Mindsets and Education

For the last year I’ve had a class mindset poster on my year 3/4 room wall. One of my goals (along with the school in general) has been to develop and foster in our students a resilience and commitment to learning through having high expectations and a reflective and respectful culture within the class.

  1. We can succeed but might fail on the way.
  2. This learning has meaning for us.
  3. We are respectful and reflective learners.

Sentence starters for conversations, an expectation of respect and reflection at the end of most lessons have contributed to an improved classroom culture and strong sense of togetherness.

I’ve recently had the chance (or time!) to consider the work of Carol Dweck and her work in developing growth mindsets. Her text Mindset is a must read and there is much supporting research and readily available material on the Internet. There is a TED talk here by Dweck.

Both students and teachers benefit from a growth mindset. Students gain develop a resilience (so often lacking I’ve found), a comfort with making mistakes as part of the learning process and an understanding that effort and application positively help their learning. Importantly teachers also need a growth mindset to get the best out of all of their students, in fact a teacher without a growth mindset is not a teacher I would want in a school! More information on the school context is here.

So where do we go with this? Well this term I’m placing a stronger focus on the growth mindset in the classroom for my students along with encouraging all staff to explore their mindset as they drive into school each day and grow or suppress their students’ confidence and learning.

What can we do?

Praise effort not intelligence or talent – this is a biggie for me and also for Dweck. How many students do we have who are ‘naturally academic’ yet won’t take risks for the fear of failure. Those kids that have meltdowns when presented with a non-linear challenge such as project based learning or hands-on design and make activities which are classics. The students decide that they can’t risk failure so do not take risks, they themselves become locked into a fixed mindset which might limit their potential. At the same time the student’s resilience can be weakened if challenges are difficult and the risk of failure in their eyes is too great.

As teachers and parents we need to provide constructive feedback praising effort and application and persistence. We need to provide entry points for success for all students. Importantly we should maintain high expectation and be honest and provide support. We should not lower standards- easy work is a false reality and great disservice to our students. Dweck says and I would agree that ‘many teachers hide their own lack of ability behind statements such as ‘they don’t get it or are they don’t have the ability, why waste my time.’

Some other things to remember before we jump down a student’s throat and judge them in the negative is that all kids misbehave – it’s part of being a kid. Do we only want to teach perfect (whatever they may be) students based on our own misconceptions? We must move to growth-oriented teaching.

As Dweck says it is important not to judge, don’t give up on the dumb ones, believe in improvement and challenge and nurture our students. To repeat, praise effort and not intelligence!

Interestingly, to educators who also adopt the Visible Learning research and beliefs of John Hattie there are links and cross pollination of ideas. This article provides an insight into Visible Learning. A more complex cross referencing is by Gerry Miller in his paper Understanding John Hattie’s Visible Learning Research in the Context of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset

We need to tell the truth and give them the tools to make them stronger, more resilient and confident to achieve success, while fostering in our students the mindset of the life long learner, always seeking to be better.

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