The concept of growth mindset (Dweck, 2000) can be used to describe how students need to feel about themselves and their abilities in order to be an effective learner. For students to be successful learners, they need to believe that intelligence can grow and develop. Students with a growth mindset embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks (mistakes), and understand that they have to listen to feedback and put effort in to achieve their goals.
Feedback has a key role in developing mindsets in the classroom. Ensure that you provide students with feedback that focuses on the process of learning rather than saying ‘Clever boy!’ or ‘Fantastic!’, which reinforces a fixed mindset. Encourage students to develop as learners by reinforcing that it is an incremental process rather than praising the final outcome. Use praise that is specific, such as ‘Well done, you have chosen very powerful adjectives to make the reader feel…’, or ‘Super effort, you have selected the most efficient strategy to solve the problem’. Specific praise enables students to identify where they have been successful.
A useful activity is to reflect on the feedback that you normally give students and think about alternative things to say. This will help you to change the language you use. You can encourage students to develop further as learners by setting them a challenge. The word ‘challenge’ is extremely powerful. For example, ‘I challenge you to…’ encourages students to want to be better than before and improve as learners. Once this becomes embedded in your classroom culture, you’ll find that students will be setting each other effective challenges.
The key to nurturing a growth mindset as a teacher is to act as a role model; ensure that you share a learning journey that you have been on. For instance, if you found it difficult to learn something in the past, share this with students and explain how you overcame your barriers to learning. Your honesty will encourage students to speak openly about their own learning and encourages a learning culture in the classroom.
Mistakes are a fundamental part of the learning process. However, students who perceive themselves as ‘clever’ are often reluctant to make mistakes and challenge themselves in their learning. As a teacher, it is important that you both model your own mistakes in learning and that you utilise students’ mistakes or misconceptions in your teaching. By sharing anonymous examples of students’ work that demonstrate errors or misconceptions, you allow students to reflect on the role that mistakes have in the learning process and to realise that making mistakes is an important part of learning. It enables students to identify where they have gone wrong and to learn from it.
It takes time to embed the culture of mindsets in the classroom and to change students’ dispositions to learning. However, the development of every student as a learner and the impact it has is extremely powerful. Here are five tips to share with students:
When you make a mistake in your learning, does it make you feel sad and reluctant to try again? Mistakes are part of the learning process and we all make mistakes as we learn.
Next time you make a mistake, try to bounce back. Think about what you have learnt and how it can help you develop.
When your teacher or a friend gives you feedback on your learning, do you listen and reflect on it? Or do you feel like someone is criticising you?
Try to listen carefully to the feedback and reflect on it. This will help you to improve in your learning.
When things go wrong, are you critical of yourself? Do you become frustrated and have negative thoughts?
Try not to be too hard on yourself. Next time you are feeling sad and frustrated, try to think positively and be kind to yourself.
Remember you are on your own learning journey; try not to compare yourself to anyone else.
Instead, focus on what you have learnt how to do and what you need to do next to develop further. Learning is not a race and you need to focus on your own next steps.
When you are learning, do you choose to do things that will challenge you or do you prefer to stay in your comfort zone? As learners, we need to choose to select an appropriate level of challenge – not too much, but not too easy either. The right level of challenge will enable new connections to be made in our brains and for us to develop as learners.
Try to see challenges as an exciting next step rather than something to be feared.
Dweck, C. S. (2000) Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Psychology Press.
Katherine Muncaster's latest book is Thinking Classrooms. Find out more at www.everychildalearner.com.