The concept of growth mindset has gained immense popularity among educators since Carol Dweck’s popular TED Talk, The Power of Yet, and her book Mindset. We learned from these amazing resources that students’ mindsets and how they perceive their abilities play a role in their ability to succeed.
Unfortunately, many teachers have misconstrued the idea of growth mindset and unintentionally implemented a false growth mindset. Here are five common misinterpretations of growth mindset, and how we can avoid them.
Growth Mindset Isn’t About Telling Students to Work Harder
First thing’s first: growth mindset is not just telling our students to work harder. For example, telling a student, “You worked so hard on that math test. I am so proud of you.” does not promote a growth mindset. While it’s great that a student worked hard to achieve a good grade, this is empty praise. Over time, students will begin to distrust this type of praise.
Growth mindset, on the other hand, focuses on growth. If a struggling student improves their knowledge over the course of a week, that shows that they’re growing and learning. Recognizing these wins will make students feel proud and motivated.
Growth Mindset is More Than Effort
Growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Yet, many teachers equate effort with growth mindset.
Effort is an important part of growth mindset, but it’s not the only key ingredient.
Students have to have other skills, such as resourcefulness, so that they can get input from others when they get stuck. They need to reflect and learn from their failures and then try again. They need to try new strategies, think creatively, and analyze their actions critically to learn and improve. That’s more than effort.
Growth Mindset Isn’t About Making Students Believe Anything
Growth mindset is based on the belief that our basic qualities are things we can cultivate and improve upon through effort.
This is inherently true for everyone.
However, people all come with a different set of aptitudes, interests, personalities, temperaments, backgrounds, and more.
Yes, everyone can change and grow, but we should not tell students, “You can be anything you want to be.”
A student with poor math skills can certainly increase their math skills, but probably will never become an applied mathematician.
Growth mindset is about promoting a student’s potential to grow their skill set in ways they didn’t think were possible. It’s about helping them discover and reach their full, unrealized potential.
It’s not about making students believe that anything is possible.
Creating a False Growth Mindset Can be Dangerous
According to Stanford professor Dr. Carol Dweck, “False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it, or you don’t really understand [what it is].”
No one has a growth mindset about everything all of the time.
We are all a mixture of both fixed and growth mindset. We must accept this in order to truly understand growth mindset, and to implement it effectively.
It’s Not Enough Just to Talk About Growth Mindset
In some of Dweck’s colleagues’ research, they found many teachers were endorsing the concept of growth mindset and even used the words “growth mindset” while teaching, but their classroom practices didn’t follow through with this idea.
You haven’t implemented growth mindset in your classroom if you react negatively to a student making a mistake.
You can’t proclaim you have a growth mindset classroom unless you are strategically teaching specific lessons that are geared towards promoting growth mindset practices. Growth mindset impacts everything from how students learn to how we as teachers interact and engage with them every day.
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