If you have followed any education blogs or trends over the past few years, then you have probably heard of a growth mindset. Instilling this attitude in your children early on can have a huge impact on their learning.
What is a growth mindset?
Someone who has a growth mindset believes that if you work hard, you can improve at something.
This could be in any area: if you are not good in math, but you practice, you can improve; playing basketball might not be easy at first, but if you show up and practice regularly, you may become a starter; someone doesn’t understand how to knit when she first tries, but after some help and repeated tries, she can knit a whole blanket.
Conversely, someone with a fixed mindset believes that if you aren’t good at something, well then, you will never be good at it. People with fixed mindsets believe that intelligence and skills are innate, and that whatever strengths or deficits you are born with, stay with you for life.
People who have a growth mindset know and understand that every individual’s brain works differently. They understand that how each individual learns is different, and that, while some things may come easier to others, it does not mean that all people can’t learn it. Sometimes, the way we practice needs to change in order for us to get something, and other times, the amount we practice needs to increase in order for us to achieve mastery. However, no matter the case, mastery is possible.
Why teach your kids a growth mindset?
Many struggling students have low self-confidence about the areas they struggle in, and often compare themselves to their peers who appear to have to work less hard. Students will shut down in order to prevent themselves from feeling dumb or feeling bad about themselves. It is easier not to try then it is to look dumb in front of my peers who get it the first time.
Teaching children and adults about the growth mindset helps them understand that their deficits are not permanent, that the way they learn isn’t bad or lesser, it just might be different, and that they can learn the challenging information, they just may need more or different practice. The more students understand their brains and the ways they work, the more students will feel empowered to take their learning and their challenges with confidence and tenacity.
Strategies to help unlock the growth mindset
Use failures from others as a lesson
There are many examples of famous people who failed. Michael Jordan, one of the most famous examples, was cut from the basketball team in high school. Steve Jobs was removed from Apple, the company he helped found, at the age of 30. The Beatles were rejected from the first recording studio they applied to because the studio didn’t like their sound.
Watch this video with your student, and discuss how these people struggled and failed, but did not give up. Ask your student what might have happened if they had given up.
You can also identify something your student is interested in, and then identify someone who initially struggled in that area, and explore their story of growth. Ask your student to apply it to their own learning, or reflect on the ways that they got good at their passion. They didn’t wake up one day able to shoot a lay up, hit a home run, or do a perfect routine. They had to practice in order to do well–and they can do this subject well with the same amount of practice.
Another way is to share your own personal stories of struggles. As an English teacher, my students are often shocked to discover that I struggled to learn how to read and spent many years reading below grade level. I tell them that this is the reason why I became an English teacher. Students who have failed English in the past are excited to work with me because I promise them that I can unlock their love of reading and learning, just like someone unlocked mine.
Identify the student’s learning style
There are so many different ways that people learn. Some of us learn by hearing, by doing, by seeing, or by a combination of these. Once a student identifies how he or she learns, then you as their tutor can help them overcome their struggles by using that type of strategy.
Explore the brain science
Students don’t understand how complex the brain is, but teachers and other professionals who work with students understand that there are millions of things at play inside someone’s brain, especially when you are learning something new. Read accessible articles and watch short videos that describe how the brain works, how we learn, and why something might be challenging at first. Then, when your student is struggling, remind him that struggling equals learning, that learning equals growing, and the more growth that occurs, the less likely we are to struggle in the future.
You’re so smart!” or “That is genius!” are things we all love to hear. However, these phrases, and others that praise inherent ability, encourage a fixed mindset. If I did something well because I am smart, then if I do something poorly, then it must be because I am dumb.
In order to promote a growth mindset through your feedback, it is important to provide praise around effort and how the problem was solved, rather than the innate ability to solve problems. For example, if a student writes a really well-developed paragraph, notice that they put a lot of effort into writing it, that they thought through what they wanted to write, and that they followed the steps for writing a good paragraph. This way, when they are writing a paragraph in the future, and they struggle, they can remember the feedback you provided to make the steps repeatable.
Similarly, it is important to avoid phrases of encouragement that rely on a student’s ability. For example, if a student is struggling and you want to be encouraging, you might find yourself saying something like, “You can do this! You’re so bright.” While it is helpful to encourage your student’s confidence, if they can’t do whatever you are asking them to do, then they will feel that maybe they aren’t as bright as you claim.
Again, it is helpful to focus on process when a student is struggling. If a student gets something wrong or is struggling to complete a process, go back to what they can do, not who or what they are. Focus first on what they’ve done correctly. For example, if a student solves a math problem wrong, before providing correction, first celebrate the way she set up the problem or remembered the order of operations. Then, show her the correct way to solve the problem and reinforce that the more she practices this problem type, the more likely she will be to get it correct in the future.
The really important thing to remember when you are teaching a growth mindset to a child is that you provide feedback that focuses on the process, on the effort, and on what he or she is doing right. If you provide feedback on who the child is—smart, slow, quick, intelligent—and if that is the only feedback that you provide, then replicating success is much harder when the student struggles.
What are your favorite ways to teach growth mindset?
Natalie Mangrum is the founder and CEO of Maryland Teacher Tutors. She is a reading specialist with a bachelors in elementary education and masters in education. As a parent to two young adults, and prior teacher, Natalie knows all too well the benefits of one-on-one tutoring and coaching for students. Her mission is to ensure that every aspect of MTT is done in a spirit of excellence! She enjoys alleviating the concerns of parents so they can breathe easy knowing their children are in good hands!