Research In Action

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In my most recent graduate coursework, I’ve been applying the principles of action research, as put forth by Mertler (2017), to my innovation plan and my professional learning plan. To complement those proposals, and to add to the body of research related to the creative process and the growth mindset, I have developed an action research plan, which I have laid out below, as well as in Google Doc form.

The research plan grew out of an outline and literature review which are linked below.

Action Research Design Outline

Literature Review

 

Action Research Topic

My innovation plan grew out of two related beliefs: one, that students would benefit greatly from developing their growth mindset thinking, and two, that teachers could better help them in this process if the teachers’ own professional learning experiences were more closely aligned to the learning environments they were helping create for their students. As a teacher with two decades of experience in secondary school music, I have seen firsthand the detrimental effects of the fixed-mindset, product-oriented thinking that much of our public education system is geared toward, and I have experienced the well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective professional development that so many teachers have spent so many hours on. I wanted to develop a way to address both of those problems; namely, to help teachers cultivate a growth mindset in their students by developing it in themselves, in a learning environment comparable to the one they are expected, as 21st-century teachers, to help create for their own students. I also hoped to address these issues in a way that would encourage both students and teachers to exercise creativity and creative thinking, skills that are rapidly gaining recognition as vital components of education in the digital age.

Purpose of Study

What we know as the creative process–create something, share it, receive feedback, make revisions based on that feedback, share again, receive more feedback, revise, and repeat until the work is satisfactory–is analogous to, and dependent upon, growth mindset thinking. Creators who see feedback on their work as an attack on their skill or talent, rather than an opportunity to grow, are unlikely to improve their work or mature as creators; they are more likely to dismiss the feedback, attribute criticism to factors beyond their own skills, and either stagnate in their creative development or abandon their artistic efforts altogether. 

As discussed later in this research plan (and in the accompanying literature review), there has been a good deal of research suggesting that helping learners to develop and maintain a growth mindset can help increase these learners’ creative thinking skills. The purpose of this particular research plan is to investigate whether the process is also effective in reverse: does experience and training in the creative process help learners develop a growth mindset overall? If this is the case, it could have significant implications for many academic areas. Research has already suggested that growth mindset thinking contributes to increased academic achievement, including in areas such as science and math that aren’t always considered “creative” disciplines. If learning about the creative process increases growth mindset thinking, which then proves beneficial over a range of subjects, perhaps this could prove to be a particularly engaging way to benefit learners over their entire learning spectrum, with the added benefit of bolstering the creative thinking skills that have become a hallmark of educational expectations. 

Fundamental Research Question

The fundamental research question of this plan is, “To what extent does teacher training in the creation and revision of personally significant creative works affect the development of a growth mindset in those teachers, and in those teachers’ students?” This question addresses two areas of interest. The first is the effect of training in the creative process on learners’ mindsets, both in teachers and in students. The second is the impact of teacher mindset on the student learning experience.

Research Design and Methods

The research design is mixed-method; quantitative data on teachers’ and students’ pre- and post-observational growth mindset will be paired with qualitative data on the teachers’ experiences during creative training, the teachers’ methods of adapting their learning experiences for their own students, and the students’ experiences during this implementation process. The quantitative data will be used to establish in clear terms whether there is any correlation between the study of the creative process and learners’ growth mindset thinking. The qualitative data will be examined to help identify any possible reasons behind any discovered correlation (or lack thereof.)

Data Collected and Measurement Instruments

Quantitative data. Before beginning professional learning activities in the creative process, participating teachers will complete the Dweck Mindset Instrument, or DMI (Dweck, 1999), a Likert scale survey designed to assess their growth mindset. An equal number of non-participating teachers, in as similar academic disciplines to the participating teachers as is feasible, will take the same survey to serve as a control group. At the conclusion of this first PL component, these groups will retake these surveys to identify any changes in the teachers’ growth mindset thinking.

In the implementation component of the PL program, participating teachers adapt the activities from their PL experience into their own classrooms. Before beginning this component, these teachers will administer the DMI assessment to participating students. Teachers in the control group will do likewise with their students. All of these students will take post-implementation surveys as well.

Teachers’ and students’ scores on the DMI survey will be analyzed to determine the strength of any correlation between participation in creative feedback and revision activities and a change in growth mindset.

Qualitative data. Teachers taking part in the PL program will complete two narrative reflections. In the first, participants will describe their own experiences with the PL activities:

In the second reflection, teachers will explain how they transferred their experiences into their own classrooms:

These reflections are a vital part of the data pool; since participating teachers will be bringing their own PL experiences and personal teaching experience to the implementation process, and doing so in a broad spectrum of subject areas, it is expected that each implementation will be distinct. The more information that can be collected about each individual implementation process, the better the understanding of the impact will be.

When the implementation component of the PL program is complete, participating teachers will have their students complete a narrative reflection on their experiences with the creative process activities:

Teachers’ and students’ post-observational reflections will be subjected to inductive analysis to identify any possible patterns in participants’ experience with creative process implementation and activities, and what relationship these patterns might have to changes in growth mindset.

Impact of the Literature Review 

In reviewing the literature connected to this research topic, I encountered both some interesting findings and some intriguing gaps in the research. More detailed descriptions of these are available in my literature review, but this is a brief summary of what I found (and didn’t find), and how it shaped my research plan.

While the evidence isn’t conclusive, there is a strong body of research suggesting that growth mindset thinking contributes to greater academic achievement, at least among K-12 students–there is some question as to how much of an impact the growth mindset has at the college level. (Even this discrepancy leads to interesting research possibilities: is there a determinable slope or tipping point beyond which growth mindset thinking loses its efficacy? Or is this only true of certain academic subject areas? Some of the data from this research may help point the way for future investigation of these questions.)

There is also a good deal of data on the positive correlation between growth mindset thinking and creative thinking: students with training in developing the growth mindset tend to display a greater degree of divergent thinking, which is considered a reliable measure of creative thinking ability. This led me to ask two questions: One, if a growth mindset fosters creative thinking, is the reverse true? Second, would learning about creative thinking and the creative process be a more engaging way of helping students build a growth mindset in themselves than learning directly about the growth mindset? I began to see creative learning as a type of project-based learning for growth mindset development.

In addition to the research I encountered connecting growth mindset, creativity, and academic achievement, I also came across interesting findings dealing with the impact of teachers’ mindsets on students. Again, more detailed information is available in the literature review, but a good deal of the data indicates that we don’t yet have a solid grasp of how a teacher’s philosophy about the malleability of intelligence affects the learning experience of that teacher’s students–in fact, some of the findings seem counterintuitive. For example, some researchers find that teachers with a growth mindset give less feedback than teachers with a more fixed mindset; this would seem to be less helpful than one would expect, although fixed-mindset teachers were also found to give more feedback aimed at providing comfort rather than encouraging growth, so questions remain. The hope is that data from my research will help illuminate this area.

Timeline

Implementing the plan. The professional learning plan connected with this research is slated to begin at the start of the 2019-20 school year. Participating teachers will take part in learning activities designed to explore the creative process, relate the process to the growth mindset, and collaboratively determine the best way to implement what they have learned in their own classrooms. This stage of the program will conclude in October 2019, coinciding with the end of the first 9-week school grading term. The implementation stage will begin in November 2019 and conclude in February 2020, just after the end of the first semester.

Collection & analysis of data. Data will be collected and analyzed in four stages:

Stage 1: Preliminary quantitative data on teachers’ mindset will be collected from both participating teachers and control group teachers at the beginning of the PL program in August 2019. (See Appendix A.)

Stage 2: Qualitative data, in the form of narrative reflection on the PL activities, will be collected from participating teachers at the end of this first stage of the program, in October 2019. (See Appendix B). Quantitative data, namely the reassessment of teacher mindset, will also be collected at this time. Both the mindset assessment data from stages 1 and 2 and the narrative reflections from stage 2 will be analyzed to determine what correlation, if any, exists between study of the creative process and measured levels of growth mindset thinking among participating teachers, and to isolate any patterns that may exist in the narrative reflections relating to the results of the quantitative data analysis.

Stage 3: Quantitative data on growth mindset will be collected from students (both of participating teachers and control group teachers) at the outset of the teacher implementation stage in November 2019. (See Appendix A; the teacher and student versions of the mindset assessments are identical.)

Stage 4: Qualitative data, in the form of students’ narrative reflection on the PL activities (Appendix C) and teachers’ narrative reflection on the implementation process (Appendix D), will be collected at the end of this stage of the program, in February 2020. Similar to stage 2, student mindset assessment data from stages 3 and 4 and the student narrative reflections from stage 4 will be analyzed to determine if any relationship can be found between the study of the creative process and the presence of growth mindset thinking among participating students, and to discover if any patterns exist in the student narrative reflections relating to the results of the analysis of student quantitative data. In addition, teachers’ narrative reflections on the implementation stage of the program will be analyzed to determine if any correlations may be found with the results of student data analysis.

As laid out in the timeline of my professional learning plan, as one cohort of teachers is beginning the implementation phase of the program, another will be starting the program at the creative learning activities phase, which includes a similar process and timeline for data collection and analysis. The first cohort will serve as peer mentors to the later cohort as they enter the implementation phase of the program, and the cycle will continue with subsequent groups.

Developing the action plan, and sharing and communicating results. The goal of the innovation plan and professional learning plan associated with this research is to increase growth mindset thinking among both teachers and students. To that end, both the quantitative and qualitative data will be reviewed to identify any instructional activities or implementation strategies that may correlate with notable increases in growth mindset among participating learners (teachers, students, or both). The data will also be reviewed to determine if there are additional areas that merit further study (for example, the question of a “tipping point” in growth mindset efficacy referenced earlier). All data and findings will be shared directly with participating teachers as part of the conclusion of the implementation phase of the program in February 2020. In addition, participating teachers will share any findings of use toward accomplishing the overall goal of increasing growth mindset thinking with teachers participating in later cohorts of the professional learning program, as members of the first PL cohort transition into the role of mentors to subsequent participants. More details on the scheduling of these later cohorts and the mentoring process can be found in the full explanation of the professional learning program. The first year’s research findings will also be shared with the school administration team and the full school faculty in June 2020 at the end of the school year. Depending on the research results and what further study is merited, the results may also be submitted for publication.

Reflecting on the process. Reflection on the research process will be ongoing, much like the professional learning program itself. As with any action research plan (and with any creative project), the intention is to evaluate educational practices, use the acquired information to revise and refine those practices, and then repeat the process in hopes of doing the most effective work. I believe that the structure of my professional learning plan is uniquely suited to this reflection: not only do teachers get to carry out action research on their own teaching, they also get to share what they’ve learned directly with their colleagues as those colleagues are on their own action research journey. As more and more teachers from a wider range of learning environments undertake this program, I fully expect to be in a constant state of exploration and revision, discovering new questions to be asked about the relationship between creative thinking and different educational situations. As our educational system begins to move away from the normative, institutional model of the past and toward a more individual learner-centered approach, I believe the deeper dives that each round of research invites will lead to a better understanding of how students can create the best possible learning environment for themselves.


REFERENCE LIST

Dweck, C. (1999). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia, PA: The Psychology Press.

Mertler, C. (2017). Action research: Improving schools and empowering educators (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

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About the author

I teach guitar, technology-assisted music, and music theory at James River High School in Chesterfield County, VA. I hold a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Richmond, and a Master of Education degree with a focus on Digital Learning and Leading from Lamar University. I believe that every person has the need, the desire, the ability, and the right to learn, and that as educators we must meet our students wherever they are, and help bring them to where they want and deserve to be.