If you were to ask any educator what they look for in an ideal student, many things will come to mind. In fact, there’s no one answer to this question. The tapestry of teaching is woven so intricately, it’s almost impossible to determine what the most important factor is to a successful learner.
However, there are certainly things that are high up on the list. Intrinsically motivated students that have been instilled with a positive, resilient mindset are certainly up there. These traits are the foundation that make up a learner who establishes and develops a healthy relationship with education. It will even help them outside of the classroom, throughout their daily life.
The concept of a growth mindset
Carol Dweck, psychologist and Lewis & Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, conceived and popularised the term that educators have universally become familiar with: that of a growth mindset. Particularly with recent progression in neuroscience, this concept has only emboldened its imprint on the academic scene.
Essentially, when a learner has a growth mindset, they look at challenges as constructive obstacles that can provide valuable lessons. Instead of shutting down in the face of difficulty, hurdles are welcomed and tackled. On the other side of the coin, students with a ‘fixed mindset’ shy away from challenges due to the fear of failure or general insecurity. Now, it’s completely natural to feel intimidated by certain aspects of education. But it’s how we react to these challenges that determines our success. With all this in mind, what are the best ways to instil a growth mindset in learners?
- Promote inner belief ‘yourself’
This may sound like an overdone stereotype, but if a learner is taught to believe in their own abilities, it sets them up in good stead going forward. As an educator, parent, or student, this begins with you. If you don’t practise a growth mindset yourself, it’s hard to cultivate this in others. Look back and reflect on your own relationship with learning.
Do you avoid certain areas? Is there an inherent belief that you aren’t very ‘good’ at something? Have you given up on a particular subject due to a fixed mindset? Don’t worry, these are all completely human, natural patterns of thought. Identifying them and thinking of appropriate ways to react will not only help yourself, but others you wish to impact as well.
- Effort should be valued over ‘ability’
Despite good intentions, telling a learner that they’re inherently clever could be more damaging than you may imagine. While it’s important to offer students praise, telling someone they’re intelligent instead of commending the effort they’ve put into their work may illustrate the wrong message. So, if someone achieves something in their learning journey, note the process that they undertook over the destination.
Everyone is different, and we all learn at different paces. A growth mindset takes this into account. What’s important is that the learner feels a sense of earnest accomplishment upon the completion of a task. This will fuel their motivation and stave away possible murmurings of insecurity that could arise. It will also provide a chance of reflection, recognising the path they took to reach the ultimate goal.
- Frame failure as an inevitable part of learning
We all fail from time to time. After all, we’re only human. While it can be undoubtedly frustrating, failure should also be seen as an opportunity to learn. Students who face failure will react one of two ways: they may grow fearful of leaving their comfort zone again, or recognise that this happens to everyone and to learn from their mistakes. A fixed mindset or a growth mindset. However, life is not about avoiding challenges.
When approached in the right way, what some may see as ‘failures’ can be used as a progressive tool. If a student receives undesirable results, recognise that they’re not failing, rather they haven’t succeeded yet. Making a mistake is not the be-all and end-all. Ultimately, with perseverance and resilience, they will have another opportunity to reach their goal, using the lessons learned as a guiding light.
- Create regular checkpoints for assessment
It’s important for any learner to reflect upon and understand the position in their learning journey. Effective educators will naturally assess formatively throughout the day, trying to scout out misconceptions or gaps in the knowledge. Quick, low-stake tests are to be encouraged, otherwise fundamental understanding could be stunted.
If the foundation to a student’s knowledge is shaky, then their confidence will suffer. If their confidence suffers, they will be more likely to revert back into a fixed mindset. Find opportunities for feedback. Ensure no one is left behind. If fundamental learning has been neglected, holes will begin to appear, meaning more complex concepts will seem far more abstract.
- Encourage resilience
Regardless of their level of academic ability, resilience is a characteristic that should be highly valued. The idea of perseverance in the face of adversity is a fundamental factor of growth mindset as a concept. Encourage learners to strengthen their problem-solving abilities and conjure up solutions when an obstacle appears. Trying the same thing over and over won’t bring any joy here. Students should be given an environment that cultivates discovery and experimentation, providing more opportunities to reach a successful conclusion.
- Learning should be interactive
Ideally, the learning process should not be rigid and linear, but dynamic and interactive. To have a growth mindset, students should be more familiar with a holistic approach to the learning, stepping away from overt pressure into exploration and discovery. If the goal is to enhance a student’s confidence, changing their mindset to take on challenges going forward, then we must look beyond textbooks and worksheets.
Learners who are given more ownership over their work, with a guiding hand throughout the process, will reap the richer rewards. After all, confident, autonomous learners are successful learners, and any educator or parent would be proud to encourage such traits.