Promoting a Growth Mindset in Children

As we navigate moving past the technology era and into the conceptual era, educators must be versed in what is purposeful for students as they pursue their educational journey . . . 
By Ms. Ciara Corcoran, Head of Junior School 

As we navigate moving past the technology era and into the conceptual era, educators must be versed in what is purposeful for students as they pursue their educational journey. At WPGA, we teach and work from a growth mindset—this mindset is one of our school’s core principles and how we coach our teachers to guide their students. Educators, including those at WPGA, often reference Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset, which Dweck describes as the underlying belief that you can always learn and develop new skills and talents. This leads to not only developments in the brain but also the inner capacity to adapt to change easily and to bounce back quickly from failure, i.e. adaptability and resilience. A growth mindset, which rewards effort and process, is at the heart of what every parent wants for their child: a passion for lifelong learning.
 
The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset. When we take a fixed approach to learning, we are no longer curious and dynamic. We avoid challenges, give up easily, feel defeated by setbacks and interpret constructive feedback as negative. For example, a child with a fixed mindset would approach a creative writing assignment with the outlook that they aren’t good at writing and wouldn’t score well on the assignment, and as a result would give up on or not put effort into the assignment. The lack of belief in their abilities and in the process of trying is reflected in a lack of achievement, which leads to decreased motivation—this negative cycle continues.   
 
The Power of Feedback
Teachers and parents, through the nature of their feedback and perspective on rewards, can influence a fixed or growth mindset in their students and children. As you support your child’s educational journey, consider how you can promote a growth mindset and help them find their own personal perseverance.
 
To encourage a growth mindset, we support the following research-based practices: 

  • Praise effort rather than intelligence. Studies have shown that students who were told they were smart gave less effort overall, and chose easier tasks, whereas children who were praised for effort and progress were more motivated to succeed and selected more challenging tasks.
  • Avoid lowering expectations. If a child is told that it’s okay not to be good at math, they will then believe this perceived inability and won’t be motivated to try. Lowering expectations leads to lower motivation and effort.
  • Be candid about struggles: Telling children about the mistakes you’ve made and what you learned from them relays the message that learning is challenging and may involve failure but that it can be achieved through consistent effort.  Helping them to understand that making mistakes and experiencing healthy tension often gives rise to opportunities for deeper growth in learning as well as the realization that there are different pathways to success. 
For additional examples of what to say and what to avoid saying to achieve a growth mindset in children, click here. Find a comprehensive list of resources here on growth mindset and its many applications.
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