In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a growth mindset, Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck made the philosophy of growth mindset popular in her 2007 book entitled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. After studying personality and development, Dweck discovered that students’ mindsets, or their perception of their own abilities, usually land in the middle of two opposite philosophies: 1) Fixed Mindset and 2) Growth Mindset.
Students who have a fixed mindset believe that their abilities, talents, and intelligence are fixed–that they cannot change or necessarily grow as they learn–which often leads to resistance when it comes to improvement. These types of students might experience embarrassment while trying to learn something new if they don’t master it right away.
On the other hand, students who have a growth mindset know development and improvement are possible if they persist, work hard, and apply feedback from their teachers and mentors. They have the belief that they will be able to hone their skills and talents over time as they learn new methods and try their best as they learn.
Part of Dweck’s main message is that since mindset is a huge factor for a student’s self-motivation, if educators can help students shift their mindset toward one of growth, those students will be able to achieve higher goals, more often.
Since a growth mindset is so beneficial for students, educators will want to introduce various growth mindset strategies into the classroom. By using some of these strategies, you will see your students succeed at higher levels and have more successes throughout the year.
Rather than allowing students to keep putting in effort without success, encourage them to find new strategies and pathways and to plan their next move.
For example, if you notice a student struggling to solve a particular math problem or to understand certain concepts from a textbook, the student might feel like he or she will never understand or get it right. If that happens, encourage the student to make a plan. Ask, “What other strategies could you use? How can you try this another way?”
This will allow students to see that they might not understand a concept right away but that they can make a plan to find other pathways toward understanding, and eventually, they can grow and develop to master that concept through activities like tutoring sessions, or practice exams..
The desire to praise students for sheer intelligence or effort can be tempting for educators, because they want to encourage students with natural abilities, and also make students who are not grasping material as quickly feel better.
However, praising–especially publicly–sheer intelligence or effort can lead students to believe that intelligence and ability are fixed. They might feel that they are inherently smart or inherently unintelligent. As a result, they might not try as hard to grow or develop their skills.
Instead, you can make sure students understand that, whether they have an innate talent in one area or are struggling with it, they can always grow.
Sometimes students learn in different ways, so using different types of teaching methods not only helps students grasp material but also demonstrates to them that there are different ways of approaching difficult material.
A few ideas for different methods of teaching could be to introduce concepts using video or other visual materials, allow students to complete projects in groups as well as to work individually, test students in various ways other than a standard written exam, and to promote fun projects associated with learning a new concept.
Dweck talks about the idea of “Brain Points” as another way to grade that does not make students feel as if they should understand a new concept perfectly the first time. You can change the way you grade by giving students “Brain Points” or “Experience Points,” which shows them that their efforts are leading them toward understanding a concept and that each time they try, they have the chance to get better.
Students who lean further toward a fixed mindset might feel as if a challenge is the end of the world. They might view a difficult assignment or lesson as an obstacle they will never overcome.
As an educator, you have the opportunity to teach your students that challenges are actually opportunities to grow and develop. Explain that when students come across a challenge, they actually have the chance to learn something new and get better than they were before, even if they don’t understand the difficult concept right away.
You can even give them examples of challenges you faced as a student that you eventually overcame and the value of the challenges when you initially faced them.
Another way to promote a growth mindset is to help students understand the purpose of each lesson you teach, even if the purpose is more abstract.
Tell them why lessons are important, perhaps because it will help them understand another lesson later or will prepare them for the next year of schooling. You can even use real life examples of how they might use the skills they learn later in life or even now.
Dweck mentions that she went to a school in Chicago in which they used the grade “Not Yet” rather than failing students. The word “yet,” she explains, has great power, because it teaches students that though they might not understand something now, they eventually can.
By telling students that they are not yet mastering a skill, you show them that, someday, they will have that skill and can develop it over time. They don’t have to have everything figured out right now.
The more you use the word “yet” in your classroom, the more you will help instill a growth mindset in your students.
In fact, you can use even more growth-based language than the word “yet.” Make an effort to speak to students based on their growth, rather than speaking as if they either understand or they don’t. Consider kicking off a lesson with an introduction like, ‘In this lesson we will learn this information, and will eventually be able to master that skill.’
You can also be sure to celebrate students’ successes over time and invite them to celebrate those successes as well. For example, you can introduce a growth folder with various assignments so students can see how they’ve grown over the year and reflect on that growth.
Another option is to encourage students to keep growth journals and write down their experiences when they face a challenge. At the end of the year, they can revisit their journal and see the ways they’ve improved and overcome those challenges they once faced.
Of course, to help students foster a growth mindset, you should also set a good example as their teacher. Help them understand that adults, as well as younger students, face challenges and have to overcome them every day. Give examples of how you are overcoming challenges or have overcome them in the past.
Speak about yourself in a positive way and use language that shows your students you believe that you have the ability to continue growing and developing as well. Share with your students your intention to learn and grow with them through the course of your time together.