The May issue of Choral Journal is now available online! The Rehearsal Break column features an article written by Matthew Potterton titled “Inspiring a Growth Mind-Set in the Choral Classroom.” Below is an excerpt of the article, and you can read it in its entirety in the May 2019 issue! Go to acda.org/choraljournal and click “Search Archives.”
Choose May 2019 from the dropdown menu.
Last year I read a book that completely changed my thinking about my students, my program, and even my personal life. As I was preparing for the upcoming year and reflecting on the previous one, I realized how much I had been influenced by the ground-breaking research in the book Mindset: A New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck.
I became convinced that her thought-provoking discoveries had great relevance to our music programs and could both strengthen our teaching and enhance our relationships with students. In her book, as well as in her TED Talk presentation, Dweck discusses two ways people approach learning.
She labels these two attitudes fixed mind-set and growth mind-set. She describes students with a fixed mind-set as those who believe that talent and intelligence are inherent and that hard work or effort have little impact on success. Fixed mind-set individuals are prone to believing they were born a cut above the rest, or, conversely, that they have no talent and nothing will fix that fact. Students with a growth mind-set, however, believe that their own effort will influence their achievement. Regardless of their inherent skills or talent, they believe that they can influence outcomes through practice and hard work.
I recently had a student (whom we’ll call John) who came to our university with a great deal of natural talent. In fact, we gave him a large scholarship and accepted him as a music major. John came from a rural school where he often got the solo and his teachers and parents enjoyed telling others how talented he was. I felt fortunate to have him as my voice student as he was the best tenor I had heard in some time. However, it quickly became clear that he was not progressing. He came into each lesson sounding about the same as at the previous one. As I gave him more challenging literature, he had excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t do it. Rarely did he admit that he just didn’t work at it. The excuse was usually that someone or something else had caused his lack of progress.
John had gotten through high school because of his innate capabilities, but when he got to college and was challenged, he froze. He didn’t know what to do. Teachers were upset with his work ethic and wrote him off as a failure. He knew he was talented but he was failing school and was afraid to work to try to fix the issue. Instead, he decided that music just wasn’t for him and he ended up dropping out of school all together.
I had another student whom I will call Anna. Anna was moderately talented. We gave her a scholarship but not as much as John’s. Anna came from a strong music program and she had to work very hard to learn her music. If she didn’t get the solo that she auditioned for, she worked hard the next time with the goal of earning that honor.
Anna was also one of my voice students. She came in every week with her assignment learned and I could hear some growth in her technique. While not as naturally gifted as John, she made steady progress. If something was hard for Anna, she took the steps needed to overcome the challenge.
Read the rest of this article (and more!) in the May issue of Choral Journal, available online at acda.org.