Grow a Growth Mindset

Cross Country Education
May 18, 2022 06:15 AM (GMT-04:00)
Educator Resources

If we didn’t believe in the ability to improve, we likely wouldn’t be working in the field of education. The equation of, “Consistent effort plus time = growth” is simple and proven, yet so many students (and adults) don’t believe this to be true. You have likely heard, or even said, one of the following phrases before:

“I’m not a math person”

“I wasn’t born with that gift/ability”

“I’ll never get better at ____”

A growth mindset has been shown to benefit all students, and research shows that it can help those who are most in need. A paper published in the journal Nature stated that in “a short (less than one hour), online growth mindset intervention—which teaches that intellectual abilities can be developed— improved grades among lower-achieving students.”¹ In short, researcher and Stanford Professor, Carol Dwek explains that “students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset).”² So it isn’t about what you can do now, so much as believing you can work towards being able to do something in the future.

Planting this seed in the minds of our students is truly vital, but how can a growth mindset help you as an educational professional? A growth mindset can actually activate parts of your brain that aren’t activated otherwise. A study out of Columbia University found that “with a growth mindset, your brain engages deeply in electrical activity and is on fire as you process errors and learn to correct them.”³ When you mix this type of mindset with the habit of being a lifelong learner, the benefits range from increasing your lifespan, inspiring your students, and even feeling “physically, emotionally, and mentally stronger.”³

Furthermore, developing a growth mindset goes beyond the individual. An emphasis on a growth mindset could help build the powerful foundations that our educational system desperately needs. “If we don’t work to shift our own mindset about ourselves and our students, then we won’t work to change many other things in the system necessary to improve education.”⁴ You might start to wonder, “How can I help my students develop a growth mindset?” Here are some specific strategies you can begin to try:

  • Individualized Student Success Portfolios: This can be a Google Drive folder or a paper-based binder version, but either route you go, make time each week for students to build their success portfolio. They can do this by adding work samples, completed projects and deliverables which they are proud of. This is a great spot for them to see their accomplishments! These same tools can be used to help them track their progress and is a wonderful beginning piece for student-led conferences.
  • Review common mistakes with the entire class. By reviewing common mistakes students not only have an opportunity to better understand the material but they also get a chance to see that others make mistakes too. And it’s okay!
  • In Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Z. Hammond suggests providing students age-appropriate examples of individuals who have faced challenges due to a “fixed” narrative. Educators can “help students create a counternarrative about their identity as learners” through stories and poems like Nikki Giovanni’s poem, Ego Trippin’ (1993) or Sandra Cisneros’ Only Daughter (1995)⁵.
  • Educators can provide validation through various strategies to help students feel like they belong in the classroom. One strategy is to validate students’ thoughts and feelings on the spot. In a Cult of Pedagogy 2017 article, J. Gonzalez provides three steps to validating perspective⁶:
    1. Rephrase the statement without judgment, ex. “I hear you saying ____, is that right?”
    2. Acknowledge the emotion by naming it or asking clarifying questions, ex. “That sounds frustrating.”
    3. Provide a statement of acceptance to how they feel, ex. “That’s understandable to feel that way.”

In conclusion, based upon the research, a growth mindset just might be the single most important academic skill we can instill in our students. So, if you want your students to grow, you need to work towards fostering and spreading the belief that we are all potential-filled, works in progress.

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