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Fostering a Growth Mindset

Fostering a Growth Mindset

Failure is uncomfortable, but we shouldn't avoid it.

Failure is uncomfortable, but we shouldn't avoid it.

If you are a teacher, there is no way you haven't heard about Carol Dweck and her ideas about fixed vs. growth mindsets. It was very popular in the last few years that I was teaching, but I found that it became a buzz word and lost a lot of its meaning. 

For example, in my school, we had a tutoring program. Teachers would choose a math topic that a couple of students were struggling with. Three or four students would then meet with a tutor for about 15 minutes a day for two weeks to review this topic. I, personally, felt that this system was flawed for many reasons, but on this particular day, we were discussing how to recognize the work that students were doing with the tutors. 

One teacher, it may have been me, but I really can't remember, suggested giving the kids a certificate and a small prize when they mastered the content being taught by the tutor. This would add an incentive to work during the tutor time and recognize the growth the student has made. 

It is important to support kids when they fail and recognize it as a step towards success.

It is important to support kids when they fail and recognize it as a step towards success.

The question then became, what about the students who don't master the content? My reaction was that these kids will have more opportunities to master content and earn the reward. However, in the name of a growth mindset, it was determined that if any kids got a certificate and a prize, then all of the kids should get a certificate and a prize.

I know this is a really long (and kind of boring) story, but my point is that giving a kid a certificate for participation does not foster a growth mindset! 

A growth mindset is actually one of my big passions. I believe that kids can't learn if they don't believe that they will eventually be successful. 

It doesn't matter how many times you tell kids about a growth mindset. They won't fully believe that they will be successful if your actions don't match your words. For example, giving kids a certificate for participation sends the message that they probably won't earn a certificate for mastery. 

The most important part of having a growth mindset is failing. Kids need to fail and see that they can continue to work towards success. The more times they fail and continue on, the better. 

Kids often give themselves labels that don't encourage them to keep trying. A kids needs to believe he can be successful in order to be successful.

Kids often give themselves labels that don't encourage them to keep trying. A kids needs to believe he can be successful in order to be successful.

So, how do I build growth mindsets in my classroom? First, I think aloud for the students - all day. If I am working on the board, and I make a mistake, I say, "Wow! That was wrong! Let me see what mistake I made. Can I find it? Oh, there it is..." This modeling of my thought process becomes a script that students can use to replace the fixed mindset scripts that they may be currently using.

We also talk about what is in our heads. I definitely have a voice in my head that tells me that I am not good enough. It is so mean to me. I would never talk that way about another person, but all day long I hear that voice talking about me. Luckily, I know that we all have this voice inside. I want kids to know that it is normal, and we don't have to listen to the voice. 

The last thing I do to support a growth mindset in my classroom is to make failure a regular part of the classroom. I fail every day and I expect my students to fail every day too. Once we fail, we talk about what we need to be successful. Maybe all we need is more time to practice or process information. Maybe we need a new resource. Maybe we need help from a friend. Maybe we need to back up and work on an easier problem for a while. 

The message I try to give my kids is that we will fail, but we will also succeed. 

It is so amazing to celebrate real success when a student achieves it. You can tell on their faces when they have mastered a concept. Their smiles are so big! They truly feel proud of themselves in a way that doesn't happen when everyone gets a certificate. 

By modeling our own inner monologue, we can show kids that we get frustrated too. 

By modeling our own inner monologue, we can show kids that we get frustrated too. 

I try to create that experience for my students as many times as possible within the year, so they can remember how it felt for the future when I am not there to help them. I want the entire experience to become internalized, so a growth mindset is truly how they see the world. 

This isn't easy. I have a daughter with a solid fixed mindset despite having countless growth mindset experiences with me. That doesn't mean that I am going to stop working with her because I have a growth mindset, and I won't give up.

So, what can you do to create a growth mindset environment in your classroom?

1. Model your growth mindset thinking throughout the day.

2. Fail in front of your students and then get their help to find the resources you need to be successful.

We all need to work together to succeed!

We all need to work together to succeed!

3. Let your students fail. After a failure, conference with her to discuss why she failed and what she needs to succeed in the future.

4. Celebrate successes! When a child accomplishes something (big or small), celebrate it! Tell the class about it, tell other teachers about it, and definitely tell the child's parents about it! I don't know about you, but success is one of my biggest motivators to work even harder. You will be amazed at what a child who believes he controls his own success can accomplish!

Finally, one part of a traditional school that I can't stand are grade levels. I hate that students academic goals are determined by their ages. It doesn't make any sense to me, and I think it causes a lot of kids to label themselves as "stupid".

My last recommendation for building your growth mindset classroom is to talk about all academic pursuits as a continuum. Students are working along the continuum, and no one is behind or ahead.

Just like when we learn to walk, the most important thing about our education is not to stop!

Just like when we learn to walk, the most important thing about our education is not to stop!

I spent the day turning the Common Core math standards into continuums from kindergarten through fifth grade. There is room on the continuum for every child to be successful and moving toward a goal. 

If you are a subscriber to my newsletter, you will be getting all of the continuums in the newsletter tomorrow. If you aren't a subscriber, you will be able to purchase the continuums at Teachers pay Teachers or on this website soon. 

What do you do to foster a growth mindset in your classroom? Share with a comment below!

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