If you or your child ever thought of yourselves as “not good at math,” or any other subject, you will welcome this mind-changing approach to learning.
Students in Natalie Griffin-Pellew’s algebra 1 are learning to approach math with a “growth mindset.” In the simplest terms, a growth mindset is the positive, gritty attitude that says, ‘if at first I don’t succeed, I will persevere until I do.’
Through the practice of “growth-mindset” activities, these freshman students are changing their own fixed ideas about their abilities to tackle a learning subject—be they negative or over-confident.
Approaching learning with a growth mindset makes room for personal learning styles, gives students permission to make mistakes or recognize they can always do better, and acknowledges that learning is, after all, a process.
During today’s growth-mindset challenge—the third in a series this school year—students were asked to build a square and a triangle out of four irregular paper polygons.
As they puzzled over the challenge, they made note of their thoughts and later pointed them out from a list of responses typical of a fixed mindset (by author Sylvia Duckworth). For each unhelpful statement, the list suggests an alternative, growth-mindset affirmation or question to help students persevere and conquer any learning challenge.
“But it’s not bad to say to yourself you made a mistake,” one student observed.
“It’s not about bad versus good,” Mrs. Griffin-Pellew explained. “It’s about getting you from a fixed response to a growth mindset so begin to you say to yourself, ‘I made a mistake, and that makes me better because I didn’t give up. I tried something else. I persevered. I can succeed.’”
The growth mindset: research and concept
After decades of collaborative studies on students’ attitudes toward failure, psychologist Carol Dweck summarized the findings in a 2006 best-selling book that coined the term “growth mindset” and challenged established beliefs about learning and intelligence.
The research identified two distinct mindsets. Students with a “growth mindset” demonstrated a willingness to face challenges and were not deterred by failure. Students with a “fixed mindset” believed that they were either smart or not smart, avoided challenges and were more likely to give up in the face of failure.
When students were moved from the fixed to the growth mindset through learning exercises, their performance began improving immediately.
This concept continues to be the subject of professional development for educators across the country and remains an effective tool for increasing student motivation and achievement.