We have all had the feeling at one time or another that we just aren’t good at something. Many individuals say that they aren’t “math people.” Others might say that they are not good at sports. For the longest time, I thought that I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. That was until I learned that I had a fixed mindset. Now I work to keep a growth mindset. Instead of saying “I’m not good at this,” I say “I’m not good at this…yet.”
Carol Dweck has done extensive research on fixed and growth mindsets. In the video above Dweck describes the difference in each mindset, how they influence our motivations, and how we word our praise can have an effect on these mindsets. A fixed mindset is the belief that we have an inherent ability level, and that once we begin to fail we have reached our peak. This mindset leads to not wanting to be challenged, to blame others for our mistakes, and to take any kind of criticism poorly. A growth mindset is the belief that we grow through our mistakes, and that we can always grow with practice and determination. A person with a growth mindset takes failure as a step towards success. These individuals love to take on new challenges, and they willingly ask others for criticism and advice. These individuals are much more likely to be successful in whatever field they are working in.
A growth mindset is incredibly important to have. In many cases it can be the difference between overall success and failure. If an individual has a fixed mindset, then the first time that they stumble they are likely to complain, blame, and possibly quit. It is embarrassing for these people to fail, because they view failure as a shameful thing.
I have been playing a particular trading card game for about a decade. This game has you create your own deck of cards and create your own strategy to defeat your opponent. For the first few years I played the game with a fixed mindset. I didn’t want to loose, because I felt that it made me look like a novice. I refused to play with people that I knew I would loose against. I even cheated….frequently. As I learned about growth mindsets I began to apply it to my card game. I decided to take on more challenging opponents. I looked for guidance on strategy. I improved my deck with nearly every match. Now I am a much more competent player, and I enjoy playing the game so much more. I see a loss as a chance to reflect and to grow. The power of a growth mindset is a fantastic thing.
Dweck offers a great resource to get people started on a growth mindset in four steps. The first step is learning to recognize the “voice” of a fixed mindset. It is important to focus on what your thoughts are and target the thoughts that align with a fixed mindset. The second step is to make the conscious choice to develop a growth mindset. This feeds into the third and fourth steps. The third step is to answer fixed mindset thoughts with growth mindset answers. The fourth step is live out a growth mindset. It’s important to recognize failures as steps to the goal and to focus on staying passionate about what you are trying to accomplish.
As a person who believes strongly in the power of a growth mindset, I encourage my students to build their growth mindsets as well. I help them work through the four steps mentioned above. I first have them voice out loud their fixed mindset thoughts. I answer their thoughts with growth mindset answers. I encourage them to make the choice to have a growth mindset. And I challenge them to act out their growth mindsets. Over time it starts happening naturally for my students.
Another important step that I use to develop a growth mindset in my learners is to introduce them to the word “yet.” For such a small word, there is such a large potential. I encourage my students to change their thoughts from “This is hard,” to “I can’t do this yet.” I try to start with something that interests my students, such as the hour of code website. This engages the students, and they can see in real time how powerful of a tool learning from our mistakes can be. From there I transition over to academic concepts. This helps my students see that a growth mindset can work in any application.
Along with Hour of Code, I use multiple resources to help my students develop a growth mindset. Class Dojo Offers a fantastic video series that follows a monster student who is changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It is very engaging, and the kids love to have discussions after each episode. After students have completed the Hour of Code, I have them start working in another coding program known as Scratch. Scratch is more in depth than hour of code, and it has a base of supportive members that like to help and challenge others. For any math teachers, I suggest the website, With Math I Can. This website helps students recognize that math isn’t something that we are innately born knowing how to do. With a growth mindset and practice we can all master math concepts. The website also encourages students to take an oath to develop and maintain a growth mindset.
One of the important considerations to have when developing a growth mindset is that it is a mindset that has to be maintained constantly. It is very easy to fall back into a fixed mindset when we don’t focus on growth and reflection. This is why I encourage my students daily to continuously develop their growth mindset. One of my poster in my room is an acronym for the word fail. It says First Attempt In Learning. I point to that poster anytime a student feels like he or she has messed up. Keeping focused on a growth mindset will help keep us determined and in the end we will all feel more successful.
Developing a growth mindset is a huge part of my innovation plan. Part of the beginning of year plan is to learn about growth and fixed mindsets, and to help students understand that they have the choice to think one way or the other. The mathematics programs are also setup in such a way that students have a chance to reflect and to grow in areas that they demonstrate weaknesses. Students also challenge themselves and work on self improvement with 3d printing and coding exercises. With a growth mindset our students will be able to confidently handle learning and any other challenges that come their way.
Image retrieved from http://terrystorch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Screen-Shot-2015-11-27-at-11.37.21.png.
Dweck, C. (2006-2010) How can you change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/index.html
Dweck, C. (2006-2010) Mindset online. http://mindsetonline.com/index.html
Dweck, C. (2015, December 15) RSA animate: How to help every child fulfill their potential. https://youtu.be/Yl9TVbAal5s