The past few weeks, Jennifer Seitsinger (@room20awesome on Twitter; you MUST follow her) has been coming up with great Slow Chat questions on #OKElem to get our summer teacher brains churning. I’ve enjoyed learning and sharing each week.
That is until last week’s question…
“What do you do to encourage a growth mindset among students?”
I was stumped. I couldn’t think of anything that I do. I was sure I did something, but couldn’t begin to figure out what it is I do. And if I was doing something, was it working? How would I know? Did my students know? Were they feeling more successful because of it?
So, I avoided the question all week. I even avoided the responses.
Sure, I was busy with things, but it kept nagging at me. Deep down I knew I wasn’t too busy to think on it, or reply, or even read other teachers’ responses.
I finally decided I wasn’t doing myself (or my students for that matter) any good by avoiding the issue. So, I sat down yesterday and started reading the responses from teachers. One of them was the article I’ve linked in this post. A short, seemingly simple article with four ways to encourage a growth mindset.
I decided I would take the time to analyze and come up with a somewhat concrete plan for myself on how to encourage a growth mindset for my students looking at the four ways mentioned in the article.
- Think about setting achievable micro-goals. I really like this one. It’s something I do myself when it comes to my fitness and weight loss goals. I have my ‘dream weight’ goal, the absolute lowest weight I’m trying to achieve for myself. However, especially at the beginning of my weight loss venture, it seemed insurmountable. So I took it in 10 pound increments. It made the whole process more realistic and achievable for me. Applying this to my students by having them come up with a big ‘educational dream goal’, and then writing out the small steps to get there, is a great way of making the whole thing seem less intimidating and a wonderful way of getting to regularly celebrate those little successes along the way. It also has them evaluate what they need to do to achieve that big goal, which is extremely important.
- Praise students efforts and strategies, not their intelligence. This is something I had already started doing with my students. There are many ways to show you are ‘smart’ other than having the right answer. For shy students, praising them for taking a risk with sharing their answers and work, even if the answers are wrong. With students that struggle with a certain task, topic, or subject, if they got the answer wrong, but I could see where they were going, or that they started off correctly but veered off course, I let them know that. It let them know they were on the right track and that was an improvement. It showed they were growing as learners.
- Help students focus on and value the process of learning. This is one I need help figuring out how to implement. We talk in class about how it’s okay to fail as long as we learn from it, but were they really seeing that? I’m not so sure. I think by having them come up with that big ‘educational dream goal’ and celebrating the small steps along the way that they accomplish will help with this. They’ll need to analyze what it will take to reach that final goal and pay attention on how to reach it. I also want to make sure we keep revisiting their goals. I’ve had students come up with goals in the past, but we never went about having regular discussions on how to reach those goals or always go back to see how they did. Those are crucial steps, and I don’t want to them to miss out on that.
- Design activities that involve cooperative work and less competitive, individualistic work. While competition in games and sports are great, when it comes to working on educational goals, it feels less daunting when you know you have the support and encouragement of your peers and teachers. Does this mean we can’t have any games or activities in the classroom where a group ‘wins’? I don’t think so. I just think it needs to be used sparingly and for there to still be a way for the students to work together to achieve a goal. They need to know what the goal is, why they need to attain that goal, and the benefits of working together as a team. I think it also helps if there is more than one opportunity for a group to ‘win’, rather than just a one shot, all or nothing activity or game. If they know there’s another chance to do this and be successful at it, discuss ways and strategies of the successful groups so they can try to emulate those traits, it can help them later on down the road. It’s also important for them to learn how to work together in a group. We discuss this frequently in class and we do little scenarios that show them the right and wrong way to handle certain situations. I also have them come up with and share ways to deal with not agreeing with someone’s ideas.
I’m doing some growing myself this year. I’m switching to a new grade and teaching subjects I know I’ve needed to improve at teaching. I plan on sharing what my big ‘educational goal’ is with my students, and the steps I plan to take to get there. I want to have all of us revisit our goals and see what we’ve accomplished, what we still need to achieve, and how to best to reach those achievements through discussions and brainstorming sessions. Perhaps have students team up with a buddy that has similar goals, so they can encourage each other and work together on their goals. I’ve done this with my fitness and weight loss goals, and it makes me feel more accountable at working to reach those goals knowing someone else is working on their’s and expecting me to do the same. We check in regularly with each other on how we are doing, make suggestions, and cheer each other on when we hit those little milestones that make us feel invincible. I’m hoping by making a concerted effort to encourage my students to have a growth mindset, I can make them more eager and willing life-long learners in the process.