What is a “Growth Mindset”?
9 Ways To Teach a Growth Mindset
1. Provide attainable challenges.
Students need to be given clear and concise steps to take to achieve a goal. Whether it’s how to solve a math problem, or how to write a paragraph, smaller goals attained over a period of time are easier to manage. By bravely attempting smaller steps leading up to a larger goal, in the end, the student will gain a feeling of success and achievement. In return, they will be more apt to put forth the necessary effort on more complex tasks. The confidence needed to achieve is built by a series of smaller achievements.
2. Give opportunities to face obstacles.
You don’t want everything to come easily for your students. Providing them with only easy tasks and praising them or giving unwarranted rewards will be counter-intuitive to your goals. Learning a growth mindset requires facing challenges. Go ahead and give them the challenge words on their spelling list, or the complex writing assignment. These are obstacles that they must be able to face, and it gives them the practice they need to build a growth mindset of “This is going to be hard, but I will try and follow the steps I know to tackle it.”
3. Teach and model good attitudes.
Find some good books to read aloud that express or show examples of a growth mindset. One of my favorites is Flight School by Lita Judge, in which a determined little penguin achieves his dream of flying despite his many obstacles and apparent incapability. You can also model good attitudes by speaking aloud as you solve any problem, verbalizing your thought process. Use words that show you are persisting, confident, and capable, and teach the children why you are speaking to yourself in such ways. Encourage them to speak to themselves in that manner as well.
4. Teach how to accept constructive criticism.
It’s important that children learn early on how to accept constructive criticism and to use it as a stepping stone for growth. To do this, they must view moderate levels of criticism from appropriate sources as being a good and helpful thing. Teaching them this is no easy task. Some children can be highly sensitive and do not possess the needed perspective to receive constructive criticism. Be sure that when it is given, that constructive criticism is offered tactfully. And when you offer it, be sure to dole it out with grace and kindness, with an emphasis on the exact steps a child should take to meet the prospective goal. Take the time to teach a mini-lesson or two about what constructive criticism is, why it is given, and how it should be heard and received.
5. View failure as learning.
Children will pick up their cues from you – what you say, how you respond, and what you do about failure will determine their attitudes as well. Whenever possible, express failure in terms that are more positive. Instead of saying “You failed,” say “Your efforts were not 100%,” or “Your attitude towards this task was lacking,” or at the very minimum, “You didn’t take all of the necessary steps.” Take the opportunity to review the actions or steps necessary to achieve, and encourage them to try again, practicing what they’ve now learned from the experience of not meeting expectations.
6. Provide group learning opportunities.
Children learn by cooperating in groups that their efforts and participation results in the success of a group. Their sense of responsibility for their group’s performance will spur them on to try hard. As a result, they will feel a sense of success upon completion of the activity, building confidence that spreads into other activities.
7. Celebrate Successes and Minimize Failures.
If possible, reward children for their positive outlook and catch them in the act of showing a growth mindset. Listen attentively to conversations with them, and verbally praise them when you hear comments or see behaviors that show hard work, determination, following steps/procedures, or speaking affirmatively to themselves or to their peers. When failure occurs, show them ways they can learn from the experience and tell them verbally, instead of just providing them a grade. Give them opportunities to improve upon their poor performance, by re-teaching and providing chances to re-do or edit their work after constructive criticism has been given.
8. Provide Opportunities to Celebrate the Success of Others.
Encourage students to share in the joy of another student’s achievement in an area. Praise and reward things other than intelligence or good grades. When providing feedback or praise publicly, try to avoid saying “Elizabeth is so smart,” and instead say “Look at how well Elizabeth took my instructions and followed them to a T,” or “Congratulations to Elizabeth for putting forth such good effort into this task.”
9. Teach perseverance and the power of YET
Students need to learn early on that learning new things does not come easy. It requires effort and perseverance. Teach them what this big and powerful word means through class discussions, sharing examples, and praising them for their efforts. Encourage students to not give up when things get hard and tell them that if they can’t do something now, it doesn’t mean they never will. Say “You can’t do this YET, but keep going!” The word YET is a powerful one. Encourage students to use it themselves when they get stuck or feel frustrated. They will feel empowered to “keep on swimming” as Dory would say!
These 9 techniques for encouraging a growth mindset in the classroom are generally accepted as best practices. How have you attempted to promote a growth mindset in your classroom lately?
Growth Mindset Resources
Growth Mindset Curriculum Unit
Social Emotional Development
Looking for more lessons and activities to help teach growth mindset and social emotional skills? Check out the mind+heart SEL curriculum!