As an educator, my hope is to develop joyful, self-directed, engaged learners. Learners who are curious about the world around them, who are excited to take on challenges, who are willing to take risks, and who are resilient and flexible in the face of failure. In sum, learners who have a growth mindset.
I’ve found that building a classroom culture of growth mindset changes how students approach their learning, and is transformational in helping them build the habits of mind to be successful within and beyond the classroom. As one of my kindergartners explains, “If you don’t know how to do something, you can try it again and again and fix your mistakes, and if you don’t give up, you really showed growth mindset.”
The following are three key tips that can support the development of a community of growth mindset learners in your classroom.
Tip 1: Teach Children About Brain Development and Mindsets
Start by teaching students about brain development as well as the fixed mindset and growth mindset. This gives students a scientific background to understand that you can physically change your brain through learning.
I start by asking my kindergartners to share how their muscles get stronger. We liken working out our muscles through exercise to working out our brains through effort and purposeful practice. By showing brain images of dendrite growth, students can discover the way that their brains change as they learn new things. Check out this example of a middle school lesson plan that introduces students to the mindsets.
You can also extend and enrich this understanding by reading aloud literature that celebrates a growth mindset and facilitating discussions about how growth mindset plays out in different contexts. A few of my favorite growth mindset texts include Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Rashka, and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. Here’s a Google doc with more recommended read-alouds that encourage a growth mindset.
Students may also be inspired to read the biographies of famous athletes or thinkers who overcame huge obstacles and who embody a growth mindset, for example, Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull.
Tip 2: Develop Growth Mindset Self Talk
One of the most powerful ways to develop growth mindset is by teaching students to change their inner dialogue — or self talk. Start by helping students learn to hear their own fixed mindset voice (ex: “I got it wrong again, I’ll never get this.”) and then support them to develop a growth mindset voice (ex: “I can get better with practice. This is hard, but it will get easier.”). In our classroom, after reading The Little Engine That Could, the mantra “I think I can, I think I can” could often be heard murmured around the room as students encountered challenges in their writing. Changing our self talk changes the way we think.
Role playing is a powerful way for students to begin using productive self talk. Sometimes I act out a scenario in which I’m using fixed mindset self talk and have my students help me to change it into growth mindset self talk.
Students can also create visual reminders, like billboards, for growth mindset language that can be posted around the classroom, school, or home. These visuals can be placed in strategic places to serve as reminders of productive self talk in moments of need.
Tip 3: Focus On Creating Growth-Oriented Goals
Giving students the opportunity to set growth-oriented goals, and reflect upon their progress in meeting those goals, is fundamental to building a community of growth mindset learners. You might set class goals, partnership goals, or individual goals. For example, in the video Praising the Process, notice that students set individual goals such as elaborating more in their writing, making their characters come to life by adding talk and action, and writing a strong lead to hook the reader. You can sense the pride in one student’s voice as he shares meeting his goal to elaborate on three pages — a big feat for a student who weeks before struggled to write more than a sentence on each page.
Setting and tracking goals helps children build awareness of their growth and celebrate new learning. It can also help children normalize mistakes as a part of the learning process, reflect upon the challenges in meeting a goal, and learn about ways to be flexible or ask for help.
It’s helpful to give students a clear way to track their progress in meeting a goal. For example, they might share their plan for meeting their goal with a partner, jot a visual reminder of the goal on a sticky note, tally the number of times they tried this goal, or place a sticker in their writing at each place they met the goal. In our classroom, we display our goals publicly to remind ourselves that we are a community of brain growers who celebrate one another’s growth.
I hope that teaching your students about mindsets and the brain, developing growth mindset self talk, and creating growth goals are helpful in building your own community of growth mindset learners. How will you weave growth mindset into the fabric of your classroom? Please comment below to share your experiences.
Chana Stewart is a kindergarten and first grade looping teacher in East Palo Alto, California. She is a lead teacher, an America Achieves fellow, and a mentor for teaching candidates from the Stanford Teacher Education Program, of which she is an alum. Chana has been teaching at the East Palo Alto Charter School, an Aspire Public School, for six years. She is passionate about building a community of curious and engaged learners. Connect with her on Twitter: @chana_stewart.