• Derek Stoppels

The Trifecta of Learning

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

In my last post I wrote about what I thought it was going to take to be an effective educator in the 21st century. In this post I want to talk about what it is going to take to be an effective learner in the 21st century. I like things in three, so here they are:


1) Grit
2) Strong sense of self-agency
3) Growth Mindset

I like reading...a lot. So three books that I read and think are the answer for learners are:

- Grit by Angela Duckworth

- The Power of Agency by Paul Napper and Anthony Rao

- Growth Mindset by Carol S. Dweck


Grit, an incredible read, is all about the power of passion and perseverance. In my practice, I attempt to give my students as many opportunities to make choices as possible. In junior science, there are four very distinct units and so I (will) give four separate projects. That being said, while I am the one who designs the project, I try to give my students a choice in how they complete the project. See my example below if you're interested. My hope is that by giving my students some "voice and choice", they will have a more vested interest in what they are working on and find some passion for what they are learning. The project is designed to cover the curriculum expectations and make it (hopefully) relevant to the learner.


While I haven't actually read the book "The Power of Agency", I listened to "The Art of Manliness" podcast and the guest was Paul Napper and I really liked what he had to say. Rates of anxiety are up in teenagers and part of that is because people experience such low rates of agency. They don't get a lot of opportunities to make decisions and to live with the consequences of those decisions. In my experience, I have noticed that young people do not really feel like they can affect and impact the world around them. There are a lot of young people who seem to have a lot of things done for them, and they have parents that get them out of a lot of uncomfortable situations. I try to communicate to my students that it is okay for them to be uncomfortable and that my classroom is a safe place to try things and to make mistakes. It is a safe space to exercise and develop their own sense of agency.


The idea of having a growth mindset, while not necessarily a new concept is one that is not often spoken about in the education circles in which I travel. This, to me, is unfortunate. Project Based Learning provides SO many opportunities to develop a growth mindset. Students have the opportunities to make mistakes, and to grow from them. They are able to prove to themselves that they possess the ability to grow and learn and improve. I find that traditional teaching doesn't give my students the opportunity to see for themselves what they are capable of. When I stand at the front of the class giving lecture after lecture, and killing them by slideshows, they are constantly and incessantly being told ("taught") about things that they don't know instead of developing skills to improve and grow and prove to themselves "hey, actually, I can do this, and I do know these things!"


Moving forward I'm going to be working on creating and implementing more meaningful assessment practices that will help me provide more opportunities to help my students increase their Grit Scores, increase their sense of self-agency and developing a growth mindset. I find the traditional methods of teaching and testing, for me, are not giving my students enough credit. I want them to not only gather information, or content, and then recall that content for the test only to forget it as soon as the test is over. I want to try to find ways to give them the opportunity to gather information but then to use that information in a way that is meaningful to them. It's like George Couros shared in one of his blog posts, it's "beyond finding information".


The fun part of all of this, is I think all three of these things ultimately help develop critical thinking and creativity as well. The projects that I give my students are all designed to help improve those skills as well as the three that I previously mentioned. Having grit and persevering when faced with challenges while pursuing a passion is going to lead my students to creative solutions to the problems to which they are presented in my class, but also in life. Having a strong sense of agency is going to help my students look at situations and think critically to determine what they can control and what they can't control in those situations and to decide what they want to do about things that they can, in fact, control. Having a growth mindset is going to allow my students to try creative and innovative things to find solutions. It will allow them to re-evaluate their choices and decisions after seeing the consequences and give them the courage and ability to try again.


Gr. 10 Biology Unit Project

What is the Effect of Lifestyle on the Human Systems


Students are asked to find five lifestyle choices and learn about and discuss how they affect the respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems. They get to choose the lifestyle choices. And the hope is that they choose something that they are passionate about or affected by.


Grit by Angela Duckworth

Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck

The Power of Agency by Drs Paul Napper and Anthony Rao

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