Negative stereotypes, deficient thinking, ‘Can’t do this coz I’m dumb’… This type of attitude is not new in schooling but I discovered a new term for it a few years again when I first came across the concept of Growth mindset in Jo Boaler’s on line course ‘How to Learn Math‘ in 2014 (I get my Y9’s to complete the 6 part student course at the beginning of each year). In this course I learnt more about brain-based learning and the concept of Growth mindset and have been interested ever since. I even bought Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, and eventually got round to reading it. So when the Learning Network NZ advertised they were bringing her over for a series of workshops, I thought I’d register and expand what I had already learnt.
It was obvious that Dweck’s work is quite well regarded. As well as hearing my own kids talk about ‘mindset’ from their primary school, the terminology kept coming up again and again (for example see a post by Clare Amos). So I guess I wasn’t surprised when I walked in to a full Ellerslie Events Centre with over 300 participants.
It a nutshell there are two types of mindset:
- Fixed: intelligence is fixed
- Growth: intelligence can be developed
It is important to realise that this is not a category for people – we don’t have ‘fixed’ people and ‘growth’ people. We are on a continuum along this scale and float in and out depending on our own psychology and how we react to various triggers. Mindset can also apply to organisations as well as individuals. These can have a culture of genius (fixed) or culture of development (growth). It got me thinking if this applies in my school?
“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures, those who make it or those who don’t. I divide the world into learners and non-learners.” – Benjamin R. Barber
While also being a psychological concept, mindset is grounded in neuroscience. Based on brain plasticity (“You need to fire to wire”). There are a number of prominent authors on how the brain adapts to learning, including Dan Siegel and Norman Doidge among others.
If you really want to hear are remarkable story about how the brain can rewire, check out Barbara Arrowsmith-Young story at this TED talk. Her story is also detailed Doidge’s book The Brain that Changes Itself. Arrowsmith-Young’s story highlights how if you change the ability of the brain’s function in one aspect can lead to changes in other related brain functioning.
Dweck mention a Chilean study that investigated all Grade 10 students in the country (over 168,000). This showed there was a link between mindset and attainment that transcended socio economic status. However, she noted that twice the number in the more affluent group had a growth mindset compared to lower group.
Growth mindset gives students self belief to go for more than what they can already do. It’s not about celebrating mistakes but about what you have learned from your mistake. Identify this as a ‘learning mistake’ to differentiate from behaviour/other mistake. It’s about students thinking of themselves as a work in progress.
Carol talked of her message to all first years students in her Stanford University course: “Your job is to use the resources you have here to become the person you want to be to go and make a difference in your community”. One task she gets her students to do is to write her a letter from 25 years in the future focusing on the setbacks, mistakes and heartaches that they learned from along the way. This could be a useful task to give to my students.
Teaching the Growth mindset
So, if we encounter a student showing signs of the fixed mindset – what can we do. Here are some strategies:
- What strategies have your tried?
- What are the achievement gaps?
- What fabulous struggles are we having?
- What will you try next?
- What strategies might work better?
- Show me what you’ve done and let’s figure out what you can try next.
Relationships: Focus on the relationship the teacher has with the relationship. Teacher’s attitude needs to be – “My life’s work is your development…”
- When students succeed, praise the process (and tie it to progress, learning). When they fail, focus on the process (fabulous struggles, the power of ‘Not Yet’)
- Treat failures as beneficial for learning
- Give clear feedback and a chance to resubmit
- Role model making errors/mistakes
There are a number of online tools for students to assess their mindset (Mindsetworks, Mindsetonline, London Academy of IT). There are also non-digital methods. We were given on entry a set of cards with different statements on them and asked to put in piles of Agree and Disagree.
Growth mindset report comments: a significant way in which you can give growth mindset messages to your students and their parents is through the report comment. Hemi McDonald from HPSS in a blog post details to shift at the school to be more growth mindset focused in terms of identifying successful strategies and then next steps and why (further detail on HPSS reporting described here).
Negative stereotype = fixed mindset (e.g. Girls in math, ethnicity in educational achievement)
The journey to a growth mindset
- What is a growth mindset?
- It is not solely about effort – encouraging people to work hard vs. believing that talents and abilities can be developed
- What is the first step?
- Acknowledge we are all a mixture
Fixed mindset triggers: These are things that set off a fixed mindset. There are four main triggers summarised in the table below:
|Stepping out of your comfort zone||Avoid risk and challenge||Embrace challenges.
|High effort||It should come naturally||Hard work is the key (effort + strategies + input from others)
|Setbacks||Hide mistakes and deficiencies||Confront mistakes and deficiencies
|Feedback||Ignore feedback or criticism||Seek out feedback
|SUMMARY||Never look dumb, don't work hard or seek help, run from difficulty||Learn, Work hard, use strategies, seek help to learn, learn from mistakes.