Promoting Growth Mindset

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Weekly Tip: Promoting Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, a cognitive psychologist at Stanford, and leading expert on mindset research, defines fixed and growth mindset in the following way:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

—Dweck, 2015

In the classroom, the way that we interact with students can influence their beliefs about intelligence and learning and can affect their ability to persist through academic difficulties. Struggle and setbacks do not indicate limited potential; rather, they provide opportunities to reflect and attempt new strategies. In short, to learn. Implementing growth mindset in the classroom also requires a willingness to question and challenge your own fixed mindset practices related to beliefs about your students as well as your own learning and intelligence.

Focus on progress not perfection

  • Present learning as a process of developing skills through repeated practice.
    • Communicate to students that intelligence and talent are not fixed for life. They are malleable and, with effort, can be strengthened—like a muscle! Let students know that they have ownership and control of this process.
  • Prompt students to reflect on work and study strategies in ways that will lead to revision and improvement.
    • Exam Autopsy (pdf)
      • Focus on the process of learning and preparation
      • Reflect on Study strategies leading to revised strategies
      • Reflect on during exam behavior
    • Two Stage Exams (pdf)
      • In a two-stage exam, students take an exam individually and then work in small groups to answer the exam questions collaboratively.
    • Classroom assessments techniques
      • Encourage students to understand that teaching and learning are on-going processes that require full participation.
    • Use portfolios and Folio thinking as assessment tools
  • Use rubrics as a tool to help students reflect on and improve their skills, not just for giving grades.
Infographic: How to Encourage Students. Growth Mindset: What to say: When you learn how to do a new kind of problem, it grows your math brain! If you cath yourself saying, I'm not a math person, just add the word yet to the end of the sentence. That feeling of math being hard is the feeling of your brain growing. The point isn't to ge ti all right away. The point is to grown your understanding setp by step. What can you try next? Fixed Mindset: What not to say: Not everybody is good at math. Just do your best. That's ok, maybe math is not one of your strengths. Don't worry, you'll get it if you keep trying. If students are using the wrong strategies, their efforts might not work. Plus they may feel particularly inept if their efforts are fruitless. Great effort! You tried your best. Don't accept less than optional performance from your students.

Early in the semester I take time to show students work I did when I was an undergrad. During this time, I make a point of explaining that I started where they are currently at. Through conversation and comparison, students can see that I made the same moves they are making currently, and that where they are at is okay. The goal is growth and improvement.

—Aminah Barnes Cannon

Use encouraging language to communicate high expectations.

  • When giving feedback on an assignment or test: “Many of you ran into trouble at this point. This is very normal. Let’s go over it together so you can see how to recognize and work through this kind of problem.”
  • Consider discussing activities and reflecting on results with students by saying something like, “Don’t worry if you do not get it right on the first attempt. It simply means that you are in the process of learning. We have all been there.”
  • Think about the language and modeling that you use with students and how it is interpreted.
    • Send emails to those who have improved to recognize those who may not always be recognized.
    • Encourage students by discussing how you were once like them and struggled but had to overcome you struggles to find eventual success.
    • Model the learning process in real time—work through problems with them and show them where you commonly make errors/how you correct those errors.

Resources and further reading

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