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Growth mindset is characterized by the belief that an individual’s abilities can be developed, improved upon, and cultivated. In other words, it's a belief that success can be learned.
A growth mindset leads to increased motivation and a love of learning, thus leading to higher achievement. Additionally, it translates into a resilience that is crucial for great accomplishment.
We now know the brain is far more malleable than once believed. It also turns out that an individual will behave differently if they believe their brain can grow. That's why inspiring the growth mindset in our learners is one of the best things we can do for them in their early years.
What the Growth Mindset Does for Us
On the flip side, the belief that an individual’s intelligence, talent, and basic qualities are all fixed traits is referred to as having a fixed mindset. Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that people are born with certain traits and stuck with them for life. This mindset can be a barrier to learning and trying new things.
For example, if an individual truly believes they could never learn a second language, then they will never attempt to find success in this area. Due to the belief that hard work and practicing will not help them learn a new skill, a fixed mindset can be dangerous. It often prevents the development of important skills, which can be detrimental to an individual’s future health and happiness.
Growth mindset is characterized by the belief that an individual’s abilities can be developed, improved upon, and cultivated.
The impact of inspiring the growth mindset in the early years can greatly influence how much an individual will invest in learning. The early years are prime years to help develop perseverance and resilience as young learners experience setbacks while developing new skills. An environment that supports a growth mindset approach sets individuals, especially young learners, on a path where they eagerly face learning challenges with determination and grit.
Young children learn through all of their senses as they discover and explore their environment with curiosity. Asking questions denotes a child’s strong desire to construct knowledge and build theories. The early years are full of opportunities to nurture a growth mindset in young learners. From the earliest of stages, this can begin by engaging in growth mindset development practices and incorporating it in a young learner’s approach to learning.
Parents, caregivers, and teachers can support young learners by encouraging problem-solving and an attitude that allows for possibilities; this encouragement should begin as early as birth. Since children learn through teaching and modeling, when a child enters school and is ready to engage and benefit from early learning experiences, teachers play a huge role in helping to shape students’ behaviors and mindsets.
Ways of Inspiring the Growth Mindset in Learners
Changing the language that is used to describe behavior is often the first step in teaching a growth mindset to children. This is especially in relation to how children are praised, and how they are encouraged to dream big. Here are several ways teachers can instill the power of a growth mindset in young children to give them the capacity for a lifelong learning.
1. Praise the Value of Effort
Praise should be focused on the process of learning rather than a focus on making a child feel special or important. Also, it’s important to praise children for their effort and hard work instead of praising them for being smart. For example, if a child successfully completes a math problem after struggling, teachers with a growth mindset would praise their effort and hard work instead of insisting that the child is smart.
This approach would instill the belief that effort and hard work were exercised, thus the reason the child was able to complete the math problem. Even if the answer was incorrect, the child receives praise for his effort and determination. This is where language plays an important role in growth mindset, specifically with the power of the word “yet”.
2. The Power of "Yet"
Future potential should be affirmed when a child is learning, and this is the objective to changing the way children are praised when a growth mindset is demonstrated in a classroom. When children have difficulties, saying they are not ready “yet” rather than saying they have failed, instills the belief that learning is ongoing and that success will come eventually if they continue to try. A growth mindset tells children to dream big and that whatever they want to achieve is possible with patience and hard work.
3. Model Good Attitudes
Encouraging children to speak to themselves in a manner that is positive can be powerful for achieving the growth mindset. Teachers should model this in the classroom as they speak by using words that encourage being persistent, capable, and confident. Reading books to young learners that demonstrate the importance of persistence and a positive attitude in achieving one's dreams despite many obstacles and hardships is a great tool for fostering a growth mindset in early learners.
Praise should be focused on the process of learning rather than a focus on making a child feel special or important.
4. Shared Learning
Shared learning experiences in the classroom give children the opportunity to work together and observe the different approaches of other children to solve problems. This instills the belief that more minds are better than one. In addition, children learn the value of listening, sharing, critical thinking, and how to collaboratively work together as they improve their social skills. Activities that involve cooperation help children focus on others and encourages of a sense of responsibility to do their best.
5. Let Them Discover
Instead of rescuing and helping a child, a growth mindset allows children to struggle and discover their own way to figure out problems. Teachers are there to support with a praise that encourages them to try a variety of approaches to problem-solving. This helps build knowledge as their brain makes connections with these new experiences. Letting children discover what works and what doesn’t builds resilience and sets them up for better problem solving in the future.
To help children learn how to handle diverse challenges, teachers can expose students to different instructional methods. This provides the opportunity for children to process and demonstrate knowledge as various content is presented. To help them approach different learning obstacles, it’s important to use blocks, audio clips, videos, and learning stations within the classroom, which serve as various delivery methods to help sharpen a range of skills.
7. Success Folder
Teachers can remind students of their achievements and progress by incorporating the use of success folders into the classroom. Students can create the folders and add personal examples of successful learning experiences each week. Such examples can come in the form of tests, assignments, and completed tasks where a child has demonstrated growth. The folders are physical evidence of growth and can be powerful tools when used in educational settings.
Inspiring the Growth Mindset the Right Way
A child’s belief system inspires their desire for academic success. Those with little self-esteem lack in performance compared to children who believe they have control over their successes and failures. As a teacher, it’s important to take the time to learn about the growth mindset and to incorporate various methods for helping students achieve it.
Start with a great resource from us, the Growth Mindset Poster. It's a great way to compare the fixed and growth mindsets and why making the shift is so essential to success in school and in life.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jun 20, 2019, updated Dec 16, 2021