Education is full of buzzwords, and one popular trend these days is developing a growth mindset. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford professor Carol Dweck explains her research surrounding growth mindsets and fixed mindsets. A person who has a growth mindset believes that skills and intelligence can be developed, while someone with a fixed mindset believes that we are born with a certain level of intelligence and skills which remains the same throughout our lives.
One of the best ways educators can prepare their students for future challenges, in and out of the classroom, is to help them cultivate a growth mindset. Here’s how to help your students turn “I can’t” into “I will.”
ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO SET GOALS FOR IMPROVEMENT
When students set learning goals, they have the opportunity to see that everyone has room for improvement. Show students that even you have goals you are working towards. This enables students to see that everyone, even adults, strive to be better. The process of setting a goal, tracking own’s progress, and reflecting on the outcome also allows students to see the connection between hard work and success.
FOCUS YOUR PRAISE ON EFFORT
When you’re working on developing a growth mindset in your students, it’s best to focus your praise and feedback on their efforts, rather than their intelligence. For example, avoid saying things like “You’re so smart!” and instead say “Great job for sticking with that problem even though it was hard!” or “I’m so proud of you for trying a different solution when the first one didn’t work!” This places the emphasis on the student’s perseverance throughout the learning process rather than their talents or abilities.
TEACH STUDENTS THAT MISTAKES ARE ESSENTIAL TO LEARNING
Helping our students understand that mistakes lead to new learning is a key element in developing a growth mindset. Create a culture in your classroom where mistakes are celebrated, especially when students take the time to learn from them. Offer students the opportunity to correct their mistakes after receiving feedback on an assignment, and then allow them to turn the assignment in to be graded again. This process gives students the chance to turn their mistakes into learning opportunities, and also rewards their efforts by allowing them to earn a better grade after making the corrections.
HARNESS THE POWER OF “YET”
Encourage students to add the word “yet” to statements and watch the wonderful transformation in their perception of learning. When students say “I don’t know how to do this problem” or “I don’t know what this word means” have them repeat the statements with “yet” at the end: “I don’t know how to do this problem YET.” “I don’t know what this word means YET.” When students see that they can learn new things and gain skills in new areas, they will increase their self-confidence and be more likely to take on a challenge with enthusiasm in the future.
PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR RISK-TAKING AND OVERCOMING CHALLENGES
It’s important to provide students opportunities to solve problems and encourage them to take risks in the classroom. Promote the idea that struggle is good and it’s ok if learning is hard—we only get better if we are pushed outsise our comfort zones and that includes learning algebra and how to read. When students are shy about participating in class and they finally raise their hand to answer a question, give immense amounts of positive feedback, especially if they get it wrong. “I am so proud of you for taking a risk to answer that question even if you weren’t sure of the answer. Now that you have had the opportunity to correct your learning, you will be less likely to get that question wrong in the future!” When students hear that, they will be more willing to take risks in the future and less afraid of being wrong.
MODEL THE MINDSET
As with anything in learning, it’s important to model what having a growth mindset looks like. When you face an obstacle, be honest with your students about the issue and how you work through it. Consider creating a bulletin board in your classroom devoted to the language of a growth mindset and phrases you want your students to use as they discuss their learning. Use this language yourself in front of your students and explicitly have them practice. Before you know it, it will become second nature for all of you.
Here are some helpful links if you’d like to learn more about cultivating a growth mindset with your students: