“I’m not smart enough.”
“It’s okay if I just pass.”
“I’ll never understand math.”
These are a sample of a few things you may hear if you become a tutor. In fact, you probably hear it every day from various people around you.
This is what they call a fixed mindset.
Kids with a fixed mindset believe they’re ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’, talented at something: painting, music or football, or not. They may believe the world is made of some gifted people, whom the rest admire from the sidelines.
But, kids with a growth mindset appreciate that anyone can build themselves into anything they want to be. They recognise that people aren’t ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’, that there are no talented geniuses; only hard-working people who have chosen to take their abilities to the next level.
Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, studies mindset in children, performed a small study:
In one study, Dweck compared two groups of 12-13 year-olds entering high school who had been assessed as having either fixed or growth mindsets. The growth-mindset group improved their maths scores over the course of the study, whereas the fixed-mindset group showed poor motivation and a decline in grades.
In a second study, Dweck’s team reversed the decline in math scores by staging a simple intervention—students were coached on growth versus fixed mindsets. They were told that every time they learn something new their brain forms new connections, and that over time their intellectual abilities can be developed. A control group was taught study skills. After the training, the control group continued to show declining grades, but remarkably, the growth-mindset group showed a significant upsurge in their motivation to learn and their grades.
Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset).
How can we change those with a fixed mindset?
The answer is Praise. But be mindful to praise the right way.
“You’re so smart.”
Praising children’s intelligence may boost their confidence for a brief moment, but it only gives them a fixed view of intelligence. This can make them afraid of challenges and lose confidence when tasks become hard. The result is plummeting performance in the face of difficulty.
“You must have worked really hard for this test, and your dedication is reflected in your grade.”
Research shows that praising the process—children’s effort or strategies—creates eagerness for challenges, persistence in the face of difficulty, and enhanced performance.
By emphasising effort, we give children something they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasising natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.
Here are some more tips that can help you promote a growth mindset with kids:
1. Help children understand that the brain works like a muscle, that can only grow through hard work, determination, and lots and lots of practice.
2. Don’t tell students they are smart, gifted, or talented, since this implies that they were born with the knowledge, and does not encourage effort and growth.
3. Let children know when they demonstrate a growth mindset.
4. Praise the process. It’s effort, hard work, and practice that allow children to achieve their true potential.
5. Don’t praise the results. Test scores and rigid ways of measuring learning and knowledge limit the growth that would otherwise be tapped.
6. Embrace failures and missteps. Children sometimes learn the most when they fail. Let them know that mistakes are a big part of the learning process. There is nothing like the feeling of struggling through a very difficult problem, only to finally break through and solve it! The harder the problem, the more satisfying it is to find the solution.
7. Encourage participation and collaborative group learning. Children learn best when they are immersed in a topic and allowed to discuss and advance with their peers.
8. Encourage competency-based learning. Get kids excited about subject matter by explaining why it is important and how it will help them in the future. The goal should never be to get the ‘correct’ answer, but to understand the topic at a fundamental, deep level, and want to learn more.
Recall some of the growth and fixed mindset statements you have heard. What were they, who said them to you? Tell us in the comments below.