Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mindset and Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Carol Dweck's Mindset is a book frequently pushed in the "gifted and talented" teacher circles, or the "advanced academics". The teachers who work with the "gifted" kids tend to read Mindset in their teachers as readers groups since it addresses how we praise smart kids. It applies to all kids, of course, but it is easiest to see where it fits with the smartest students- the best and the brightest kids who often get told how smart they are, because, well, according to the bell curve they are off the charts.

As I read it this time, however, I found myself thinking about how much it applied to the students I work with this year- students with intellectual disabilities.

First and foremost it reminds us that intelligence is not set in stone. Hard work, dedication, and determination can change anyone's "intelligence". By teaching our students to work hard and giving them strategies to use when they fail we can help them to achieve more than their "intellectual disability" label implies for them. The idea behind the growth mindset reminds us why we set high standards- because we cannot predict how any one person in our classrooms will do on any one task. 

The second reminder is that it shows us the importance of teaching strategies. Our children need to have strategies in place for when they fail. It will happen a lot in their lifetime, and they need to be able to push up their sleeves and believe that they can overcome the failure. Knowing that they can do hard things is essential for their success in life. I am frequently asking my students, "Was it hard?" and then when they tell me yes, saying, "I know! Isn't it great that we can do hard things!" 

Teaching them to be problem solvers is also essential. Encouraging them to look at a situation and decide how to get help is what will serve them the most in life. Doing things for them, allowing them to be helpless, always having a chair appear out of nowhere when they need to sit down- those are things that will never help our students become self advocates. We have to directly teach our students how to succeed- how to look around and determine what they need, how to pick themselves up when they make a mistake, and how to embrace hard tasks.

If we teach our students determination there is little that they will not be able to do.

When I was a general education teacher I centered my entire year around the question "what is a problem solver". It was amazing to watch the growth I saw in the children's ability to problem solve throughout the year. I need to figure out a way to make that happen again with this population of students.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is so true. I know several people with Down Syndrome who are excellent problem solvers. There's a bit of a downside when dealing with parents of SPED kids, though. They tend to "hear" this concept as meaning that their kids can achieve as much as non-SPED kids can if they just try hard enough (or if SPED professionals just come up with the right intervention or teaching strategies). It is a tricky balance to encourage parents to encourage and expect a lot from their kids with intellectual disabilities, while not implying that this disability can be made to disappear other than very, very rarely.