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Helping Children Develop a Growth Mindset

The term growth mindset has been buzzing around education circles for the last decade thanks to Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s research and subsequent book on the subject. 

The term growth mindset has been buzzing around education circles for the last decade thanks to Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s research and subsequent book on the subject.

For anyone unfamiliar with this topic, growth mindset has been defined as “the belief that one’s skills and qualities can be cultivated through effort and perseverance.” In contrast, its counterpart, fixed mindset is described as a “belief that one’s abilities were carved in stone and predetermined at birth.”
What does this look like in reality?
According to Dweck, fixed mindset and growth mindset play out as follows below.
Individuals with fixed mindsets:Individuals with growth mindsets:
Often desire to appear smart and so they...Often desire to learn and so they...
Avoid challengesEmbrace challenges
Give up easilyPersist in spite of setbacks
See effort as fruitlessSee effort as the path to mastery
Ignore useful negative feedbackLearn from criticism
Feel threatened by the success of othersFind lessons and inspiration in the success of others
- Nigel Holmes 

While this distinction may seem simple enough, cultivating a growth mindset in students is a complex undertaking. The concept is often oversimplified, and consequently, a false growth mindset can be perpetuated by adults with good intentions. Instead of moving students away from a fixed mindset and toward a growth mindset, adults may inadvertently redirect students toward a false growth mindset.

What does this look like in practice?
Growth mindset is frequently distilled down to the maxim, “Praise the effort not the outcome.” As Dweck notes, this promotes a false growth mindset because by praising efforts that don’t lead to success, adults offer a consolation prize to a child and send the message that they don’t believe the child can do better. Praising ineffective effort with the hope of developing a growth mindset, will likely only lead to greater frustration. To truly foster a growth mindset in children, or anyone for that matter, parents, teachers and coaches must do more than just praise individual effort.
So what’s the best way to promote a growth mindset?
  1. Realize that “nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time.”
  2. Identify fixed mindset triggers. Observe what triggers you to believe that your abilities are set and then look for similar patterns in your children.
  3. Work with your children on overcoming these triggers so that, over time, you can help them develop a growth mindset about their abilities in a given area.
  4. Center your comments around how effort led to progress or success. This keeps the focus on the learning process.
  5. Temper praise by making sure it’s not too strong and not too passive. (Yes, this takes time to perfect.)
  6. When children struggle in spite of their best efforts, offer support to them by showing them a new strategy or supportive resources. You want them to know when to ask for assistance and when to make use of available resources.
In helping to cultivate a growth mindset in our children, we are preparing them for a world where jobs will constantly change and contain ill-defined tasks. Chandler teachers are working toward this goal by incorporating more open-ended challenges into their curricula. This includes maker projects, tinkering opportunities and project-based learning units. These methodologies offer students challenges that focus on the learning process and include iteration and reflection.

By integrating these elements into their lessons, Chandler’s teachers are giving their students new opportunities to cultivate a growth mindset, one that will be necessary for the careers that lie ahead of them.

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