I’m sure you’ve had that student who, after you deliver that great lesson that had the class engaged, just sits there and doesn’t do their work. You check in and they respond back, “It’s too hard” yet they haven’t even attempted the work. How do you teach a student like that?
I was faced with several students like this last year and knew I was going to loop up with them to this year. Something had to change. So over the summer I did a lot of research online and came across this idea of growth mindset. It really intrigued me and after learning more about it, I realized my classroom needed it.
Everyone has a mindset. It can either be a fixed mindset where you believe you were born with a certain amount of intelligence and you are the way you are or you can have a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, you believe that the brain is a muscle that can grow and expand the more that we use it. When presented with a problem, someone with a fixed mindset gives up, says it is too hard (like my student), and doesn’t overcome the obstacle. Someone with a growth mindset when presented with a problem will ask, “what can I learn from this?”, “what can I do better next time?” or “I can’t do this yet, but I can after I learn how.” Instead of judging themselves and shutting down, they look at how they can grow.
If we want students to succeed as obstacles and challenges are thrown at them, we need to teach them this concept of a growth mindset. One way we can teach them a growth mindset is to introduce students to the characteristics that make up a growth mindset.
Teaching, modeling and exploring these characteristics in your everyday lessons will help encourage students to have a growth mindset.
Can teaching growth mindset close the academic achievement gap? I believe yes. How many times have we seen the mindset that boys are better at math and science while girls are better at writing and reading? If there is a preconceived notion about what you are supposed to be good at and what you aren’t going to do well at then students will have a fixed mindset and not try in those areas. “I’m a girl and have always been told that math is for boys so why try and succeed at it? I’m going to fail anyway.” I had twins in my class last year and saw this. The girl was better at reading and writing and her brother was better at math. Parents even mentioned it at conferences, just accepting that this was the way it always would be. I kept those same students as I looped up this year and have been very purposeful with breaking down that mindset and teaching them a growth mindset. Amazing enough, the boy actually scored higher than his sister in this reading assessment cycle and the girl dramatically raised her math scores from last year.
Same goes for our ELL and low income students. They have often heard or been told that they have more of a disadvantage so they take that mindset. What if instead we assure them of the malleability of their intelligence? If we reduced the stereotypical threat in classrooms, I think we would see the academic achievement gap close.
We might find students not giving up as quickly and being more successful in life. If you would like more information on the basis of growth mindset, the author Carol Dweck is the author of the book, “Mindset” and is a great read.
Some great growth mindset resources: