Fostering a Growth Mindset in the Arts Classroom

Guest post by Louise Campbell, Artist in Schools

What strategies can be used in the arts classroom to shift focus from ‘getting it right’ to exploring potential? Educators often refer to this as ‘fostering a growth mindset’. As an Artist in Schools, my first task in a music classroom is to use the skills students have developed with their teachers in a way that is surprising. I do this by setting up games. Games have rules, giving everyone clear guidelines that govern how and what to play, making it easy for everyone to participate, in addition to being fun.

The following is one of my favourite game pieces for use in the music classroom. It is a great start to a creative process, since long tones are a fundamental skill practiced in most music classrooms. The game starts out in a way that sounds familiar, and quickly evolves in surprising directions. Due to the process inherent in the game, the students can take the piece in any number of directions, leading them to more unfamiliar sounds and ways of playing.

Sound and silence By Louise Campbell



Instrumentation: for 4+ musicians playing pitched instruments


There are two choices of how to play:

  • a long tone( crescendo and decrescendo)
  • a silence

Long tones can be any pitch in any register on the instrument.

The long tones and silences can overlap in any way, shifting textures and timbres as different instruments come in and drop out at various times.

The next stage of this game is to consider pitch. Here are some variations, following the same rules as above. Musicians can play:

  1. An E in any octave
  2. Any note of a specific chord, such as C Major or E minor minor 7
  3. Any note of specific scale, such as pentatonic, or D Major
  4. Any note from a defined collection of notes, such as C, C#, D, F#
  5. Any note of the chromatic scale

Each of these variations sounds very different, depending on how students listen and respond to each other. The following excerpt demonstrates one version of this game as played by the Lindsay Place Music Étude students during a Culture in Schools workshop:


Sound and Silence,conducted by Louise Campbell. Co-composed, performed and recorded by Lindsay Place Music Etude students.


This is a fairly unusual sound for most students, and helps to create an atmosphere in which curiosity is at the forefront. In the event that a student understands the activity through a fixed mindset, this generally becomes evident when they point out a perceived ‘mistake’.  Hyper-focusing on mistakes can be quite detrimental to the creative process, as it can be quite limiting to what students are willing to try.

Let’s have a look (and listen) at one way in which a mistake may be identified, the self-talk that surrounds it and the way this situation was turned into creative potential.


The following audio track is a sketch I composed, played and recorded for clarinet and loop station (N.B. Loop stations repeat exactly what you play, over and over. So if you make a mistake…)

Sketch for Knitting Lessons, for clarinet and loop station by Louise Campbell. In the words of a wise woman who taught me both music and knitting, ‘If you make a mistake, do it twice. Then people think you did it on purpose. They won’t be any the wiser if you don’t tell them!’


The recording session is going swimmingly until:

ME TO MYSELF: Bah. I made a mistake.

(listens to 1:55 for a few loops and remembers knitting advice: if you make a mistake, do it twice)

Hmmm, actually that’s not bad, kind of foreshadows what I’m gonna do later.

(continues process for section, building new loop)

Now to work in that mistake…

(overdubs several loops 2:35-2:50)

… yeah, cool, that works…

Whoops! I didn’t mean that.

(listens to new ‘mistake’ at 2:50)

Actually that’s pretty cool. I wonder if I can use that…

(follows process to end)


In this case, my initial reaction to making a ‘mistake’ was frustration, as can be the case with a fixed mindset. I wanted the piece to come out the way I planned it. However, on remembering the advice to make a mistake purposeful, I was able to hear the potential in the ‘mistake’, and work it into the piece. In fact, the two ‘mistakes’ featured in this piece became ‘design features’ that are now integral to the piece. If I had stopped when I made the first ‘mistake’, I would never have found out where it would lead me. Re-contextualizing the ‘mistake’ as an unexpected event with potential allowed me to listen in a way that flipped a fixed mindset to one of growth.

This is only one example of the self-talk involved in a creative process, and resembles many discussions that come up with students in the art classroom. This was how I re-contextualized a perceived mistake for myself; listening to students and their self-talk shows the best way to re-contextualize perceived mistakes and help them see and hear the potential in unexpected events.

When facilitating creativity in the arts classroom, establishing an atmosphere of curiosity and exploration is the first step to fostering a growth mindset, and lays the foundation for contextualization of ‘mistakes’ as unexpected events that provide potential for the new and unexpected. Fostering a growth mindset makes for surprising discoveries for everyone, and keeps fun and play at the center of learning, creativity and making art.



Louise Campbell is an Artist in Schools. You can read her other guest posts:

Cell Phones in the Classroom: Music education in the BYOD era
Music, Memory and Making the Most of Earworms

Shoreline Project connects the local and global

Screenshot from the Shoreline Project
Screenshot from the Shoreline Project

I grew up in Alberta and part of my story of becoming Québécois includes the year I spent on the Îles de la Madeleine working as a Language Monitor at the Polyvalente des Îles. In an instant, I went from prairies to beaches. My fascination with the Québec coast continued through Montreal neighborhoods like Verdun and through towns like New Richmond, Gaspé and communities on the Lower North Shore of Québec.  I would always find myself braced against the cold wind looking at fishing boats, wondering about how life and work on the shore was changing with the decline of cod and the rise of crab and lobster.

Last month I was talking to Elizabeth Miller, a professor at Concordia University’s Communication Studies department who recently developed an educational resource called the Shoreline Project, a bilingual interactive resource that profiles how educators, artists, city planners, scientists, and youth organizations from nine countries are confronting coastal challenges with resilience and imagination.

It got me reflecting about life on the coast in Quebec.  I wondered about the opportunities young people have in school to ask questions about their history, the geography and how the local economy is linked to the global economy past and present. Not surprisingly, I’m not the only person thinking about these things.

Last spring, I was sent a link to a bilingual blog students in the Littoral School Board developed called Life on the Coast – La vie sur la Basse-Côte which is telling stories about life on the Lower North Shore of Quebec. After reading these posts, I wondered what these youth have in common with other youth in communities on the shore of the St Laurent or even coastal communities across the globe.

A Call to Action:

On Wednesday, October 24th, Elizabeth and I are hosting an interactive webinar that includes a tour of the Shoreline project site and educator guide.  This will also be an opportunity for teachers, community partners and youth interested in collaborating on a provincial project to meet and explore connections around a common coastal history.  This is in addition to being connected to global campaigns that raise awareness around the effect of climate change on communities situated on the coast.

You can get a glimpse of the Shoreline Project through a short documentary trailer:

The Shore Line – trailer from ShoreLine on Vimeo.


A Conversation with Elizabeth Miller

Last week, I had a conversation with Elizabeth to talk about whether this is an example of a transdisciplinary project teachers, students and community groups in Quebec might be able to integrate into English and French classrooms.

Below is part of our conversation.

Can you tell me about why you developed the Shoreline Project?

For this project I wanted to create a free online resource that would help teachers (like myself) showcase how ordinary people are responding to global warming and environmental concerns with collaborative solutions and imagination. I think of the project as a “futurist” textbook in that it uses videos to tell stories and answer questions like:

How can we foster the necessary skills for collaboration and community care in our schools?

How do we balance the urgent need to act with the need to build resilient, sustainable classrooms and communities?

Many communities across Quebec exist on the shore of the St Laurent River and the Gulf of St Laurent.   What are some ways young people in these communities can engage in telling the stories of their own shoreline?   

Many teachers have been using the website as a prompt to get their own students involved in visiting and observing local rivers and shorelines.

Water and coastlines connect us naturally and are great prompts to get young people involved in protecting the resources around us. So for example I teach a video production class of 24 students and I sent out eight teams of 3 to document changes along the Montreal coast. Then together we made a collaborative video. Sustainability is largely about relations and I would love to convene a group of teachers along the St. Laurent River who are invested in protecting this vital resource!

In your opinion, what are some of the ways a teacher can use the online resources?

The website has 43 unique videos from nine countries. Each video is two to five minutes and is connected to a set of guiding questions and follow up resources. Teachers can use our 2 to 5 minute short videos to prompt discussions or assignments around issues like ethics or sustainable architecture or whatever theme they are working on.  For example, I have had teachers assign a few videos and then facilitate exercises on ethics, on community based engagement, on place-based storytelling and more! We also have one-pagers to help teachers who are doing classes on local governance, indigenous worldviews, migration, or even speculative futures.

In an ideal world, how will teachers and students use the shoreline project resources?

Ideally teachers will use this project to build environmental and media literacy. The goal is to inspire students and serve as a prompt to connect them to the valuable natural resources around them and to see how they can get involved in making a difference.

To participate in the Shoreline Project Webinar -register here.

Wednesday, October 24th


If you have any questions, contact Ben at

Screenshot from the Shoreline Project
Screenshot from the Shoreline Project

Leveraging Fortnite in Education: What can educators learn from games?

Fortnite has quickly become all consuming for many of our youngsters in 2018. They play for hours on end, discuss complex strategies at lunch tables, worship the ritualized character “dances”, will do whatever chores you ask for V bucks, they’ll even rush through their homework so they can join in on the next Battle Royal. What has this video game done to our children? One word: engagement! Fortnite is a 45 million user cooperative survival game which has three elements: scavenging, building and combat. This type of game is described as a ‘sandbox’ game, because gameplay is nonlinear and open-ended, allowing gamers to roam around the virtual world and interact with it and the other gamers that are online. The game design is a survival of the fittest – 100 online players glide into a virtual world and try to survive, by shooting, building and collaborating with each other until the last gamer is standing, winning nothing more than bragging rights.

My burning question has always been… what makes this game such a phenomenon amongst our children? Can we use similar game mechanics in Fortnite to engage our students in class?

It is clear that kids who play Fortnite willingly engage in a complex and many-layered activity for long periods of time. A research group from Stanford pointed out that players are continually practicing  “teamwork, collaboration, strategic thinking, spatial understanding and imagination—and when they lose, they’re highly motivated to try again for a better result.” Wouldn’t that be an amazing learner to have in our classrooms? How do I get one?

The designers of Fortnite are very aware of cognitive structures which make this kind of game so addictive. Its’ mantra, (similarly to online gambling games) “Lose by a little, win by a lot,” is its’ guiding force.  Max Albert explains in How Fortnite Became the Most Addicting Game In History:

  1. If a player loses the game by a little, they can examine the state of the game and note that they were “just one or two moves away from winning! I’ll win next time for sure!”

  2. If a player wins the game by a lot, they can examine the state of the game and note that they “are AMAZING at the game. I’m just going to knock out a few more levels while I’m on this hot streak.”

Have a look at how Candy Crash uses similar design and mechanics as Fortnite to keep players engaged and playing for hours.

Similar to a gambling game at your local brasserie, Fortnite makes it easy to keep trying after failure, the phenomenon known as Failing Forward, discussed by Avi Spector here, and Catherine Boisvert here. In a nutshell, here are the features that make Fortnite so motivating:

  1. Small wins keep motivating players – Failing Forward
  2. The comic-like aesthetic removes any sense of reality, mitigating the violent content
  3. The simplicity of play allows for incremental successes
  4. Players experience a profound sense of belonging to the game’s community.

Kids don’t talk on the phone to each other, they talk on the Fortnite platform. Also, because the virtual world is relatively small it forces encounters between players more rapidly, thus more action. The turn around between kills is super fast, so there is never much waiting. The immediacy keeps the engagement high, and makes for getting back up after failing painless.

Fortnite is a gaming MASTERPIECE that belongs next to the Mona Lisa in the halls of history.

Perhaps the biggest and most popular feature is the ability for players to collaborate and strategize with other gamers while playing in real time. It is not uncommon to hear players helping and supporting each other during a game, saying things like, “watch out, he’s right under you,” or “I have a great shot gun for you, come see me, you can have it” even “You lure him this way and I’ll wait inside the barn – you get him from the outside and I’ll attack him from the inside.” This collaboration is not limited to the game itself, players share Youtube videos, study game-play tactics, discuss strategies, create user materials all to make the playing community better.

Looking at the engagement loop from a gaming viewpoint, it clearly shows “the motor of gamification” on a continuum. This means that ones’ improvement never ends, learning how to win never ends, and giving up is never a question. How can we as educators leverage the intrinsic motivation found in games like Fortnite? I brainstormed and came up with the following key elements:

  1. Provide opportunities for lots of student choice & voice
  2. Value finding different solutions to the same or similar problems
  3. Allow for lots of try-overs
  4. Embed ongoing collaboration in learning
  5. Establish a system for immediate feedback (or as quick as is possible in a school setting)
  6. Start small with quick activities
  7. Help students develop a variety of strategies when “stuck,”
  8. Make sure students can see their progress

Leveraging game mechanics in your classroom is an effective way to get more engagement in your class. If students are engaged they will be more likely to realize learning is an ongoing event in the real world and the virtual Fortnite world to boot.



Fortnite: Schools ‘could Learn Lessons from Gaming’  by Bethan Lewis  –

Stanford Experts Provide Guidance For How Parents and Teachers Can Navigate the Fortnite Craze by Julia James -

How ‘Fortnite’ Hooks Your Kid, And Why Experts Say You May Not Need To Worry by Justin Kaplan –

Parenting the Fortnite Addict by Lisa Damour –