Promoting the Growth Mindset in Students

The Growth Mindset (GM) is a mental strategy that can help build resilience and a willingness to learn.

GM exponents hold the belief that intelligence and ability can be developed with effort and persistence. Limitations are not placed on potential – improvement is always possible – and adversity can be overcome with the right attitude and application.

Carol Dweck, founder and leading researcher of the GM suggests that students who adopt the GM reap several benefits; they learn more, improve their performance, and can more successfully build psychological resilience (i.e. can deal with setbacks and hardship).

Promoting the Growth Mindset in Students

Teachers play a critical role in not only teaching curriculum relevant content, but also in shaping student attitude and application towards learning. In this way, teachers have a great opportunity to cultivate the GM in students.

Below are a number of tips that teachers can use to encourage their students to be growth minded learners.

1.Model the Growth Mindset

As a teacher, modelling the thought process and the actions relating to the GM can be a very powerful way to influence students. Modelling is not only important for students to see how the GM can be applied, but also so they can see your faith in its effectiveness. ‘Walking the talk’ will ultimately encourage more students to buy-in to the concept.

There are a couple of pointers that will help you effectively ‘model’ the mindset.

i) Believe in the Growth Mindset. In other words, if you genuinely believe that improvement is possible for every student regardless of previous performance, then your actions are likely to mirror this belief. In turn, students are more likely to believe, rather than see your views as simple ‘lip-service’.

ii) Talk about your own Learning experiences– Using examples of your own learning journey can further inspire students to buy into and adopt the GM. For example, discussing how you were successfully able to overcome previous obstacles and challenges through hard work and persistence can further encourage student buy-in and acceptance.

2. Set Appropriate Learning Goals

If you genuinely believe that all of your students can improve, then you will likely (and appropriately), hold high expectations of each of your students.

However, ‘high’ expectations should not be solely achievement centred, but should be in consideration of improvement potential. Thus regardless of level, all students should be encouraged to work towards their own ‘stretch’ goals.

Ensuring that you do not have any false preconceptions of or actively place false ceilings on certain students is a vital consideration. Teachers must therefore be mindful of not letting student past performance dictate the extent to which they set stretch goals.

3. Encourage Students to ‘have a go’

One of the biggest barriers students face is the fear of failure. Not uncommon amongst most people, fear of how one is judged after perceived failure – both by others and oneself – can be a big reason as to why students avoid taking on new challenges. This tendency is equally seen in high performing students as it is with other students.

However, ‘trial and error’ is a valuable way to learn. Teachers must therefore encourage all students to ‘have a go’ and readily venture outside of one’s comfort zone, as this is often where the most valuable learning experiences lay. Rationalising ‘failure’ as ‘feedback’ is a good way teachers can encourage students to feel less threatened about ‘having a go’.

4. Praise Effectively

‘Praise’ is a powerful tool that, when used in the wrong way, can just as easily reinforce ‘destructive’ as it can with more ‘constructive’ behaviour.

Praising both natural ability and outcome (i.e. results over behaviour), can undermine motivation and performance. Studies have shown that students who are praised for intelligence generally view intelligence as a fixed trait. Such students will display less task persistence, less task enjoyment, and overall worse performance.

However, when teachers praise the learning process and effort over natural ability and outcome, then students learn to fully involve themselves in the learning process; primarily valuing effort and the enjoyment of learning.

5. Design Collaborative Activities

Given students are assessed individually, a competitive and non-collaborative classroom environment can be unwillingly created. This environment can encourage students to keep to themselves and not share learning experiences. Therefore, student motivational levels and willingness to seek growth opportunities can be somewhat hindered from exclusive individual work.

However, in group environments, often students feel a sense of social responsibility and willingness to try their best for the greater good of the group. As such, complementing individual work with frequent collaborative learning activities, is an effective technique that can encourage students to more readily focus on learning for learning’s sake. This is a key component of the GM.

6. Catch and Correct Negative Thinking

In times of difficulty and challenge, students will often be mentally vulnerable. In these cases, often students will adopt a negative mindset, displaying less effort & persistence. Catching and correcting negative thinking and actions – as they occur – is a key remedial action that teachers can take.

Below are some examples of common negative thoughts and suitable corrections that teachers can use.

  • “I made a mistake” – “Mistakes help me learn”
  • “This is too hard – “This may take some time and effort”
  • “I will never be as smart as her” – “I am going to figure out how she does that so I can do it too!”

Encouraging students to adopt the GM can be a great way to improve resilience and performance. The aforementioned tips can help teachers encourage their students to adopt this mindset.

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