Growth Mindset Made Visible

Why do some students thrive in the face of challenges, while others fall apart? One reason is because students have different beliefs about the nature of intelligence. These beliefs serve as lenses through which students interpret their experiences in school, particularly experiences of adversity.

People with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is innate. This belief can make school a threatening place. It becomes a place to go to learn how smart you are — or how smart you’re not. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe intelligence can be developed. For these students, school can be an exciting place, as it provides them with an opportunity to learn and develop their intelligence.

Numerous studies detail what happens when students have a growth mindset, but even when research tells us which practices help students develop a growth mindset, many educators still want to know what it looks like in the classroom.

To help educators learn more about mindsets and practices that help students develop them, Stanford University PERTS (Project for Education Research That Scales) is developing the Mindset Kit. Teaching Channel and PERTS partnered on two videos for the Mindset Kit to show growth mindset practices in action:

Praising the Process

In Chana Stewart’s 1st grade class in East Palo Alto, California, we see her authentically Praising the Process. Process praise helps students connect their success to the strategies and steps they took to get there. In contrast, person praise focuses on traits often thought of as innate. While it may seem that person praise — saying things like “you’re so smart” — can help build confidence, it can actually undermine it. If you praise kids for being smart when they succeed, when they struggle later, they think, “If my past success made me smart, my current struggle makes me dumb.”

But if you focus on the process and help children understand that their actions lead to success, then when they face a challenge they’ll realize there are actions they can take to overcome that setback.

Process praise should be specific and authentic. Simply saying “good effort,” especially when you don’t know how much effort students put into their work, is often not enough. In this video, we see Chana give her students specific and goal-focused process praise to help them develop their writing skills. As part of her strategy for giving authentic praise, Chana spends time looking over students’ work so she can clearly state the positive things she sees in it. Chana also uses process praise to help students set their next goal for writing. In this way, process praise is used as a jumping off point for process-focused critical feedback.

Persisting Through Challenges

In Mari Montoy-Wilson’s 2nd grade classroom in East Palo Alto, California, we see her Encouraging Students to Persist Through Challenges. We see Mari:

  • Give students a challenging problem to work on.
  • Talk about and normalize struggle so students understand that it’s an important part of the learning process.
  • Encourage students to ask for advice when they’re stuck and to articulate their thinking process.
  • Make use of wait time to allow students the space to think and grapple with the problem.
  • Reflect on the learning experience and explicitly frame struggle as a part of the learning process.

Engaging with challenging work helps students develop a growth mindset because it helps normalize struggle and learning from struggle. A key aspect of the strategies we see Mari use in her classroom is that they encourage productive struggle, not simply sheer effort. When students are engaged in productive struggle, they ask questions and make educated guesses.

In the small groups in Mari’s classroom, we see students making sense of problems, exploring different approaches, articulating their thinking process, asking their peers questions, and critiquing each other to move their collective understanding of the problem forward.

Importantly, they have an awareness of their current level of understanding of the problem and are able to use strategies and tools to get unstuck. Instead of giving step-by-step instructions, Mari guides them by asking questions and encouraging them to use different strategies and tools.

In both videos, we see teachers engaging in growth mindset practices — and students who are becoming better adept at staying resilient in the face of challenges because they view them as opportunities to grow.

Carissa Romero is Director of Programs at Stanford University PERTS (the Project for Education Research That Scales) and an expert on learning mindsets -— students’ beliefs about learning and school. She received a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Stanford University, where she co-founded PERTS during her second year of graduate school in order to help all students develop learning mindsets. PERTS translates mindset research into tools and resources for educators and parents.

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