We’ve all either said or heard someone say something along the lines of “math just isn’t one of my strengths.” Well, it turns out that thinking like this can seriously hinder our mindsets. And if you’re figuring out how to inspire students – whether as a parent, teacher, or friend – making sure their mindsets are in the right place for success is crucial since development occurs during the middle and high school years.
So how can we help students develop a healthy mindset?
More than 30 years ago, Dr. Carol Dweck discovered that a person’s mindset has a serious impact on their motivation, effort, and approach to challenges. Dr. Dweck’s research found that those who believe their abilities are adaptable are more likely to embrace challenges and persist despite past or potential failures, also known as a growth mindset. Those who saw their abilities as static and not capable of improving were less likely to accept challenges, also known as a fixed mindset.
Dr. Dweck’s research also explored the source for each type of mindset and determined that the feedback and praise we receive impacts how we perceive the extent of our intelligence.
“A” for Effort?
The meaning behind the feedback we give is not often given much thought. We typically only have good intentions when giving praise, but the underlying message can have a huge impact on who we are talking to.
Intelligence praises like “you’re so smart” are going to yield a fixed mindset since a student is receiving feedback on only their current level of knowledge. An effort praise like “you worked really hard on that” is giving positive feedback on the hard work that a student put into something, promoting a growth mindset.
In a study of 5th graders performed by Dr. Dweck and Dr. Claudia M. Mueller, students were separated into two groups—intelligence praise and effort praise—and tasked to complete a puzzle. After succeeding, each group was praised according to their assigned group and the tasks continued to get harder. Dr. Dweck and Dr. Mueller found that students praised for their intelligence were most likely to stay with easy tasks and those praised for their effort were more willing to take on more challenging tasks.
Offering encouraging feedback on a student’s effort inspires them to continue to work hard, overcome obstacles, and attempt new challenges. Just praising their intelligence is ignoring their potential, which can end up limiting their abilities.
When giving a student feedback, make sure to keep the following in mind:
“History just isn’t your strength.”
“That was so easy for you.”
“You can do anything if you try.”
“You worked really hard on this.”
Mindsets Can Be Changed
Even though mindsets form during our school years, they can always change! It’s also possible to have different mindsets for various types of domains at different times during our lives.
For example, you could have a fixed mindset towards your math capabilities, but a growth mindset in English classes. The way we perceive our abilities is the key to changing our outlook.
If we believe that our intelligence can increase, we behave differently. Teachers and parents have the opportunity to instill a growth mindset in students, which can set them up for success in their future studies.
To learn more about inspiring growth mindsets, check out Dr. Dewck’s TED talk here.
Our customized learning model allows students to explore their interests, talents, and passions, which supports a growth mindset. Contact us to learn more.