what it takes to shine in a given area or don’t.
Remote learning has its challenges. One tremendous benefit of it is that it can accommodate so many different learning styles and speeds. When you have an indefinite amount of time to sit with schoolwork, letting your brain soak it up at its desired pace, without the looming pressure of having to prove yourself right away, you can watch how well your mind can absorb tricky subjects. You can grasp that with time, you can wrestle with anything. You can observe what patterns work best for you and adopt those routines into your life as you grow into adulthood.
Of course, structure and in-person education are fundamental to learning, and they’re not going anywhere. The more we realize remote learning’s potential, the more rigid forms of synchronous education can be broken down, which will result in children increasing their growth capacity.
We’re proud that schools are currently using 8x8 Meet to address these needs. By uploading recorded lectures and having a single communication platform, students will have the most streamlined and user-friendly place to center their learning at their own pace. They use the 8x8 Room as a forum to get together with other students and discuss topics, while 8x8 Team Messaging puts parents and teachers in touch in a secure, private, and flexible way.
Remote-learning will not make sure no one grows up with a limiting self-belief in a given area. But it just might be the way many students start to realize that though they didn’t learn the material the same way as their peers, they’re equally capable of rising to challenges when they have the tools and the time necessary.