http://educationDon't go with the rest of the world, change your mindset to be different
Photographer: kylie De Guia | Source: Unsplash

Psychologist Carol Dweck developed a growth mindset theory in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Today, educators and schools apply Dweck’s theories to how they teach students. It has enormous implications for every aspect of our education and schooling and the potential for our children’s development.  Even more so as we consider how to help support our children in challenging times. We need to focus and help them cope with the achievement gaps resulting from the pandemic.  Redoubling a focus on learners’ thinking and attitudes to their abilities can play a vital role in the classroom culture. Creating a positive outcome of their attainment journey and is a hot topic.

What is a growth mindset?

Dweck’s work focuses on two types of mindset, fixed and growth mindsets, that are not inherent in personality.  Her writing and research are based on decades of research that is continually evolving.

Studies have also demonstrated that when individuals with fixed mindsets fail at something they make excuses to justify the failure. For instance, children with fixed mindsets argue they could have passed the test with more time to prepare. They tend to focus on blaming others or assuming their intelligence has a ceiling.  In situations where they can be the best in class, their need for affirmation and recognition is essential. Getting the best score is often the primary driving force for their motivation. But in environments where they are not so confident, they will not have the persistence to see a task through. Many learners worry that the outcome will expose their deficiencies in front of their friends or peers. Reactions to fear of failure can result in challenging behaviour, a lack of willingness to acknowledge errors.

Conversely, people with a growth mindset think that they can develop their qualities, skills and abilities through dedication and hard work.   They will embrace difficult questions, be more likely to embrace collaboration, be open to feedback about improvements and willing to step out of their comfort zone.

Students who view challenges and failures as opportunities to improve learning and skills may be more likely to learn faster when they continuously learn from failure. Failing a series of assessments is still recognised as a crucial part of learning and improving.

If someone has a fixed mindset, they think their intelligence is an inborn quality that never changes. For example, “I can’t learn maths”.

Young people who have a growth mindset see making a mistake as a series of learning opportunities. Appreciating the challenge helps with motivation, the development of persevere over time, and staying power to overcome obstacles.

Can you change mindsets?

Yes – people shift mindset, but they can also switch from a growth to a fixed mindset depending on the situation and context! Children should be introduced to the idea of effort, hard work and process praise at a young age. The process of not giving up, being open to feedback, challenging one’s beliefs, and continually developing your talents is critical to learning.

Stanford University researchers recently found that students can develop a growth mindset by understanding the brain’s capacity to grow when they practice, learn new strategies, and ask for it when it’s needed. Researchers also discovered that we could inspire students’ growth mindset by changing how we interact with them.

It may prove hard to explain to children, but they’ll learn why effort, the right strategies, and sound advice are essential because they help students develop their intelligence. By asking learners to share their knowledge with other students experiencing difficulties, they internalise the message themselves. At TeachMindset, we advocate peer mentoring to create a challenge, setting goals, and hold pupils and staff to account! Culture change needs to be planned at every school life level, including staff, pupils and parents, and these approaches should underpin teaching and learning and systems for school improvement.

Why Foster a Growth Mindset?

Understanding the nature of our intelligence can act as aa real leveller in educational attainment and the life chances of children and young people, enabling them to have personal and academic success in their lives. Embracing challenge and being willing to learn from failure positively impacts our self-esteem. Such beliefs can help develop resilience and bounce back from failure.  Having the qualities of curiosity and persistence means you are more likely to persist and overcome setbacks by trying new strategies.  You will keep developing your basic abilities and building on your skills and seek even more challenging goals.

Most people have a series of common misconceptions that having a growth mindset means having an open-minded approach or being optimistic – its most definitely not about being positive all the time! Although research tells us that having an upbeat attitude and developing optimistic thinking can help us, in fact, for our resilience, this is a critical feature.

Carol Dweck asserts that everyone has a mixture of both types of mindset. But developing our mindset can play a significant role in the motivation of all of us.

Another myth about mindset is that it’s the same as effort. Knowing the difference will help you praise your child appropriately and enable you to guide their progress and make sure they do not waste time focusing on activities that don’t help.

The role of praise: advice for parents

Praise of a child’s natural talent – for example, “You are good at maths” – can lead to a fixed mindset. It can sound like saying maths is just a natural ability that your child has. Praising your child’s achievement with a task by saying, “You worked hard” is more helpful. Whilst you might think you are reassuring to your child’s self-esteem but is not enough to promote a growth mindset. If kids do not have proper strategies, they might work hard and not improve. We have tremendous power through our words.  Don’t worry if they make a mistake, as long as they are willing to keep trying and learn from them.

It is crucial to praise how they approached the challenge and not how hard they tried or how well they did.  Please encourage them to have a sense of achievement from consistently working hard. This also works with adults too! Modelling a willingness to learn and being open to feedback to challenge your views is equally important.   Also, encourage your child to set learning goals rather than goals about performance or the result.

Questions such as what did you learn today? What did you find challenging? What would you do differently next time? These can all be useful prompts in encouraging your child to reflect. Goals that encourage learning habits should be encouraged! e.g. a streak of working on their homework consistently for five days through the week. Also, modelling your own learning goals for your development in your work or life is an excellent way of instilling this habit in your child.

Growth Mindset Teaching

Teachers who try to design challenging, meaningful learning tasks may find that their students respond differently depending on their intelligence assumptions. Students with growth mindsets tend to react positively to challenges, whereas students with a fixed mindset resist challenges.

Teachers can prepare students to benefit from meaningful work if they foster a growth-mindset culture in the classroom. One way to promote such a culture is through providing the right kinds of praise and encouragement. Praise students’ efforts, strategies, choices, and more than tell them when they succeed that they are smart. Instil in learners the message that we can not have success without effort.  Encourage them to set realistic and suitably challenging goals, and make sure your feedback is specific, kind and helpful is crucial. If you want learners to develop their resilience, they need to bounce back from failure. Perseverance, grit, and determination can be developed and help learners accept robust criticism to improve.

Mindset in the clasroom

Also, educators believe that fast learning is not always the best progress and that students who take longer to learn sometimes do better. Students can learn about figures who were considered slow learners in childhood. Albert Einstein said he pondered the same questions year after year.

Teachers can motivate students by letting them write about something they used to struggle with but are now very good at, and then ask them to share their experiences with others. This can help give learners the power to shape the classroom culture using their knowledge of a growth mindset learner. Relationships are vital to this culture change, as is the deep sense of collaboration and trust in every school aspect.

Another strategy is for students to write a letter to a struggling student 6to to avoid labels and offer advice on improvement strategies. Sharing stories can be hugely powerful and inspiring to encourage others.

Teachers should have a plan for embedding mindset work in the classroom, teaching at the heart of educational recovery. How can you use peer feedback, peer learning and mindset challenges, and your assessments to ensure that all learners are receiving sufficient challenge? How can you use praise in class so that it’s a safe space to get a question wrong? What more can you do to tap into the passion of your learners? If we don’t, we will pay the price in the form of disengaged learners who not achieve their true potential in the future.

Remember we can help your school with our Growth Mindset programmes and pupil peer mentoring. 

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