6 Tips to Help Students Develop a Growth Mindset in the Classroom
Between two students, one with the motivation to persevere after a mistake and one who refuses to try when an assignment "looks hard," which do you think is more likely to achieve academically?
Even without any other information, it is clear that the first student—the one with a growth mindset—is better equipped to keep striving for success.
What is growth mindset?
Growth mindset is the idea that, with effort, it's possible to increase intelligence levels, talents, and abilities. Students who demonstrate a growth mindset believe their abilities develop over time, tend to seek out opportunities to gain new knowledge and broaden their skills, and do not typically shy away from challenges (Kazakoff & Mitchell, 2017).
In comparison, fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence and talents are static, leading students to believe that their potential for success is based on whether they currently possess the required abilities. These students are often tempted to give up when things get hard—they may run from challenges, see mistakes as failures, or approach success differently to their classmates with a growth mindset. According to Kazakoff & Mitchell, "Students who possess a fixed mindset are often preoccupied with the notion of high performance and will seek opportunities where they can prove their skills while avoiding situations where their weaknesses might be revealed."
In contrast, students with a growth mindset believe that they can learn to complete tasks, solve complex problems, or grow their intelligence, rather than assuming they "can" or "cannot" do something based on their current abilities.
Having a growth mindset is essential to lifelong success, and it is something that students can develop with practice.
Does growth mindset really help kids succeed?
perform better than students with a fixed mindset, significantly outscoring them in the areas of math and literacy;
are more likely to recognize the importance of effort in academic success;
seek out challenging academic tasks to enhance learning; and
value critical feedback.
What do teachers think about growth mindset?
According to a 2016 national study of over 600 K–12 teachers conducted by the Education Week Research Center, almost all teachers (98%) believe that integrating growth mindset will lead to improved student learning.
Despite having an interest in and a willingness to implement growth mindset in the classroom, teachers feel they are not adequately trained to foster such a mindset in their students. Only 20% of study participants said they strongly believed they were good at fostering growth mindset, and 85% reported that they wanted more professional development in this area.
The idea that people want to implement growth mindset but may not fully understand how to do so is troublesome to Carol Dweck, the Stanford professor who coined the term.
Dweck has expressed her concern that misinformed people might encourage students to keep trying in order to "get it" (succeed in a task), despite the fact that developing a growth mindset is not simply about layering on praise. According to Dweck, "growth mindset is about closing the achievement gap, not about making low-achieving kids feel good in the moment but not learn in the long run." In other words, cultivating growth mindset is not just about praising effort. Rather, we need to teach children how to learn and use strategies to overcome challenges.
By making simple changes in the classroom, we as educators can begin to foster an environment in which students are not only aware of growth mindset, but can actively take part in creating such a culture.
Here are six tips for helping students develop growth mindset in the classroom.
1. Read books with characters who face challenges and develop strategies to overcome them.
A few examples include:
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D.
Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada
These books are perfect for read-alouds and class discussions. Start off the year with Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, which explains how the brain works and grows in a kid-friendly way, and then use the characters and storylines in the other books as the year goes on. Students will see characters who are faced with problems overcome adversity and handle mistakes, and will refer back to these stories when they encounter similar challenges in class.
2. Conduct activities that give students the chance to practice phrases that promote growth mindset
Openly discuss things students with a fixed mindset might say (i.e., "I'm no good at this" or, "This is too hard") and brainstorm alternatives (such as, "What other strategies can I try?" or, "It may take some time to figure this out").
Try filling out an anchor chart during a class discussion by giving an example of a fixed-mindset phrase and brainstorming a few growth-mindset options to replace it. Alternatively, give strips of paper with example of both types of sentences to individual students or groups, and have them sort the sentences into "Growth" and "Fixed" columns. For inspiration, Pinterest and TeachersPayTeachers offer a range of growth-mindset activities.
3. Display visible reminders of growth-mindset vocabulary using inspirational posters and bulletin boards
Anchor charts from the activity listed above make great classroom reminders. Alternatively, have students design their own motivational posters to encourage authentic learning. Bulletin boards may focus on the overall understanding of a growth mindset, or feature words and phrases associated with the positive attributes or actions of characters in literature. Boards featuring athletes, business leaders, and even presidents who have overcome challenges can be extremely inspiring, especially when these successful individuals' initial failures are mentioned.
4. Have students turn in growth-mindset exit tickets
Use reflective questions or personal challenges as "tickets" to leave at the end of class. Doing so will help students learn to evaluate their attitudes and processes related to classwork, build a strong work ethic, and focus on the positive aspects of class—even if they struggled during the lesson.
5. When giving feedback to students, use prompts that facilitate a growth mindset
Rather than awarding feedback such as "You are so smart" or "You did a great job getting an A," encourage higher introspection with prompts. Ask questions about students' processes ("What made you decide to try that method?"), how they can work to improve ("What do you think you can do differently next time?"), and what they took away from their mistakes ("When X occurred, how did you feel and what did you learn from it?"). By providing the opportunity for self-evaluation, students will discover more about their ability to work through to a solution, and will pick up self-talk approaches and questions to ask themselves down the road.
6. Model growth mindset as an educator
When we as educators are faced with a challenge or make a mistake, we can talk through the situation with students and demonstrate the path to learning, helping students make necessary connections in real-life situations. For example, if we waited too long to reserve a common learning space for a particular class period, we can explain the situation to students and ask for input on how resolve the issue. Students may suggest combining with another group, adjusting the lesson to fit another space, or some other creative solution. While this is a process that we could go through ourselves, involving students helps them recognize that everyone makes mistakes and it important to work through challenges in order to make progress.
By implementing simple activities and providing opportunities for students to develop the skills necessary to meet challenges head-on, we can help students find confidence in their academic journey and create an environment that promotes growth mindset.
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