Inside: Helping kids switch from a fixed to a growth mindset empowers them as lifelong learners.
Our eldest daughter has danced competitively since the age of seven. She just loves being onstage. For each dance competition she will perform as part of a number of troupe dances, as well as dancing solo routines of her own. It’s a lot to learn and remember, and I often wonder how she does it.
The answer is thoughtful teaching, a lot of rehearsal and muscle memory.
Dancers develop muscle memory as a result of the repetitive nature of their practice. To master a new routine, the dancer learns the first small section of the dance, practising it over and over until it is familiar, and then adding on the next section, dancing these two parts until known and then adding on another small chunk, and so it continues. This process enables the brain to create a blueprint of which body movements are required in response to each musical element the ear hears.
This muscle memory aids the dancer’s body to a point where the dancer doesn’t even need to think about the steps; the music plays and their brain guides the body as it moves in response with seemingly little or no conscious effort.
When you think about it, our brain really is quite amazing!
Fortunately, training the brain is not limited to dance, or the many other sports that employ muscle memory as a competitive tool. Our brain can stretch and grow in response to all sorts of different learning challenges. And by helping our children to develop the right mindset about the brain and its capacity for learning we can empower them to become lifelong learners.
And that mindset that they need – it’s called a growth mindset.
Unfortunately many children (and adults) actually hold a fixed mindset about learning. Helping them to switch from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is one of the most important things we can do, as teachers and parents, as through this switch they can learn to view challenges as opportunities, to develop an “I can” attitude, and to discover a value in, and love of, learning – even when it’s hard!
What is Fixed Mindset?
“I can’t do it.”
Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, chances are you’ve heard a child speak these words. In fact, you’ve probably said them yourself a time or two. This “can’t” language reflects a fixed mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe qualities like intelligence, skills and talents are fixed and can’t be developed further – they can’t do it and they’ll never be able to because they’re just aren’t good at that. They are fixed in their thinking because they believe talent reflects success, not effort.
What is Growth Mindset?
In contrast, those with a growth mindset look at challenges and learning as opportunities for growth, with failure just a part of the growth and development process. Dr. Carol Dweck coined the term as a result of her research into learning and intelligence, and the belief systems surrounding those concepts. With a growth mindset one believes that effort trumps fixed ability, and by working hard to overcome challenges, the individual can, in fact, achieve more.
Helping Kids Make the Switch: From Fixed to Growth Mindset
“I am not good at. . .”
“I can’t. ..”
“It’s too hard. . .”
Fixed mindset language starts with failure and negativity. It focuses on those things that the student feels they ‘can’t’ do, seeing them as weaknesses instead of opportunities for growth. In contrast, with growth mindset language, one looks at weaknesses as opportunities for improvement and increased achievement – “I can’t…yet,” or “I’m not good at … yet.” With growth mindset, failure is not a bad word, it is simply part of learning. When learning new things encountering obstacles to success are is to be expected, with mistakes or failures expected potholes on the road to reaching a final goal.
Because children (and adults!) often used fixed mindset language, flipping the script doesn’t come intuitively. It’s important that as adults, we model the language to use and correct fixed mindset language when it occurs.
1. Instead of the ‘can’ts,’ focus on the ‘cans’
When a child says they can’t do something, flip the fixed mindset language by talking about what they can do.
For example, if a child says, “I can’t do long division,” foster growth mindset language by saying, “You can divide two digit numbers, which will help you learn how to improve your long division skills.” By focusing on the ‘cans’ instead of the ‘can’ts,’ children are reminded that everything can be difficult in the beginning, and if they continue to utilise the knowledge and skills they already have, it’s possible and probable that they will indeed reach their goal.
2. Teach children to ask for help
Part of having a growth mindset is knowing when to ask for help. “This is just too hard” becomes “I could use some help with this,” when the language is switched from fixed to growth mindset.
Teaching your children to use the tools at their disposal, whether that is text books, digital resources, teachers, peers, or parents, can help to strengthen a growth mindset. When students get stuck, it’s important for them to know that it’s completely normal to struggle, and that it is okay to ask for help or to consult the available resources.
Model this behavior in your own home or classroom. When something is difficult for you, like using a new technology tool or creating a schedule, ask those around you to help. Use positive, growth mindset language, such as “I can do this, but I have a few questions” or “I know I can do this with a little help.”
3. Give specific feedback
Positive language isn’t necessarily synonymous with growth mindset language. When a child does a great job demonstrating a skill or on an assignment, instead of saying, “great job” give specific verbal or written feedback.
For example, after a soccer game, instead of saying, “Good game,” try, “You defended the ball so well. I loved watching you play!” When a student creates a piece of writing, you can focus on the specific traits they have clearly mastered, while also talking about things they can do to challenge themselves or grow in their skills next time. For example, “You organized your writing so well! I can’t wait to see how you use more imagery and figurative language next time. Let’s talk about how you can do that.”
Giving specific and timely feedback helps your children set goals, which is an integral part of developing a growth mindset.
4. Focus on alternatives
When things get tough, fixed mindset says, “I give up.” Growth mindset says, “Let’s try a different way.”
Using different strategies to solve problems requires critical thinking, and potentially, communication and collaboration. All of these are important skills that go hand in hand with growth mindset.
If your child is frustrated with a problem they are trying to solve or a skill they are attempting to master, have an open discussion about different ways they might potentially solve the problem. Sometimes this involves actual curricular strategies (like different ways to explain and solve a math problem), but it may also be helpful to use this as an opportunity to break down a big task into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Whether you are a classroom teacher or a parent looking to develop positive, “I can” attitudes with your children, helping kids switch fixed mindset language to a growth mindset is key. Growth mindset is not about focusing on the things your kids do right when it comes to education – it’s about looking at all learning through a lens of positive, goal-focused outcomes.
Getting rid of “I can’t” and “This is hard” from the lexicon is a huge start. Focusing on what the child can do, or will be able to achieve by asking for help or looking at different strategies, will help them stay focused and develop a healthy growth mindset for learning.
To print your Growth Mindset Poster/Colouring Page
Download the PDF here: Printable Growth Mindset Poster. Please note – this is a large file and will take time to download. Please download directly to a computer, not a phone or table. This document includes two different sized printable products. The poster can be printed at A3/Tabloid/Ledger or at A4/US letter (you may need to choose scale to 50%). The colouring/coloring page at A4/US letter. Please choose just ONE page at a time and select ‘Fit to printable area’ (or similar) when printing to ensure the page fits with your printer type and local paper size.
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Please note: All Childhood 101 printables are for personal use only, you may not use any part of this content for commercial purposes-that includes selling the document, giving it away to promote your business or website, or printing the file to sell. You may not share, loan or redistribute these documents. Teachers may use multiple copies for students in their own classroom.