There is a lot of talk about growth mindset in educational circles these days. You have probably read about the experiment where a teacher was told she was getting all the brightest students in one class, and when she treated the class that way, they made more progress than the other classes. Students who naturally excel did so, and those who struggled excelled as well because they were told that they could. As teachers, this should not surprise us. We know that children’s brains are malleable, and that applies both to their learning and to their self-esteem.
We must believe in all of our students, and help them to understand that they CAN learn. Certainly, we have some students with exceptional capabilities and some that struggle more; students think and respond and learn in different ways. But one thing is for sure: All our students can make progress from where they are when they enter our classroom at the start of the year. We want our students to be motivated to learn, to embrace challenges, and to believe that they are capable of succeeding. We want our students to have problem-solving strategies. We want them to seek critical feedback in order to improve, and to persevere through setbacks and failures.
Carol Dweck, who is known for her research on growth mindset, states that the most important thing she has learned is that the most motivated and resilient students are NOT those who think they were born smart. Rather, it is the students who believe in their ability to grow through their own effort and their own learning.
The way we talk to students about their learning and whether or not they are “smart” has a significant impact on how they approach their learning.
So what are some ways we might encourage a growth mindset in our classes?
- Praise students for their hard work, their use of strategies, and their concentration, rather than the swiftness of their success or the idea that they “are smart”.
- Vet your posters and displays. Does the wording motivate students to challenge themselves and deal with difficulty? Or do they give canned, empty praise and compliments?
- Explore mindfulness in your classroom. Mindful practices can help students feel empowered, and they promote self-compassion. Techniques like mindful breathing or having a personal mantra can help students overcome frustration, anxiety, and negative self-talk.
- Avoid ranking students or displaying grades/ranks/points. (I’m looking at you, Class Dojo!) Tools and displays that compare students, although they are meant to motivate, always run the risk of demotivating and embarrassing students who see how many people are ahead of them.
- Provide students with ways to reframe their thoughts, and ways to reflect on their learning experiences. There are some ready-to-use resources in my Growth Mindset Pack.
- Teach students explicitly about how their brains work and how they learn. Once students understand the scientific fact that our brains form new connections as we learn, they will be more likely to try it out!
Want some resources to get you started quickly? Check out this Growth Mindset pack, which includes:
- more tips on developing growth mindset,
- growth mindset affirmations and a set of affirmation cards to help you in encouraging students as well as explicitly teaching them how to approach learning in a better way
- reflective questions that encourage a growth mindset, and prompting cards for reflecting both during and after an activity,
- a set of high-res posters with quotes that motivate students to embrace challenge and critical feedback, and
- a student certificate for recognizing students who have moved from a fixed to a growth mindset.
Using these tips and being more aware of how I talk about learning and mistakes in my classroom have made a big difference in my students’ attitudes toward learning! By developing students’ belief in their ability to grow, we are giving every student the tools and support they need to succeed. I hope you will give it a try!