If you don’t have a certain skill, but you decide you can acquire it if you practice and stick with it, you have a growth mindset. If you believe that effort leads to improvement, if you embrace mistakes because they help you learn to improve, you have a growth mindset. On the other hand, a fixed mindset would be the belief that you’re not smart enough to learn that new skill, and no amount of practice will change that.
In School Leaders Now, elementary school principal Eric Ewald shares another example of the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. He used to think that he didn’t like running, and two miles was his limit. What happened, though, as he continued to run, was that he realized he wanted to run more. He got faster. He got better. He enjoyed it more. And the more he enjoyed it, the more he wanted to do it. His point is that we tend to like the things we are good at and don’t like the things we’re bad at. But the more we work at something, the more we improve, and that contributes to our enjoyment and desire to do it more. In other words, “Everything is hard before it is easy.”
TeachThought contributor Saga Briggs discusses Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s research into fixed and growth mindsets: “Students were given fairly challenging problems from a nonverbal IQ test, then praised for their performance. Some students were told, ‘Wow, you got [X many] right. That’s a really good score. You must be smart at this,’ while others were told, ‘Wow, you got [X many] right. That’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.’ In other words, some were praised for ability and others for effort.”
Praising students on their ability pushed them into a fixed mindset. Dweck found that students with fixed mindsets rejected new challenges out of fear that they might prove inadequate. Students who were praised for their effort, on the other hand, wanted challenging new tasks they could learn from. “For the effort-praised kids, the difficulty was simply an indication that they had to put in more effort, not a sign of failure or a reflection of their poor intellect.”
Promote Growth Mindset in the Classroom
There are several way to help foster a growth mindset in the classroom. Try replacing the word “failing” with the word “learning.” Learning occurs at different rates in different students, and focusing on how quickly a student learns can hamper the enjoyment of the learning process itself. And, as Dweck’s research illustrates, rewarding effort and actions rather than traits like intelligence helps students increase their desire to learn. Thus, it’s important to reward hard work rather than inherent ability.
If you can help students think of the brain as a muscle that needs to be exercised, it will help them see that their potential to learn is only limited by the effort they are willing to expend.
Advance Your Teaching Skills and Your Education Career
Pursuing your master’s is a great way to explore and apply educational theory and research. You can advance your teaching skills and improve student performance. It’s also a great path for moving into school leadership positions.
Fitchburg State University offers a fully online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching, and it’s designed to meet the needs of working teachers. After all, you don’t have to be a genius to earn your graduate degree. All it takes is effort.
Learn more about Fitchburg State University’s M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching online.