Nicole's Note: Oct 4th

What is Growth Mindset?

There is a buzz around the concept of growth mindset amongst many educators recently. You may have even noticed some colorful new bulletin boards in some Canyon classrooms which illustrate the concept behind growth mindset. But what is it and what does it mean for parents and educators?

Most people are held back not by their innate ability, but by their mindset. They think intelligence is fixed, but it isn’t. Based on research by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and her colleagues, we know that students with a growth mindset - the belief that intelligence is not just something that you are born with - have higher levels of success than those with a fixed mindset.

Dr. Carol Dweck found that “most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not, that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure. Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset tended to focus their effort on tasks where they had a high likelihood of success and avoided tasks where they may have had to struggle, which limited their learning. People with a growth mindset, however, embraced challenges, and understood that tenacity and effort could change their learning outcomes. As you can imagine, this correlated with the latter group more actively pushing themselves and growing intellectually.”

Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.

This new research is exciting for many parents and educators because it shows that we can take control of our ability to learn. Building our brains the right way can enable us to all become better learners!

Here’s a story from a parent who has helped to change the mindset of his son:

My 5-year-old son has just started reading. Every night, we lie on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was “gratefully.” He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, “Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.” I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell-tale signs of a “growth mindset.”

But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

The good news is that mindsets can be taught; they’re malleable. Even small changes in communication or seemingly innocent comments can have fairly long-lasting implications for a person’s mindset. For instance, praising someone’s process (“I really like how you struggled with that problem”) versus praising an innate trait or talent (“You’re so smart!”) is one way to reinforce a growth mindset with someone.

You can help to shift your child’s mind by sharing with them that intelligence is not fixed, and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail. Children (and adults!) can learn that as long as we embrace struggle and make mistakes, there is great potential for learning. Teaching your child(ren) about this concept has the potential to make them grittier, more positive, and more successful in their career and everyday lives.

The concept of growth mindset goes way beyond the walls of our classrooms. It applies to how you communicate with your children, how you manage your team at work, how you learn a new language or instrument. “If society as a whole begins to embrace the struggle of learning, there is no end to what that could mean for global human potential.”

For more information about Fixed vs. Growth Mindset, you may want to check out this book. (Some of our teachers are even forming a book club around it!)

Watch for a future parent education workshop on this very topic!