Growth mindset for students: Learning without limits

6 minutes
Written by: Natalia De la Peña Frade
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Index

When talking about the growth mindset, Henry Ford’s famous phrase always comes to mind:

‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.’

It’s completely true if you don’t focus on the surface level of the sentence. It takes something more (sometimes much more) than thinking that you can get something done to achieve it. But thinking like this is the starting point, and it can even be the difference between achieving it or not.

That’s what the growth mindset is all about, believing in your abilities. This concept is very useful at any stage of life, and is of great help in education. Let’s see what the growth mentality is and how it can lead you to achieve all your goals. If you are teaching, we will also show you how to help your students develop it.

What is a growth mindset?

Having a growth mindset means being aware that skills are not something that is predetermined, but rather something we can acquire if we invest the time and effort needed.

You can’t talk about the growth mindset without mentioning Carol Dwek, the psychologist who coined this term. Dwek believes that there are two types of mindsets: the “growth mindset” and the “fixed mindset.”

  • People with a growth mindset believe in continued growth, their ability to acquire new knowledge and skills.
  • People with a fixed mindset believe that we are born with talent and qualities that cannot be changed and that determine our possibilities in life.

The growth mindset will help you reach amazing achievements and build resilience. If you face a challenge that you can’t solve immediately, if you think you won’t ever be able to because you don’t have the skills you need, you’re likely to give up right away.

But if you have a growth mentality, there is a much bigger chance that you’ll keep working until you solve the problem, however difficult it may be, because you know you can expand your abilities to include those you might not have at that time.

This works in any aspect of life. People with a growth mindset have a greater chance of getting what they want. While we know that it’s not enough to have a growth mentality, not having it is limiting, a real obstacle.

Growth mindset for students

One of the most interesting features of the growth mindset is that the growth mentality can be learned. This is great news, as this mentality is especially helpful in preventing students from being easily frustrated and hesitant about their learning abilities.

Learning to develop a growth mindset will help students lose fear of mistakes, improve self-confidence, and continue working to overcome problems. It’s the basis for acquiring qualities such as resilience or the ability to learn from failures, which are valuable in adulthood, too.

How to develop the growth mindset in the classroom

How can you develop the growth mindset in the classroom? Below are 6 easy-to-use strategies for both in-person and virtual teaching. Follow them to get your students to develop a growth mindset.

1. Teach your students that the brain can be taught

Show your student body that the brain can be trained like a muscle. It’s important to explain to them that each time they learn something new that’s difficult for them, their neurons create new connections, new paths, that are strengthened by practicing what they learn. This will facilitate future learning.

Using a dynamic that helps students visualize this will help them to leave their fixed mindset behind and advance on the path of self-confidence.

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2. Turn it into a lesson

Why not devote a class to working on this? The results will be well worth the time spent.

One way to introduce the concept of the growth mindset is to give an initial test. It is enough to encourage reflection, it is not necessary for them to turn in the answers. You may submit these or similar statements for them to indicate whether or not they agree.

  1. Intelligent people do not need to exercise their brains.
  2. We are born with a certain amount of intelligence and this is something that cannot be changed.
  3. When you practice something a lot, you can develop your ability and become great at that activity.
  4. If you’re not born with talent, you can’t do anything to develop it.
  5. You can’t change your level of intelligence, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend exercising your mind.
  6. People who are good at doing something are good at it because they were born with a certain skill set.

If you’d like, you can share this genially with your students to make the debate more attractive.

Once they have responded, the next thing will be to explain a little about the two types of mindsets and the advantages of developing a growth mindset. We’ll then encourage the group to come back to their answers and have a small debate. Finally, provide some recommendations for developing the growth mindset, such as:

  • Take challenges as a stimulus, an opportunity to learn and improve
  • Do not give up when faced with difficulties. Or at least don’t give up to the first issue you face
  • Look for new paths, new ways to do things
  • Value the importance of effort as part of learning and growth
  • Ask for feedback from the people around us, and accept it with sportsmanship when it is not as good as we would like

This dynamic can be adapted according to the age of your student body. With children, it will be enough to discuss the most basic ideas. In more advanced educational stages, it will work best to explain how the growth mindset works as you would explain any other theory. This will help your student body leave behind their old limiting patterns.

3. Use the word “yet”

The words “yet” and “still” have positive impacts on student motivation. It’s not the same to say ‘you don’t know’ as it is to say ‘you don’t know yet’.

That word, “yet,” motivates you to continue working and try to fix the problem. It’s a way to tell the brain that although it hasn’t found the solution yet, it will do so if it continues with its effort.

4. Reward effort, not ability

Rewards are a key factor in education, and therefore must be chosen and used with care. As teachers, we’ll achieve better results by rewarding effort more and intelligence less.

Why? Because by congratulating our students on their intelligence, we are supporting the fixed mindset, prioritizing the importance of initial capacity over capacity for growth. And the message they receive is ‘I did it because I am intelligent’.

However, if we reward progress and effort, they will understand that the way to achieve things is to work hard and keep trying. This enhances growth mindset behaviors.

5. Talk more about progress and less about results

In general, the education system only takes results into account. Although new educational strategies are increasingly popular, grades are often the only way to measure student performance for the time being.

This does not mean that you cannot reinforce the importance of progress. Teach your students that progress and effort is what matters most to you. You can create your own success metrics to make this visible, and even make your students self-evaluate based on those metrics.

You want them to reflect at the end of each quarter on what they have learned, how they have improved, and how they would like to continue to improve.

6. Be the example

It’s known that students look more at what you do than what you say, which explains why being an example is so effective in education. What if you use your own mistakes as opportunities to teach?

When you do something wrong, don’t try to hide your mistake. Acknowledge it, show it to the class, and explain how you will continue to work to improve as a teacher. It’s difficult to see your own mistakes and make something positive of them, so your example of this will be valuable.

In addition to helping your students boost their growth mindset, applying these keys can be helpful in your day to day.

And finally, I’ll use another of my favorite growth mindset phrases. I hope you get inspired!

‘Smart is something you become, not something you are’

Infographic: 6 Keys to developing a growth mindset in class

Infographic Growth Mindset
  1. Teach them that the brain can be trained as if it were a muscle
  2. Devote a class to working on this concept
  3. Use the words yet and still, to motivate them to continue to progressing
  4. Reward effort, not ability
  5. Talk more about progress and less about results
  6. Be the example. Use your mistakes as opportunities to teach

One Response

  1. Great thoughts. I suggest adding two thoughts to your courseware:
    1. Motivation comes from within. A teacher cannot motivate an unmotivated child. A teacher can only find out what has destroyed the child’s motivation and try to remove or ameliorate it.
    2. Children should not view completion of school as a requirement to “get done with”. They should learn how to learn on their own and develop learning as a lifetime skill.

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