Create a growth mindset and avoid a fixed mindset  

By Reshma Parveen

Relevant for: Teachers, parents, students and those who consider themselves learners

Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues studied students’ attitude about failure. They came up with the underlying principles of learning and intelligence as fixed mindset and growth mind set. From an educationist point of view, I will try to explain when students develop fixed mindset or growth mindset and how can teachers help in developing a growth mindset in students?

Understanding how the brain works is the first step towards growth mindset. Students as young as in primary school need to learn how the brain has neurons and how they are inter-connected making a network. By learning about the brain and how it works, students develop an understanding that their mindset is not fixed but changeable, they will put more effort in developing a growth mindset. How can this understanding be developed?

Brainstorming on what the brain does? What is intelligent? Do we have equal intelligent? Are animals intelligent? Can we improve our intelligent? is a good start point. Then teaching them about neurons and how they are interconnected can be discussed. A growing child who initially cannot speak gradually gets to speaking, learns the language – words then sentences – is a good example on making the students believe that they can change and improve their intelligence.

Research has found that when students believe that their efforts give them the outcome they desired, they put in extra time and more effort making their way to more success. Success breeds success. Research in neuro science explain this phenomena very well. The nerve cells or neurons in our brain are interconnected and broader experience can change and extend this network. With practice and extended activities the existing network is strengthen and new connections are developed. The brain cells also form insulations sheets that transmit information more quickly.

It means that by doing extra and extended activities, our brains ability to process information is increased. It is the same logic as a novice runner plans to run 10KM. Since he/she has never ran, initially it is difficult and painful. So may be he/she starts by running 2km a day. This initial running is painful and the muscles hurt. By continuing the exercise the person can run 5, then 8 then 10km according to his/her own pace. It does not mean that the muscle pain fades away, but that the muscles get stronger to overcome the pain. Same situation can be observed in weight lifting. A person who can’t lift 20 pounds at the start of exercise can lift 100 pounds after working out for a long time. That’s because the muscles become larger and stronger with exercise. Just like a runner or a weightlifter through brain exercise one can grow a stronger brain. Sometimes it is hurtful but when one feels getting better and stronger, all the work is worth it. The more you challenge your mind to learn, the more neuron connections you make in your brain. If you continue to strengthen these connections, things you once found very hard to do become easy and you get a stronger and smarter brain.

Teachers’ feedback has a very great impact on changing students’ mindset. Generally in our schools the well-performing students are praised for their good work. Teachers consider their work as perfect with not further changes or improvements. One would wonder that this is the best way to help the child improve. But interestingly, research has found that such attitude develops a fixed mind set in well-performing students (No improvement needed!!! Right?). It means that telling students they are smart is developing a fixed mindset. To cultivate a growth mindset teachers should praise the hard work and the efforts that the student has put in the work and should provide further guidance.

With other students in the class who are not able to perform very well, the teacher should provide specific feedback (on their assignment, test paper or verbally). Once students have done a test/assignment and the teacher has check it, detailed written feedback should be given. One may say that students do not bother reading the feedback, teachers should spend 15-20mins of the class giving students time to read the feedback and correct their mistakes on a separate sheet of paper. Processing their errors makes students deeply involved in it, greater learning from it and correcting it. The teacher may choose not to check it again (so it is not an extra burden) but to let students peer check each other’s corrections.

When students have a growth mindset, they take on challenges and learn from them leading to increased abilities and achievement. It is time to harness the failures that we encounter not only in schools but in everyday life. Build on your failures and feel proud for your learning.

A 10 mins TED talk by Dr. Carol Dweck’ on the power of ‘not yet’ instead of a failure can be watched here. https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en



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