As teachers, we often see students encounter challenges and then see how they respond to them in their learning journey. They can either rise to the challenge and unlock further achievements or they can fear looking ‘dumb’ and refuse to try or give up easily.
But what separates these students? What determines whether one student will persevere and achieve success while another will quit and fall behind? It all comes down to whether they have a fixed or growth mindset.
Those with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence level and skills are fixed and cannot be improved. They typically feel that they ‘dumb’ and are keenly aware of a perceived gap in their knowledge or abilities. They are less likely to persist in the face of difficulties and may even resist learning.
Those with a growth mindset believe they can always improve through effort. Not only are they more likely to take risks and try new things, they are generally more receptive to feedback and are also more likely to independently seek out feedback. A 2014 study also indicated that there is a correlation between students that believe their intelligence is changeable and those that end up in more advanced mathematics classes, even when controlling for students’ grades.
Recent neuroscientific studies exploring the link between growth mindsets and intrinsic motivation to learn indicate that they share many important qualities. Developing a growth mindset can increase students’ intrinsic motivation and promote lifelong learning.
So, what are some of the ways you can switch your students from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? We’ve compiled the top 4 ways below!
Praise effort rather than intelligence
By praising intelligence, you might reinforce intelligence as an innate (or fixed) trait. Instead, make sure you praise effort and hard work as worthy traits. Here’s how you can reframe your congratulations:
Fixed Mindset: You’re so clever to solve that mathematics problem.
Growth Mindset: You worked so hard to solve that mathematics problem
Fixed Mindset: That was a smart way to solve that problem.
Growth Mindset: Great job using trying new strategies to solve that problem.
Fixed Mindset: You’re a natural reader!
Growth Mindset: I can tell you’ve been working hard. Your reading has really improved!!
Actively model growth mindset language
Explain how the human brain is capable of growth in a way that students can understand. For example, you can make the analogy that the brain is like a muscle that can be strengthened with regular exercise.
Keep an ear out for fixed mindset language in the classroom. Model how students might change a statement to focus on effort or new strategies. For example:
He’s so smart, I’ll never be that smart → With hard work, I can figure out how he does that.
I give up! → This way didn’t work; I’ll try something else.
One simple trick you can teach your students is to try adding “yet” to their sentence. This transforms a negative sentence into a positive one.
I can’t do this → I don’t know how to do this yet, but I will.
I don’t understand division → I don’t understand division yet, but I’ll keep working on it.
I’ll never get an A in spelling → I haven’t got an A yet, but I’ve improved my grades.
It can also be helpful to hang posters of growth mindset phrases around the classroom. You can teach that “FAIL” merely stands for “First Attempt in Learning”. You can even have students design their own motivational poster as a class. When a student uses fixed mindset language statements, you can direct them to the poster and ask them what growth mindset statement they might use instead.
It can be tempting to immediately give students feedback and leave it at that. Try to balance praise with encouraging your students to reflect on their own progress in a way that fosters a growth mindset. Some examples include:
- When that problem happened, how did you feel? What did you do to overcome it?
- What made you want to try that strategy?
- Great job finishing the task. What do you think you might do differently next time?
Another activity that can encourage self-reflection is have students fill out exit tickets at the end of a class or week. An example question might be:
“Tell me about something that was hard this week. How did you keep going?”
Develop a culture that values challenges
A recent study into a growth mindset intervention showed that results were not equally successful across the board. Results were poorer in classes where challenge-seeking was not the norm. As Dweck, the author who initially coined the term “growth mindset”, states “culture really matters”. Students in environments where their peers don’t support taking on challenges appear less likely to benefit from growth mindset interventions or activities. Therefore, it is important to develop a culture that values challenges. To do this:
- Pick stories or examples to highlight in the classroom that feature a character encountering challenges and overcoming them through perseverance.
- Talk through examples that happen in day-to-day life that show someone dealing with a setback or mistake and what they learned.
- Where appropriate, positively acknowledge in-class examples of students that learned — and grew — as a result of a challenge or mistake.
- Use real-life role models like athletes or leaders to show how they handled adversity or improved through hard work.
Remember, creating a class culture that thrives and embraces a growth mindset may take time and effort. Yet the benefits are far reaching — not only are you fostering growth in students’ responses to academic challenges, but most likely improving their responses to challenges they may face beyond the classroom.
Need help with growth mindset in your class?
We’ve got you covered. Check out what Science has to say about building trust with students or check out our range of teacher-picked mind-growing classroom resources:
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