Creating a Growth Mindset

CPC8g4EW8AAdsh3Fostering a growth mindset is critical for all of our students in Worthington.  On Monday 9.21 we posted a blog on our sister site Absolute Excellence titled “Why a Growth Mindset?”  This post is intended to build upon that post.

We want all of our students to experience and believe that “hard work pays off” because we know it’s true.  As we work through the transition to new standards and work toward our Future Ready Skills we can’t expect students will find this easy.  This provides us an opportunity to cultivate a growth mindset as we intentionally design lessons and experiences to help students build their skills.

Growth mindset has been a topic of much research and work in recent years.  There are many online resources parents can reference.  Carol Dweck, a leading Stanford psychology professor, has written about the effect praise has on a student’s mindset and how we might unknowingly be reinforcing a fixed mindset with our students.

Dweck says that the impact of praise is closely linked to how students view their intellectual ability, and they tend to hold one of two beliefs.

  1.  Intelligence is a “fixed trait”.  Students with this fixed mindset become excessively concerned with how smart they are.  They seek tasks that will prove their intelligence and avoid ones that might not.  The desire to learn can take a back seat.  Students who think this way tend to:
  • Care a lot about whether people think they are smart
  • Avoid learning challenges where they might make mistakes
  • Try to hide mistakes rather than trying to correct them
  • Believe that if they have the ability, they shouldn’t have to try hard
  • Believe that needing to apply a lot of effort means they are dumb
  • Not deal well with frustration and setbacks, sometimes giving up or cheating
  1.  Intelligence can be improved! When students believe they can develop their intelligence, they focus on doing just that.  Not worrying about how smart they will appear, they take on challenges and stick to them.  They don’t necessarily believe that anyone can become an Einstein but they do understand that even Einstein had to put in years of effort.  Students with a growth mindset tend to:
  • Care about and invest in themselves in learning
  • Believe that effort is a positive thing, causing their intelligence to grow
  • Try hard in the face of frustration and failure
  • Look for new learning strategies

The way students think about learning has major implications on how and what they actually learn.  We’ve all met students we knew were promising, only to have their performance not match up with what we know they are capable.

While we can’t shape the years of experiences that have led to the development of a growth or fixed mindset, there are some things that teachers and parents can do to set students on the path of developing a growth mindset.

Here are some ideas:

  • Talk about adopting a growth mindset in class or at home–tell stories about former students who thought they would never learn the subject but who, with persistence and effort, ended up being successful in the class.
  • Talk about what is will take to effectively learn the course material–make explicit your expectations for the amount of time students should be putting in and the types of activities they should be engaging in outside of class.
  • Emphasize that “fast” learning, or getting assignments or exams done quickly, is not the same as “deep” learning.  Often students who take longer to “get it” learn the material more deeply.
  • Break difficult or complex tasks down into their component parts so that students will see for themselves their own skills building up over time.
  • Think about setting achievable micro-goals to encourage students’ consistent, incremental progress.  Small wins repeated over time can lead to a growth mindset (and increased confidence!).
  • When students succeed, praise their efforts and strategies as opposed to their intelligence.  Praise for intelligence can actually undermine motivation and performance, as children praised for intelligence increasingly view intelligence as a fixed trait; in the face of failure, these children will display less task persistence, less task enjoyment, and overall worse performance.

Where to you fall on the fixed vs. growth mindset?

The following resources may help you in building a growth mindset:

Growth Mindset Graphic

Building Your Intelligence Graphic

Cultivating a Growth Mindset at Home

Growth Mindset Resources

Growth Mindset TEDx talk:

Fostering a Growth Mindset in Struggling Students talk:

You Can Learn Anything

The Growth Mindset Playbook

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