Research is providing evidence that intelligence and the fundamental aspects of intelligence can be changed and the greater the training, the greater the gains. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), Carol Dweck summarizes how her research showing that when students develop a “growth mindset” they believe the brain can grow from exercise and that intelligence and smartness can be learned. Her findings are profound for students of mathematics, but it takes purposeful effort on the teacher’s part to convey a growth mindset to students. Following are five ways that educators can convey and foster a growth mindset in the classroom that will result in students wanting to learn, enjoying learning, and learning effectively.
1. Embrace a growth mindset!
Research shows that when teachers believe in a fixed mindset of intelligence, this is exactly what happens – those that start out at the top of the class end at the top of the class and those that start out at the bottom of the class stay at the bottom throughout the year. But when teachers hold a growth mindset, many students that start out lower in a class flourish during the year and join the higher achievers because their teachers believe they can do better, encourage them to try harder, and provide them with specific study and learning strategies.
2. Dispel the idea that we are born with a certain fixed amount of intelligence!
According to research, talent alone cannot explain the genius phenomena, but rather that focused and extended effort over time develop genius. But we must remind students that many great minds have worked diligently over long periods of time before achieving their goal and being considered a genius.
3. Emphasize the importance of exercising the brain in making it stronger!
Working and exercising the brain makes it stronger in making neural connections. Learning something new and unfamiliar may be hard, but it creates new connections that can over time make you smarter. Teachers should provide varied learning experiences that allow students multiple ways to engage with mathematics and exercise the brain in order to build new connections.
4. Portray persistence, perseverance, and making mistakes as highly valuable in learning!
We sometimes give students easy tasks they can accomplish with minimal effort and mistakes in order to build their confidence, but this can actually result in them shying away from challenges, limiting their effort, and trying to avoid making mistakes. The ability to embrace and persevere in problem solving and learn from mistakes are at the heart of learning, particularly in mathematics and science, so it’s important to promote this thinking in the classroom.
5. Give process praise rather than person or outcome praise to all students!
Process praise feedback refers to feedback about strategies, effort, perseverance, improvement, etc. as opposed to person praise feedback that refers to the talent or intelligence of the individual or outcome praise feedback which puts the focus on the final product. All students should receive process praise for the strategies and processes they use in solving problems, but it’s vitally important for students for which things come easy to receive process praise as they may be the first to choose not to do work when it becomes more difficult since it may threaten their sense of giftedness.
Want to read more about Growth Mindset? Check out my post on Edutopia's blog, Growth Mindset and the Common Core Math Standards.
About the Author
Cindy Bryant is LearnBop's Director of Learning. She is a former Presidential Awardee, former head of K-12 mathematics for the state of Missouri for almost seven years, and a former board member of the NCTM.
Join Cindy on Tues, 1/26 for a webinar hosted by Education Week—