Tang Mindset
October 16, 2016

Invitation to Contribute: Share Your Learning Disposition Approaches

Project in Focus
by Jenny Corke

In recent years, there has been a considerable movement in education circles to embrace concepts that support students to develop a deeper understanding of their own learning. Many educators are using and developing strategies, interventions, tactics, and other devices that integrate these skills into their teaching and learning practices, both in and out of the classroom. Noah Rachlin, Tang Fellow and Instructor in History and Social Science, is leading a survey project to collect a range of ideas for how teachers operationalize these concepts, with a particular focus on:

  • Mindset (“I believe it is possible to improve”);
  • Motivation (“I want to improve”);
  • Deliberate practice (“I’m going to work at the upper limits of my present ability to improve.”);
  • Focus (“I’m able to commit to this work over time”)

The goal is to solicit strategies from teachers around the country and then make these strategies accessible to those who wish to share their ideas with one another.

by Noah Rachlin

When I talk about our work with others, I am often asked whether I think a stand-alone curriculum, such as the one we’ve designed and now run with cohorts of students each term, or classroom strategies are more powerful in helping students to cultivate a learning disposition. I genuinely believe that both are important, but I also appreciate the respective strengths of each.

Considering Different Approaches

The “curriculum approach” provides a dedicated time for students to learn about, question, and ultimately understand these concepts and the research behind them. This is a key step toward cultivating student buy-in and self-awareness, but can divorce student understanding of learning disposition from their actual experience in the classroom.

On the other hand, “classroom strategies” hold great value because they seamlessly blend instruction with the cultivation of a learning disposition. They also enable classroom teachers to operationalize these concepts in ways that are specific to their teaching practice.This classroom strategies approach is important because many classroom teachers often already feel as though they don’t have enough time to do everything they would like to do with their students.


Do you have a Learning Disposition strategy that works in your classroom?

Share your ideas so that we can work collaboratively toward better supporting both our students and one another! We will collect learning disposition strategies in a database, which we will share with our contributors. Click this button to complete your form:


Exploring What Works in Class

As a history teacher, class time that I might choose to use for a discussion about learning disposition may take important time away from our history syllabus and the expectations that students, parents, and others might have about what we cover in our classrooms. That tension is even more pronounced for teachers who are preparing their students for a standardized assessment at the end of the year or teachers who need to ensure that their students learn particular content and/or Englishskills so that they can progress to another level in the following year.

However, this concern about time may be misplaced: one of the things that I like most about our classroom strategies is that they often don’t require teachers to do a great deal more than they’re already doing. Instead, they rest on the simple but profound idea that small changes can have an outsized impact. As Chip and Dan Heath note in their book Switch, the scale of the solution need not match the scale of the challenge.

Not only do classroom strategies often rest on small changes or actions, but they’re also already happening in classrooms all across the country. Earlier this year we were fortunate enough to have our Learning Disposition work included in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s winter issue of its Ed. Magazine. HGSE shared the article through its social media outlets, and, amidst the likes, shares, and retweets, something happened that I absolutely loved. In the comments section, a teacher shared one of her own strategies for helping students bounce back from mistakes.

“I have a system of giving students glow in the dark stickers, when they take a risk and are wrong. I tell them that it’s because they are willing to shine bright, even in the dark,” wrote a teacher who shared her learning disposition strategy in response to the Ed. Magazine article.

For me, this was evidence of something that I’ve known since we began this project nearly two years ago. There’s a potential network of educators across the country engaged in this work. Whether as individual teachers, pairs, small groups, grade-level teams, or sometimes an entire school, there are educators who have their own small “tricks-of-the-trade” that they employ to help cultivate the components embedded in learning disposition. Yet, there aren’t enough easily accessible opportunities for teachers to share their own ideas and also find out what others are doing. Our project is designed to address that issue.

Calling Educators: Share Your Strategies and Experiences

Below you will find the “Share Your Ideas” button that will bring you to a secure form in which you can add your own classroom strategies. We invite you to share what works in reinforcing the individual learning disposition components: your strategies, interventions, tactics, and other devices that integrate Learning Disposition into the life of the student. We will organize all of the submissions in a searchable database that can be easily accessed at no charge on the Web. We’ll post an announcement here, and also email all those who submitted content. You will receive a link to the database, so that you will have access to a wide range of classroom strategies that you can incorporate into your plans for the school year.


Please share your ideas so that we can work collaboratively toward better supporting both our students and each other!


Our Learning Disposition work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. You may share, copy, or redistribute the material and remix and transform the material for any purposes. But you need to give appropriate credit to Noah Rachlin and the Tang Institute. For more information, please see: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/.

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