3 Great Ideas for Encouraging Growth Mindset in the Writing Process

I am so thrilled to share this post with all of you. Because it’s the first one, I’ll offer full disclosure: 1 of the great ideas is from my wife, and 1 is from yours truly. The topic:

What are you doing in the classroom to facilitate growth mindset in writing?


So, without further ado, here we go!


– From Allison, an English teacher in New Jersey:

Most students inevitably make the mistake of regarding writing as a product rather than a process, and therefore they often produce poorly edited work and then either ignore or bristle at the feedback given to their product. The most obvious solution to this problem is the use of drafting and revision in any essay to move students toward a growth mindset. Still, thoughtful revision is hard to come by.

To combat intellectual laziness and product-oriented thinking in student writing, one of the more aggressive techniques I have employed recently is the use of “guerrilla grading.” This takes two forms:
1. It can be prohibitively laborious to grade multiple drafts of an essay, especially if you believe that writing more is one way to make students write better. So, I attack an undeclared position.  I have students turn in a full draft of an essay. Then, I grade a single paragraph in great detail, providing thorough feedback on what weaknesses are present and how to address those weaknesses.  I do not read the rest of the essay in this draft. Students do not know what paragraph I will assess – it may vary from one essay to the next – but they are responsible for applying the feedback from this one paragraph to the rest of the essay. For instance, if a student receives feedback that his quotations are long or unincorporated in paragraph two, he must make improvements in this skill throughout the essay.
2. I also use guerrilla rubrics.  I have three rubrics that I use throughout the year and present all three on day one of class. There is an in-class essay rubric, a take-home essay rubric, and a revision rubric. All in-class essays use the same rubric, but final drafts of take-home rubrics may be graded with either of the other two rubrics, and I do not announce which one will be used in advance.  The revision rubric is dramatically different than the take-home rubric, allotting only 40% of points to the argument and style while 60% of points are awarded for thoroughness and responsiveness of revision. A student who has not thoughtfully revised will not score well, and a student who has will. The grade is a reflection of growth rather than product. (See below)
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– From Shari (follow @Mrs_Krapels or read her blog at The Story Project), an English teacher in New Jersey:


As an English teacher, one of the toughest things to teach kids about writing is that it’s a process – students tend to get an essay prompt, let it sit in their bags for about a week, realize that the due date is coming up, experience a few minutes of panic, sit down, write, and submit. Then we, as teachers, grade those papers, cover them in comments, and students look at their rubrics (or just their scores), and say, “Wow, I can’t believe she gave me a ___.” The letter or number that fills in that blank is what dictates the tone of the “wow,” but we undergo the same process day after day, year after year; lather, rinse, repeat.

    Fostering growth mindset in writing is absolutely essential if we’re going to get students to break that cycle. There are a whole slew of ways that we can do that as teachers, but the great idea that I want to share with you today is about what we can do before students hit the “submit” button to help students gain ownership of their writing, and to engage in writing as a process.

    Whenever my students have a paper due, we immediately go into our writing routine, beginning with brainstorming ideas for how to address the prompt provided. We go back through our notes on the text, review the quotations that we’ve pulled out for discussion, and revisit our “trouble spots” to ensure complete comprehension. Then, students are given about a week to go home and begin working.

Here’s where it starts getting good: I spend three full class periods (we have 45 minute periods, and all of our classes meet everyday) conferencing with students, and it’s the content of those conferences that really drives their learning. Students have to come to conferences with three specific questions about their writing. I give them examples of what good questions look like (“I’m having trouble with my topic sentences; what can I do to make this one more argumentative?”) as well as what bad questions look like (“Can you read my introduction?”). The questions they bring to me become the driver of our conversations – students direct their learning by assessing their own strengths and weaknesses. This process is, of course, scaffolded – students keep a log sheet in their writing portfolios where they track their strengths, weaknesses, and plans for improvement based on feedback from each essay. While I’m conferencing with writers, students are also sitting in pods – each one directed by one or two “student experts,” and each one dedicated to a different writing topic. Experts are chosen by a combination of their input and mine – students volunteer to act as experts in particular areas, I compare their suggestions with my observations, and then each student is named an expert on one day in one area. Once our conferences are over, students have a whole list of suggestions for how to revise their work before hitting submit, and writing has gone from a one and done assessment, to a multi-step process.

I surveyed my students at the end of this school year, and the value of conferencing and the three question protocol bear out in the data. Nearly 56% of students surveyed said that conferences were essential in preparing to write. Not only that, but they noticed improvement in their work; nearly 17% felt their writing improved significantly, while an additional 47% felt they improved measurably. In the narrative section of our survey, I asked my students to name one thing that I should absolutely continue to do with my students next year. Many mentioned our conferences, including one student who wrote, “The one-on-one talks at the beginning of an essay. Talking with you one-on-one really helps and your advice that is specific to me is extremely helpful.” When I asked them what I could do to make the class even better, a number of students said that they’d like to have even more writing conferences.

So, how does all of this add up to fostering growth mindset? By asking students to engage with the three question protocol, I insist on student ownership of learning. They track their progress on their log, and their feedback is targeted at their questions. By closing the gap between my assessment of their work and their assessment of their work, we can shift from “getting” grades to “earning” them. The log allows them to see their growth, and when the next paper comes along, they know exactly where to focus their efforts. This great idea is still in its infancy, and while I’m happy with the results this year, I know that I’ll continue to tweak the process – after all, if we’re going to insist on growth mindset for our students, we must model it for them as well.


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– And the last one is from me (follow @MrKrapels)


When a veteran, superstar teacher in my department announced his retirement last year, I was shocked and sad (even though at the same time I was crazy happy for him). Before I could adjust to those feelings, however, I had to come to grips with the fact that I would be the one taking over the Asian literature course that was in many ways, his baby.  Needless to say, I buckled down, studied, and as we finish up our year, I think I did an okay job considering that I knew nothing a year ago. Another thing that really helped me was that this retired teacher shared all of his materials with me, which was invaluable. While taking a deep dive through his writing resources, I came across something on his web page that opened my eyes:


Every student has her own unique set of problems or challenges when it comes to writing, and these are best addressed one-to-one with the English teacher.  Most of the time I find that the problem lies in the fact that the student just doesn’t fully understand what is expected of him or her.




Progress in writing, as in all human endeavors, is not steady and constant, but goes through rises, dips, and plateaus.  All such stages are normal; you should not be disheartened if you don’t steadily improve.  It will come with persistence.


These words were huge for me. Like most “revelations,” none of what he was telling his students was revolutionary, but for the first time I saw someone verbalizing what many students (and I) miss in the writing process. That it is a process. So, my great idea that I want to share is how I’ve used Google docs to give meaningful, immediate feedback to my students before they’ve submitted that final draft.
I am by no means the innovator of this idea. In fact, I’ve received a lot of information and help on how to do this from other teachers who are doing the same thing.  Kate Baker has a blog that details lots of great ways to use Google and other tech to organize your class. You can also listen to a feature on the BAM Radio Network where she talks about flipping her English class to cut down on paper grading.
Another educator who has shown me how to use these tools and provide instant feedback is Catlin Tucker, specifically in her post “Synchronous Editing with Google Docs to Teach the Common Core”. So my, great idea is certainly not my own, but definitely inspired by these fine teachers.
Pretty much, you have students begin drafting a writing assignment in class in a Google doc, and then you ask each student to share their work with you. This gives me the opportunity to be “in the document” with the students, while they think, plan, and write. This way, when they make mistakes, or if they can add something more to a promising idea, I am able to jump in and course correct in the moment. It’s akin to having writing conferences with your students, but instead of conferencing one-on-one, you conference with everyone at the same time.
The result? Students are now thinking about their writing during the writing process.


I have done this with my journalism students a lot in the past two years, mostly because I have had such small numbers. This made it easy to get to every student. It wasn’t until this year that it clicked–I can do this in all of my classes. Using Google Docs to collaborate and provide instant feedback has been so great for my students that I have seen much more commitment to the writing process. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for my journalism students to ask, “Can we have a roundtable in Google Docs?” This is music to this English teacher’s ears.


2 thoughts on “3 Great Ideas for Encouraging Growth Mindset in the Writing Process

  1. Thanks so much for the reblog! I love the post on your blog about encouraging students to make change in the world. As a journalism teacher, I am always thinking of ways our students can make an impact on their community.


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