After sixteen years teaching high school English, I left the classroom to follow a dream and move with my family to a rural ecovillage. Since last February I have become an entrepreneur, I have been homeschooling my own kids, and I have also started teaching a homeschool co-op class with three other students. Having left behind everything that I knew, I am learning new skills and attempting new challenges daily—which might explain why I have been so fascinated with growth mindset!
When I first learned about growth mindset, I felt like I had found the answer to why some students were so easy to teach and some were so difficult. Students who were eager to take on new challenges, who relished feedback, who weren’t afraid to make mistakes or even fail—all of those students had growth mindsets. Students who didn’t want to try anything challenging, who focused on their scores or grades without thinking about what they were learning, who seemed unmotivated or never wanted to try anything new—all of those students had fixed mindsets.
Of course, most students have fixed mindsets some of the time and growth mindsets some of the time. The trick is to get them to have a growth mindset about more areas of their lives more often.
But how do you instill a growth mindset in your students? And how do you help them to maintain that attitude throughout the year?
I have read and researched and read some more. These are the six most important steps to instilling a growth mindset in your students.
Start off by teaching your students about the brain science.
This might seem like an unnecessary step—one that you might skip to save a little time. But in her studies, Carol Dweck has shown that it is an integral part of changing people’s attitudes when they have a fixed mindset about something. Students need to understand that there are different parts of the brain, that they control different areas of our lives, and that when we take on challenges and learn from our mistakes, we are constantly growing our brains. Spending some class time on activities and discussion about how the brain works is an integral part of a growth mindset unit.
Give them challenging work.
If students understand the brain science but are never given an opportunity to stretch, they won’t grow their brains either. They need to do work that makes them uncomfortable, that isn’t always easy, and that they don’t have all figured out.
Allow them to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
It’s hard to watch kids fail—what if they get so frustrated that they give up altogether? But once kids understand that mistakes are just as important as correct answers when we are trying to grow our brains, they will no longer be afraid to fail.
Give them space to figure out their own strategies.
One common misperception about growth mindset is that it is just about effort—keep trying and you’ll get there eventually. Instead, what we all need to do is to try new methods or strategies when the old ones are no longer working. If students only have one prescribed way of solving a problem, they won’t gain the confidence that comes from figuring out how to get over a hurdle all by themselves. So show them a few ways to do what they need to do, and then step back and let them try them on their own. Or even better, give them space to come up with the path all on their own.
Praise them in the right way.
This piece is also tricky. I know how easy it is to be amazed by everything that kids do—it seems natural to call them smart or gifted or talented or wonderful. But if we praise them for being something, they don’t have a chance to become anything else. In her studies Dweck found that by praising students in the wrong way, researchers could instill in them a fixed mindset almost immediately. (You can watch a fascinating video of researchers praising students here.) The good news is that they also found that they could instill students with a growth mindset simply by praising them in the right way. When students complete challenging work, we need to praise them for their effort but also for their strategies and methods. So something like, “Wow, that math problem was difficult. I love the way you tried different ways to solve it” or “I see that you made a mistake in the second step here, but I really like the way you caught that mistake and kept going” will help students to learn that perseverance and innovation are what matters.
Remember that everyone has a fixed mindset about some things and a growth mindset about some things.
I think that this is another difficult one for teachers. Most people in the profession were good at school, and I’d guess that most have a growth mindset when it comes to academics. But tapping into our own fixed mindset about other areas of our lives helps us understand students who don’t do as well in school. Some students who seem unmotivated or closed off in the classroom might have a great growth mindset when it comes to sports or even their gaming abilities, and reminding them that they had to work hard to become good at Minecraft or baseball will go a long way toward improving their attitude toward school.
It’s a tricky balance and definitely a lot of balls to keep in the air, but once you make the shift to thinking about students—of all ages—as still learning and developing and growing, you will see lots of great changes.
Today’s guest blogger is Christina Gil. You can visit her Teachers Pay Teachers store here.