Five failsafe ways to help your students develop a growth mindset

Five failsafe ways to help your students develop a growth mindset

Byline: Bradley Busch

What impresses you more, natural ability or hard work? A lot of people in education and sport claim to value the importance of graft, but research suggests we could secretly hold a "'natural talent bias".

In a fascinating study, Harvard University researchers told professional musicians about two pianists who were equal in current achievement. The first was "a natural" who had early evidence of innate ability. The second was "a striver" who had demonstrated high levels of motivation and persistence.

Despite previously stating that hard work and dedication were more important than natural ability for musicians, when asked which pianist they would hire and which they think will have a better career, the participants were more likely to choose the "natural". It seems that although we may publicly say we value hard work and persistence, when push comes to shove, we can be blinded by a natural talent bias.

You can see why we do this: effortless ability is seductive. It makes the difficult look easy and hints at untold achievement if it could be matched with a good work ethic. But really, teachers need a way to help students work hard.

That's where a growth mindset comes in. Growth mindset is a theory about what key characteristics maker great learners – being open to feedback, persisting when things get hard and having a sense of curiosity. There are many ways to helps students nurture a growth mindset. Popular strategies include praising behaviours such as effort and curiosity, as well as asking them certain questions to start positive conversations.

In our student growth mindset workshop, we highlight five other strategies that can help students develop their mindset and their attitude towards learning. Here they are:

Don't rush to "I Can't"

When students start a new task, or are doing one that is very difficult, it is sometimes tempting to say "I can't do this" or "I can't be bothered". We call this "rushing to I can't". With a bit of effort, students may surprise themselves by how well they can do the task and how much they enjoy it. This can be encouraged through the use of short-term goals (that act as an aid to breaking the task down into achievable chunks) and through positive reinforcement when the students demonstrate the desired behaviours. 

The power of "yet"

There is a huge difference between saying "I am not good at this" and "I am not good at this yet". The simple addition suggests the student may get there with some hard work and resilience.

The way in which we talk to ourselves has a big impact on how we think and feel, but it is not often explicitly taught. This is something we explored more in this blog here. A good starting point is asking students what the difference between "I am not good at maths" and "I am not good at maths yet" is. Even at a very young age, they totally understand that the former is final and the latter suggests they will get there if they keep going for a bit longer.

Ask "What would I do differently next time?"

This is a great question to ask after a setback because it stops you dwelling on the past and helps you reflect and focus on what you need to improve in future. This question is one of the nine that we recommend for developing and improving metacognition, which is all about becoming aware and in control of your own thought process.

This technique has been demonstrated to be one of the most effective for helping students improve their performance. Teachers can ensure students do this in class by having the same post-task or post-exam routine. No matter how well or badly they have done, having the same set of questions – which include "what would I do differently?" – will ensure they do not get too high after a success or too low after a failure (both of which can negatively affect learning).

Fail better

Everyone experiences failure at some stage in their life. But can you fail better? This doesn't mean failing more often, it means learning as much as possible from the failure experience. One way to fail better is if you ask someone for feedback and then actually use it. Key to this is helping students understand that feedback is not personal criticism or a judgement on their abilities – simply a guide on how to get a bit better. 

Try new things

A sense of curiosity and courage can be really helpful. It can help you learn new things, and not find the unknown scary. Sometimes new experiences can be the most rewarding and most exciting. Stepping out of your comfort zone once in a while is a good way to expand your horizons and develop your mindset.Students should be encouraged to be 10% braver (if you ask someone to step too far out of their comfort zone it can be too stressful) or by setting questions and challenges that stretch the students to raise their standards/abilities.

This blog originally ran on the InnerDrive blog here. If you want to learn more about developing a growth mindset culture in your classroom and school, you may be interested in their Growth Mindset CPD or Advanced Growth Mindset CPD.

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