Building a Growth Mindset in Children

Building a Growth Mindset in Children


When children face a difficult problem, a
challenging task or try to fix an error they have made in the classroom or at home, how
do they cope? Some react positively, responding with, “I
love a challenge!” and get stuck into facing the new problem head on. Others, however get stuck in ‘catastrophe’
mode, feeling overwhelming judgement on their abilities and fear of failure. What we’re seeing here are two different
mindsets. A ‘growth mindset’ versus a ‘fixed mindset’. Students with a growth mindset understand
that their abilities can improve through effort, learning and making mistakes. Students with a fixed mindset are stuck in
the ‘now’ instead of the ‘yet’. They can’t see beyond the errors they are
making now, and believe that this will always be the case. Studies have shown that next time these students
are faced with such challenges they are likely to cheat, or find someone who did worse to
make themselves feel better. In almost all cases, they run from the problem
instead of engaging with it. They just don’t have the skill or understanding…yet. And this one seemingly insignificant word
can make a world of difference. Scientists have measured the electrical activity
in the brain of both growth and fixed mindset participants when faced with a challenging
error. In those with a fixed mindset, there showed
little to no brain activity during the task – instead of engaging with the error, they
ran from it. While those with a growth mindset showed high
amounts of activity, meaning that these participants engaged deeply with the problem, processed
the error, learnt from it and then corrected it. Let’s take a moment to stop and think about
how children are being raised in today’s society. Are they being raised for now, or yet? While many parents and educators are rightly
concerned with the self-esteem of the children in their care, they may be unknowingly producing
children with a constant need for validation, and future adults with no desire to work without
regular reward and awards. So, how can we begin to change this? To start, we can be mindful to praise wisely;
for effort, for the process and for use of strategies, rather than for intelligence alone. Instead of, “Oh, look how clever you are,
that’s the correct answer”, try, “Great effort on working through that problem, I
can really see your thinking and the way you used your mistakes to learn something new.” By rewarding the ‘yet’ instead of just
the ‘now’ we can begin to develop children with resilience, perseverance and the confidence
to try a second, third and fourth time, rather than giving up after just one attempt. See, mindsets can be changed, they don’t
have to stay fixed forever. For this to occur in children, they need to
understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’. We can teach students that learning builds
stronger connections in the brain. We can show them that every time they learn
something new and challenging, the neurons in their brain form new and stronger connections. In a study on school aged children with low
academic results, it was revealed that students who were not explicitly taught the growth
mindset continued to decline in their results, while those who underwent the growth mindset
training showed a significant improvement in theirs, even when they too weren’t doing
so well to begin with. And when educators create growth mindset classrooms,
even the most disadvantaged, struggling students can begin to produce results that outshine
their more privileged peers. These heights can be reached when the meaning
of effort and difficulty are transformed. Instead of these things making students feel
stupid or like failures, they can learn that rather, effort and difficulty cause their
neurons to make new and stronger connections, making them SMARTER every day. So while mindsets may be developed through
experiences and surroundings, they can also be taught and changed. Through attention to the way we praise and
the emphasis we put on the process and effort of learning, we can turn all children’s
“I cant’s into “I can’t yet, but I will”.

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