Why do some students feel they will never get any better at a subject? Why do some learners believe effort has no value and that no matter what they do things won’t change? And why do some students seem to have an irrational fear of failure and of making mistakes?
It could be down to their mindset. That is, the fundamental beliefs they have about themselves and what it is possible for them to do. Your mindset is like the foundational thoughts underpinning your actions and the way you think about yourself and your experiences.
Carol Dweck’s work on mindset suggests there are two specific types – growth and fixed. A growth mindset begins from the central premise that intelligence, talent and ability are open to change. They can go up or down. A fixed mindset starts with the premise that intelligence, talent and ability are static. You get what you’re given and it can’t change.
Students may have one or other of the mindsets, or a combination. For example, a learner might go into a PE lesson believing they can get better and that hard work will help them to do so. But then they go into an English lesson and take a very different view, believing that ability here is innate – and that they are not in a position to improve.
A growth mindset tends to be beneficial to learners for two key reasons. First, it makes them more likely to be resilient, to persist in the face of obstacles, and to see effort as a path to mastery. Second, it makes them more likely to enjoy learning and to see it as a non-threatening experience.
Of course, learners with a fixed mindset can and do succeed – often to great heights. But they are also more likely to be put off by obstacles, to avoid challenges and to see mistakes and failure as dangerous or threatening. All of this can sometimes mean they enjoy learning less.
You can promote growth mindsets in a number of ways. The best place to start is by looking at the language you use in the classroom. Does your language reflect the belief that intelligence, ability and talent are open to change? Or does it unwittingly imply that they are in fact fixed?
Phrases such as ‘you’re brilliant’, ‘that’s so clever’ and ‘another smart answer from you, well done’ may be given out with good intentions, but they can send a message to the learner that there is just something about them which causes them to be successful.
A better option is to focus on the processes students have used to get to where they are. So, for example, instead of saying ‘you’re brilliant’ we might say ‘the way you kept focused on the task and found a method which works for you was brilliant – keep that up in the future.’
This subtle shift means we focus our praise on the processes students have used, the decisions they’ve taken and the effort they’ve put in. This reinforces the central growth mindset premise – that intelligence, ability and talent are open to change. It’s the first step to fostering a growth mindset classroom for all your learners.
See more ideas on growth mindset in the classroom resource below.