Starting the Year with a Growth Mindset

Do we truly believe that ALL of our students can learn at the highest levels? ALL students? Not just the students who already do okay-not just the students who get extra services-not just the students from affluent neighborhoods or families. ALL MEANS ALL! Having a growth mindset and helping our students develop a growth mindset is a foundational piece for pushing students to high levels of achievement.

Learners (adults and children) with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be changed and grown – with practice and effort! Stanford University professor of psychology, Dr. Carol Dweck, wrote about the concepts of “growth mindsets” and “fixed mindsets” in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Learners with a growth mindset believe they can learn anything – they might struggle and even experience some failure – but in the end, with perseverance and effort, they can succeed. Learners with a growth mindset do NOT focus on looking smart, they focus on learning. Educators with a growth mindset provide challenging opportunities for their students because they believe that with effort and hard work all students can show significant growth.

Educator, Mary Cay Ricci, writes about building a culture of success and student achievement in her classroom in her 2013 book, Mindsets in the Classroom. In her book, Ricci describes a 7 step process for building a growth mindset culture in a school. A key step includes how we praise students. Students who are praised for their effort and the process of learning develop a growth mindset while students who are praised for how smart they are develop a fixed mindset. “You did a great job on that paper” does not encourage a growth mindset until you add “I can tell you worked very hard.” On the website, Mindset Works, you can find lists of suggestions for praising students that encourages a growth mindset. They also have quizzes to assess mindset.

So, how does this tie into Project-Based Learning? How does it not? In a PBL classroom, students are learning about content and developing skills in critical thinking, collaboration, communication and self-management (read this blog on building a PBL culture in the classroom). Students with fixed mindsets will find it difficult to take the lead on their own learning because it isn’t about the learning, it’s about compliance and getting good grades or it’s about surviving and trying to figure out how not to look dumb in class because school is a struggle. Learners with a growth mindset stretch themselves, take risks in their learning, accept feedback, and understand that it is through productive struggle and repeated efforts that growth occurs (watch a TEDX Talk on “The Power of Belief”).

Growth mindset may not be part of your classroom – YET! I challenge you to do some reading and explore some of the resources– and start your year off with a growth mindset classroom.

Keim_Joanne_SMALLJoanne Keim
PBL Coordinator

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