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Can A Growth Mindset Actually Be Fixed?

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
 on 
March 1, 2021

“No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success

We know that students who develop a growth, rather than a fixed mindset, will believe that their effort matters. They are more likely to lean in and embrace a challenge, even if they fail on their first attempt. Failure is part of the process and something to spark curiosity rather than embarrassment or shame. A task that is difficult to accomplish, for a person with a growth mindset, is, as Carol Dweck would say, “Fun.” Therefore, it is critical that students understand that their effort matters more than how “smart” they may think they are. 

Growth Mindsets And Learning

What does this actually look like in the modern classroom or learning environment? How do we make a growth mindset the fabric of our daily lessons so that students find themselves immersed in it?

One way is to design learning spaces where students experience daily opportunities to succeed (or fail) that are not necessarily tied to the grade book. For example, if my starting routine is a prompt that allows students to revisit what we did in the previous class, but is not a quiz, then students can openly engage without the fear of being right or wrong. Or my opener could be as my friend Joe Clausi suggests, "...an open ended question, which at all cost possible - tie into a real world applicable purpose..." Ultimately what students come to recognize when they engaged in these kinds of no-stakes activities is that what matters most is their effort, not their accomplishment. Remember, no matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.

On the contrary, if an activity is graded and students can score poorly or fail, to develop a growth mindset we must embed multiple opportunities to show comprehension. Here again, it is not about performance, but student effort. If a student did not "get it" the first time that is okay, it is all part of the process, that student can keep trying until she can demonstrate understanding.

The Growth Mindset Trap

We must be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking of a growth mindset as a goal we eventually reach. My friend, Bryan Gibson, recently shared with me an insightful observation. Bryan, who has done a significant amount of research on mindsets in education for LearnLife, has noticed that we often make the mistake of perceiving growth mindsets in students as a destination rather than the journey. As if to suggest that if teachers engage in this important work correctly, then someday their students will all have arrived at a growth mindset. Byran’s point is that if you think you have finally developed a growth mindset your mind is actually fixed. A growth mindset is a way of being on the journey of life, not a future destination. 

Opportunities

If we weave these kinds of opportunities for students into the fabric of our daily lessons, we develop learning environments that help students believe that their effort will increase their ability and competence - aka they will develop a growth mindset, not as an accomplishment, but as a way of approaching their learning.

Be well,

Mitch

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