Developing a Growth Mindset

I'm sure it's happened to you. You present a new concept to students, pump them up for it, provide sufficient scaffolding for them in your whole group or even small group lesson and then you release them for some independent practice and you hear it.

In your head you are thinking, "Where did I go wrong?"

I modeled. We discussed with partners and groups. We questioned each other. We practiced together. I gave you an exit slip and gave you immediate feedback on your progress. You SHOWED me you could in fact, DO THIS!

Why don't you believe in yourself like I do?

The answer lies in the power of your thoughts. Possibly a buzzword that has popped up into education recently is the idea of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. I've noticed over the last 3 years especially that I am getting more students who try to work within a fixed mindset and obviously, it makes the learning process tedious, frustrating, and seem worthless.

And the thing about a fixed mindset is that it can impact any kind of student. I've seen some of my highest academic students suffer from the consequences of having a fixed mindset when they are presented with something that doesn't come naturally easy to them right away. I've seen some of my most enthusiastic learners discover that there are times when they are less than enthusiastic about a new, challenging skill. And I've seen students who are struggling already with academics shut down and believe in the their own thoughts that this task is impossible and that they shouldn't even try.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing I've encountered around mindset work in my students is that I can not change my student's mindsets. I can only give them tools to help them change it themselves and teach them that they were born to learn. I can remind them of this ability, bring their attention to their effort and the results, and give them opportunities to work on having a growth mindset. Below are 4 things I make sure to touch on when discussing growth mindset with my students.

Bring up times when they couldn't do something yet and had to learn how to. Some great examples include eating and feeding themselves, walking, speaking. The reality is they probably don't remember doing these things. They don't remember having negative, fixed mindset talk. They just kept trying. My teammate came up with a great reflection activity where she talked about learning something in stages. She titled the stages: learning, practicing, mastered. We used this idea to help us set new hopes and dreams for the rest of the school year when we came back from winter break, but we also are talking about it during our new learning. 

Long division is kicking some of our butts right now. But we are reflecting each day at the end of the lesson on which stage we are at in our learning process. Instead of saying, "I'm a 1 or 0" meaning, they don't get it yet, we are saying" I'm in the learning stage," or, "I'm in the practicing stage." Reminding students that they already have learned new things and their brain is growing and changing helps to put things in perspective. 

You've probably seen anchor charts for growth mindset talk. "Instead of... Try..." Words have power and giving students these growth mindset words is important. Even bettering, letting them discover and create those words will reap even more benefits. I used a free resource from Runde's Room where it does just that. I love her "Stick-it-Together" structure for sharing. I've used it in all content areas. Growth mindset work is no different. I put students into groups and gave each group one of the fixed mindset statements. They worked individually first, then together to come up with a growth mindset alternative. I took their best answers and typed them up and posted them above our SMARTboard. I credited the statement with students names' underneath so when I hear a student using a fixed mindset, I can say, "Do you see what (name, name, and name) said? You got this!" It helps build a supportive community and it helps students encourage one another. Click on her link to see her break this down even more.

Showing students that they are not the first people in history to fail is important. We get stuck in our minds and think, "EVERYONE ELSE ON EARTH CAN DO _______ EXCEPT ME!" Showing them that other people who are successful now had failed at one point shows the power of your thoughts.  This video shows some other examples (vocab might be a bit above lower grades). It is important here to talk about perception. When Dr. Seuss was denied by publishers, he had a different perception than others might have in that situations. He could have looked at it as, "Clearly my work is no good. I should stop." or he could have perceived this as, "Ok, what options do I have next?" He chose the later. Maybe he changed somethings about his book. Maybe he changed how he marketed it to publishers. Maybe he gave himself more time to think about what he was hoping to get. The reality is, an event happened and how he perceived it and acted on it, contributed to his success. We need to show students that with failure and struggle, it's our perceptions of these events that will lead to growth.

We're teachers. We do this daily. But are we acknowledging it to our students? Are we telling them, having them reflect, having them notice that their brain in picking up on new learning And are we providing it in more ways than just in our academic content? Like I said earlier, we are in the thick of long division- a brand new skill for all my students. It is obvious to them that this is new. But so is building the tallest structure during indoor recess, or trying to draw something for a card for a friend. Let students explore new learning in places other than just things that get a grade. I've noticed some of my best success when I draw attention to this during indoor recess and I have a kiddo who typically struggles with challenging content during the school day. However, when he is working on building a sculpture with pattern blocks at recess and it topples over... he doesn't give up like he does when it's long division. He reacts in a bit of frustration and begins again, this time with a different plan. When I bring his attention to it, he recognizes that his brain is constantly firing off new connections and that he can apply the same strategies to other tasks too.

One of my biggest take aways is that this isn't something you do in a couple lessons and then move on. It is embedded into our work daily... hourly... minutely (is that a word even). We ourselves will get into a fixed mindset about kids having a fixed mindset. Let yourself start there, but don't let yourself stay there.


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