“Thoughts become words, and words have the power of life and death. Think to speak life giving words to yourself and others.” Joseph Prince
These words put me in mind of how we as teachers have the power to create hope or plant failure in the minds of our students. Our students believe us. For good or ill, we hold all the answers (even when we don’t).
We can use that belief to inspire our students, to enable them to reach beyond anything they might be willing to do on their own. Here is one way:
Fixed vs Growth Mindset
Do your students have a Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset? Do they eagerly tackle problems, curiously start investigating the challenge placed before them, generate ideas for possible solutions?
If you give students a choice of assignments, do they pick the easy ones or the hard ones?
Do your best students want class discussion, or do they just want you to show them how to work the problem, so they can do their work and keep their A?
It breaks my heart when a student walks into class and says ‘I’m not good at math. Don’t expect much from me.’
Or the kid who told me, ‘whenever I’ve done enough to pass, I’ve been told that I usually quit trying.’ Or the A student who is afraid to try the problem until you have shown them how they are supposed to think about it. These students are exhibiting Fixed Mindsets. They have been given the idea, by teachers or parents or grouping or grades that they are dumb or smart or not good at math, or science, or too smart to fail at math, or science, or any other subject. Girls, especially, tend to get the message: math is not your ‘thing’; children are grouped by what teachers believe they can do: advanced, remedial or in-between – all a form of ‘silent’ stereotyping, as deadly as anything we say out loud. What message am I sending when I too quickly provide an answer, instead of asking good thought-provoking questions? How can I encourage a growth mindset?
What is a growth mindset, and how does it benefit our kids?
A growth mindset is the ability to see possibilities. It is a confidence in one’s ability. It is the MacGyver in all of us, to use a modern example. And it can be taught!!!
Teachers can encourage a growth mindset by changing the messages they give to their students:
“I believe in you”
Don’t let grades define your student. Instead of a grade, give specific feedback on problem areas. Tell them – put it in writing – that you are giving them the feedback because you believe in their ability to fix their mistakes.
Your students are scared to death of making a mistake, getting it wrong, so they sit on their hands in class. Am I right? How frustrating is it to ask a question about the material and be greeted with blank stares?
It is time to celebrate (maybe even reward) mistakes. Sounds crazy, I know, but hear me out…
Tell the kids that every time they make a mistake and struggle with fixing it, their brain gets smarter. (Don’t worry, it’s true, check out this link: Brainology)
Reinforce the message:
Give them a picture of their head in profile with a brain drawn in it. Make sure the brain has lots of little empty spaces in it, like the one I’ve posted below (or break out the projector and let the kids make their own personal profiles on blank paper).
Tell them that each time they find a mistake, they get to color in a section of their brain. Celebrate the fact that their brain has grown! (Younger students like stickers; older students may want stickers, too! It doesn’t have to be anything huge.) I would even keep a big poster of a brain on the wall- on a really tough day, where the kids have made it through with lots of effort, color in a space on the class brain- they have become collectively smarter! This is also a great community builder. It’s like those scaling a wall, walking on ropes exercises where you can’t make it without everybody pulling together – without the parental permission forms!
And for those of you who aren’t sure whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, here’s a link to a great article, with a short mindset assessment at the end. Growth Mindset
And don’t worry if it tells you that you have a Fixed Mindset- it is only temporary!!
What did my results say? What do you think? Am I a Fixed or Growth mindset kind of person? I can’t wait to hear what you think!