Helping Students Develop a Growth Mindset

It’s very easy for me to get stuck in how I perceive the world.  As I watched President Obama’s farewell address last evening, my first thought was anger.  I am angry that the president-elect is going to be taking office very soon because I am incredibly worried about the negative changes he will bring to our country.  Having this fixed mindset of anger towards Donald Trump will only lead to more negative thoughts.  I need to change the way I look at the situation.  While I may not agree with a lot of what Mr. Trump spoke about during the recent presidential campaign, I do need to realize that many Americans seem to think his ideas will help move our country forward.  Although I do not need to celebrate or agree with his ideas and the ideas of his supporters, I do need to support our country and my fellow Americans.  Continuing to be angry over the outcome of the presidential election will only lead me down a horribly negative path.  I can’t have that.  I need to be open to new ideas, ways of thinking, and a new president.  While the next four years may not be filled with rainbows and unicorns, I need to be open to possibilities.

Teaching students about the ideas Carol Dweck developed and writes about is the easy part.  The students quickly grasp the concepts of fixed and growth mindsets.  They understand the difference between the two and can provide examples of each.  However, teaching students how to apply a growth mindset to their daily lives is a completely different story.  That poses a real challenge.  How do you teach students to use a growth mindset when they grow frustrated or give up?  While this is certainly a doable task, it’s a lot more difficult than getting students to understand the concept of growth mindset.

Yesterday in Humanities class, the students began creating a tri-layered map of Africa.  The boys began working on the first layer of the map in class yesterday.  The students needed to accurately draw and label the lines of latitude and longitude and proportionately hand-draw the continent of Africa with all of the countries labeled on a piece of copy paper.  They could only use the atlas we provided them with as a resource.  They could not trace their map and needed to creatively utilize color in someway.  This was a challenging task as it required much planning, orienteering, neatness, patience, and hand-eye coordination.  Several of the students struggled with this activity yesterday in class.  Prior to the mid-period break yesterday, my co-teacher discussed with the students what we had observed while the students worked.  She mentioned the fixed mindsets that some of the boys seemed to be employing.  She then asked the students to visualize how they would return from break and begin working on their map using a growth mindset.  This seemed to help for most of the students as they came back from break more open to feedback and willing to tackle the task with renewed vigor.  There were still two students, however, who struggled to effectively work at accomplishing the task, even after our discussion and break.  One student was stuck in thinking that he had to write the name of each of the countries onto the map despite how illegible it was looking when he did it this way.  After providing him feedback on how he might want to approach the task on three separate occasions throughout the period, he continued to create a very hard to decipher map.  Another student, who is a perfectionist, was unable to start drawing the outline of his map for quite a while because he was afraid that he would be unable to do it well.  When he finally did get the outline drawn, he needed to use whiteout to cover the mistakes he had made.  Aside from these two students though, the other boys were able to employ a growth mindset during the final half of the class.  At the end of the class, my co-teacher asked the students to share how they had used either a fixed or growth mindset when working today.  This sharing elicited a great discussion on the power of using a growth mindset when working on difficult tasks such as the one we began in Humanities class yesterday.

Today in Humanities class, all of the students quickly got right to work on their maps.  They were focused and made use of a growth mindset throughout the double-period block.  They asked questions when they encountered problems, fixed mistakes when they were discovered, and utilized feedback provided to them by their teachers and peers.  Even the two students who struggled yesterday during class were able to turn things around today.  It was amazing.  One of the struggling students from yesterday came to me at the start of class today to share what he had done last evening during study hall to fix his mistakes.  He was so proud of his ability to eventually utilize a growth mindset.  His new map was much more accurate, proportional, and neat.  Wow!  At the close of class today, I asked the students to share how they were able to use a growth mindset while working.  Some of the students mentioned perseverance and not giving up while others said fixing their mistakes when they noticed them made a difference.  One student said how valuable asking questions was for him today.  I was impressed.  The boys were applying the skills and strategies we’ve been teaching them all year.  They were utilizing a growth mindset to accomplish a challenging assignment.  I could not have been more proud of my students today.  They rocked it!  Now, did this outcome occur because we had made note of how some of the students used a fixed mindset in class yesterday and then discussed how important employing a growth mindset is to accomplishing a difficult task?  Did this deliberate discussion and naming of behaviors make a difference?  Had we not had these discussions yesterday and today, would we have observed the same working habits today in class?  While it’s always hard to hypothesize answers to big questions like that, we do think that talking about growth mindset, and the power it holds, with our students did make a difference in how the boys worked today versus yesterday.  Although it is very challenging to teach students how to use a growth mindset in the classroom, taking the time to explain to the students when we see examples of both fixed and growth mindsets used and discussing how to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset does really help students develop an effective mindset for them.


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