Mindset and Memorization?

I have been asked lately about how to teach a growth mindset to learners who understand the act of learning to be limited to memorization.  How do those learners see intelligence as malleable  when they are defining learning as rote memorization?

Again, I will return to the definition of learning that Katz and Dack use “Any relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a direct result of experience.” (Intentional Interruptions, 2012, p. 14)  I don’t know about you, but much of what I memorized all through school (and believe me there was a lot…most of which I can now simply Google), I have long forgotten – thus, I don’t believe that I actually learned it.  However, when I try to align the definition of growth mindset (from Mary Cay Ricci, 2013, “a belief system that suggests that one’s intelligence can be grown or developed with persistence, effort, and a focus on learning” pg 3) with the notion that in some cases we are asking students to memorize (in Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy Remembering is the lowest level of thinking), I wonder if growth mindset can actually exist within the notion of remembering…  my question is, if persisting, effort and a focus on learning contribute to a growth mindset, can students grow their brains by memorizing?

Memorization requires students to persist and to put forth effort (to exercise grit), however if there is actually no application of that content, then I suggest that there is no real learning happening, and thus, if learning is absent, then students are simply in compliance mode.  Their understanding of learning is reduced to the notion that they can “learn” if they can memorize.  Time and effort is spent on this piece.  Don’t misunderstand, there is a place for memorization in learning as students need to have some content ideas to move to the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, but when learning is measured by memorization and tests only, I would argue that there is no opportunity for a growth mindset to develop.

Are you inspired to engage in growth mindset work?  Here are some resources to consider:

larryferlazzo.edublogs.org  has an extensive collection of mindset resources. Have a look!

Dave recently passed on the following as well:








Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools  by Mary Cay Ricci


Stay tuned for next week when we will unpack the following graphic….

The Educator and Growth Mindset

8 responses

  1. Some educators in our PD session on Friday asked a question and made some comments that have me thinking. The discussion centred around how we move students who have fixed mindsets to growth mindsets.

    During the course of my work this week I was in a classroom and observed students engaged in an activity where they were creating an ideal society. These two learning opportunities are tied because in one the educator was asking how we change a students trajectory on mindset and in another I observed students whose thoughts were far more conservative than I and the teacher anticipated.

    Some questions immediately came to mind and I am grappling with possible solutions. Which mindset is more challenging to change the adult or the student? What happens when one has changed and the other has not? What happens if the adult changes before the student? How do we move students from ‘playing the game of school’ to learning for the joy of learning? How do we change our parents mindsets? What happens if students display a growth mindset in some subjects and not in others?

    When confronted with math I ‘memorized’ to get by when in secondary school and ‘learned’ in order to teach to others. My internal voice has often said why didn’t somebody show me this way when I was a student? Why did concepts all of sudden make perfect sense to me as adult but did not resonate with the younger me as a student? Could it be a combination of prior knowledge and a growth mindset is required to move the learning forward? How do we strike that balance with both educators and students?


    1. After Friday’s session, I too found myself with more questions than answers. As Erica has indicated which mindset is more challenging to change the adult or the student? To be able to assist in changing the mindset of students I believe we have to understand how we as adults a) moved from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset or b) adopted a growth mindset …. why do some have fixed mindset and why do some gravitate to a growth mindset? As a leader how do I continuously model a growth mindset? How do I make this modelling explicit? As I reflect on the activity from Friday, I am more likely to have a growth mindset if I have a safe and welcoming environment, which allows me to be me, I will not hesitate to ask questions … it’s all about CONDITIONS for LEARNING!


  2. The intent of Friday’s PD was to shake up our teacher’s thinking about the instruction of mathematics. We wanted to provide them with opportunities to lead them to reflect on their current practice and engage in ways of teaching mathematics that move beyond how they themselves learned math. I hope you will take a minute to ask each of your staff what they are doing differently as a results of the learning they took away from Friday’s PD. I also ask that you continue to press their learning and not allow teachers to fall back into the old routine. If the PD is truly effective it needs to permanently change behaviour rather than be a flash in the pan.

    In my opening address for Friday’s PD I asked: “How can we, as educators, help students overcome the long term negative beliefs about their abilities in mathematics?” Just as we need strategic interventions to get our students back on track in math we need to begin with mindset interventions for these students.


  3. I too believe that memorization has its place in particular learning. Some growth mindeset individuals will understand that memorization might be one of the many tools/strategies for dealing with a particular problem. We are always trying to build our students resources and toolkit for solving problems with the most appropriate tool. A growth mindset individual will ask “what is the best way to learn this?”. If memorization is the answer that comes up most frequently for our learners, we need to look at our planning and decide if our learning goals are google proof. Does our planning create scenarios for thinking or answering?


    1. love the notion of “learning goals being google proof!!”


  4. At the conclusion of the PD day on Friday we were given an opportunity to meet with our staff to embed some of the days learnings into our SIP. My staff were eager to include a learning goial about creating a culture of learners with a growth mind set. We struggled to put this to print and practice because I think we were struggling with our own mindset. Erica is correct when she talks about changing the mindset of the adults. We have a mix of new and experienced teachers and we teach like we were taught and I think memorization played a big role in our learning experiences. We also talked about how our students developed their fixed mindsets. Who told them they were not good at something? We are hoping that it wasn’t us, so we looked home. Did their parents? Did their friends? So thank you Nikki for all of the great resources in your blog this week because we are committed to working on developing a growth mindset in our students. At our first student led conference we are going to take the time to share information with our parents about how what we are doing to try to change the mindset of the students in our school. We are thinking right now about the ‘not yet’ prompt and how we can incorporate that into our feedback.


  5. I also agree about the importance of some memorization in the right place at the right time. It is needed sometimes to solve more complex problems, but strictly memorization has no place in education now. I like to think about what Walter Gretzky always told his young son, Wayne, “Go where the puck is going, not where it’s been.” How appropriate is that statement with education and mindsets? Let’s get going where we have to and not stay stuck in the old ways of teaching.

    As far as Erica’s question to what mindset is harder to change, an adult or child. A child is not born with a mindset, it is learned (both at home and school). Children are not afraid to try things on the computer. If it doesn’t work try something else; maybe because of computers and gaming, a growth mindset is being developed in our children.

    I wrote a bit about mindset last week and did not mention that it is one thing to talk about the mindset and the way we talk about, but we must ensure we have the supports in place to develop the mindset so the students have multiple ways to solve or develop their problem/challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have just started reading “Making out Thinking Visible” and in the first few pages it has already challenged my thinking about how we think and the notion of understanding. What I find so thought provoking is that the notion of a growth mindset allows for us to challenge traditional teaching/learning. Does it really make sense. Is it grounded in what is best for the learner. It makes me think of how complex the human brain is and that something learned may have a different sequence of steps for different learners. We don’t all learn the same way and that was highlighted Friday with our presentation on the ld learner. A most complex learner and forcing us to know that we need to support their learning needs and have a growth mindset that it is going to look different for them. Much to ponder!


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