Thursday, August 28, 2014

Promoting Growth Minded Students

If you subscribe to my colleague’s (Leah Tuckman) blog, you may have seen her post on developing a math mindset. In fact this whole idea of mindset has become a huge hot topic with the start of school lingering. So I felt as though I would jump on the bandwagon this week with my own spin on the importance of this issue.

This week as many educators are preparing their classrooms, planning their curriculum, or meeting their students, I am reminded of the opportunity to develop and foster a growth mindset in the classroom. This idea comes out of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck’s research found that the majority of people exhibit either a fixed or growth mindset. The graphic below compares the two types of individuals. A person with a fixed mindset believes that “they are the way they are”. It does not mean they cannot achieve and perform well, but when faced with challenges they tend to step back, sticking with what they know, rather than risk potential failure. On the opposite end, those with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed, since the brain is like a muscle, and that can be trained. In order to do so, they challenge and push their thinking past a comfortable place, reflect on feedback in order to improve and stretch their brain further originally thought.

So how can we promote and introduce this idea within the classroom? What distinguishes a person with a growth mindset over a fixed mindset? I think one way to inspire and show students what a growth mindset encompasses would be to introduce them to apricot farmer Chris. Hopefully, like me, you will be inspired by his story. In terms of mindset, Chris is a prime example of someone who embraces challenges and persists in the face of setbacks. The prominence of the growth mindset surrounds him, for example when Chris asked his father, “What did you do differently with me than you would have any other kid?” his father answered, “Nothing”. How easy would it have been to step back in the face of challenges? Rather, Chris’ can do and will do attitude is an inspiration to us all.

When I was in the classroom, I strove to use picture books (no matter the age) to additionally support these bigger ideas. One book which promotes and explains growth mindset is Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, by JoAnn Deak, PhD. What I love about this book is that it talks about different kinds of learners, encourages making mistakes and challenges students to embrace hardships in learning. By doing this, it stretches our brains, ultimately increasing our confidence and knowledge.
Finally, Teach like a Champion author Doug Lemov’s “No Opt Out” strategy is one way teachers can develop and cultivate a growth mindset in the classroom. In actually, his entire book promotes the growth mindset, however this strategy stuck out to me as being an expectation teachers can present day one to their students. According to this strategy, students who fall back on the common response, “I don’t know” cannot opt out of answering a question. Rather, his approach offers four formats which begins with a student unable to answer the question and ends with that student giving the correct answer. This offers the “I don’t know” student the opportunity “to know” and gain confidence in the meantime. Some teachers have taken this strategy and made it their own. Lemov recently blogged about one teacher’s success in using and modifying the “No Opt Out” strategy in their classroom. Check out his post to learn more.

With the school year approaching, educators are in a unique position to establish expectations from the start. Why not use the ideas and research of Carol Dweck to establish and cultivate your students as growth mindset focused? It is yet another way we can continue to promote success for our students.

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