Growth Mindset written by Arami Chrystal

Growth Mindset written by Arami Chrystal

The concept of a growth mindset challenges the conventional idea that only those who are naturally smart can excel in school. Surprisingly, our educational system often perpetuates this narrative instead of encouraging a more empowering narrative: our intelligence can increase with effort. That narrative is defined as having a “growth mindset:” the belief that intelligence and skills can be developed. The opposing idea is called having a “fixed mindset:” the belief that intelligence is a trait one is born with and cannot be changed much.

It may be hard to believe that schools perpetuate a fixed mindset rather than a growth one. Aren’t classrooms filled with inspirational posters telling its students that hard work and effort pays off? Don’t teachers continuously tell their students to try their best? A study[1] revealed that it is not what a teacher may preach that encourages a growth mindset, but rather, it is their classroom practices‒the way they carry out activities, react to students’ work, and assign work‒that indicate whether their students have a growth mindset.

A study[2] done by Carol Dweck, the first to define the idea of a growth mindset, showed that how teachers praised their students could indicate whether they develop a growth mindset. In this study, she separated middle schoolers into two groups. In one group, the students were praised for their intelligence and in the other, the students were praised for their hard work. The results were that the group that received praise for their efforts performed better on future tasks than the students praised for their intelligence.

What Does This Tell Us?

This study revealed that praising a student’s effort, rather than intelligence, can lead to more success and help create a growth mindset. The students who were praised for their effort were more ready to face challenges, worried less about being smart or right, and reacted better to failure. Those praised for their intelligence were less persistent, enjoyed it less, and were more scared of challenges. Carol Dweck elaborates on this trend in an interview[2]: “Students who are mastery-oriented think about learning, not about proving how smart they are. When they experience a setback, they focus on efforts and strategies instead of worrying that they are incompetent.” While naturally smart students may succeed more initially, those who are used to putting effort have better long-term skills that can ultimately surpass natural intelligence.

Whether it is intentional or not, teachers commonly praise intelligence, speed, and getting the correct answer, rather than a students’ effort, progress, or strategy. When a student is successful in class, we tend to think “wow they must be so smart” rather than “I bet they put in a lot of effort.” We celebrate the student who gets 100% on their first try, rather than the student who went from 30% to 70% in their class. The way teachers grade can also affect students’ mindsets. Students are often given one chance to submit a grade, rather than an opportunity for formative assessments. In many cases, students also equate their self-worth and intelligence to their grades.

What Can Teachers and Students Do to Help Actualize A Growth Mindset?

The idea of a growth mindset is becoming more popular, and many schools are figuring out ways to better implement it in the classroom. Many habits that lend itself to a fixed mindset are embedded deep in our culture and school practices. Institutional changes may need to take place if we want to see any significant change in the mindset of our students. On the brighter side, a growth mindset is something that can be easily learned by adjusting the way we think about ourselves. Through some of these simple tips, both students and teachers can change their thinking to gain a growth mindset.

Teachers:

  • Instead of seeing grades as a measure of your intelligence or worth, see it as an index of your current performance.
  • If you do not do well at something, try to see it as a new opportunity to improve at something rather than something to make you feel inadequate
  • .Take on more challenges. Fear of failure is what stops many bright students from growing more as thinkers and intellectuals.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. It is hard to tell how much effort other people put in. Focus on your effort.

Students:

  • Instead of seeing grades as a measure of your intelligence or worth, see it as an index of your current performance.
  • If you do not do well at something, try to see it as a new opportunity to improve at something rather than something to make you feel inadequate.
  • Take on more challenges. Fear of failure is what stops many bright students from growing more as thinkers and intellectuals.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. It is hard to tell how much effort other people put in. Focus on your effort.

The idea that we can become smarter through hard work is an empowering idea within itself. As studies have shown, those with a growth mindset tend to do better in the future when faced with challenges and setbacks. While schools can sometimes discourage this idea rather than teach it to their students, the idea of a growth mindset is spreading to teachers and schools more every year. In the meantime, educators and students should do what they can to research, find tips, learn, and spread the idea to others as much as possible. A growth mindset is a simple, but life-changing way to inspire confidence and success for anyone.

Bibliography:

[1] Sun, Katherine Liu, Thesis (Ph.D.)–Stanford University, 2015 , There’s no limit [electronic resource] : mathematics teaching for a growth mindset in SearchWorks catalog (stanford.edu)

[2] Carol S. Dweck, Interview with Education World, Wire Side Chats: How Can Teachers Develop Students’ Motivation –and Success? | Education World