A leading researcher in the field of motivation theorizes there are two groups of people in the world: people with a "growth mindset" and people with a "fixed mindset." The growth mindset leads to a desire to learn from mistakes, embraces challenges and persists in the face of setbacks. The fixed mindset wants to avoid challenges, and gives up easily; and sees effort as fruitless.
When children embrace a growth mindset they tend to excel at higher rates. The good news is that educators can teach students how to develop and utilize a growth mindset.
Step One: Talk to students about the growth and fixed mindsets, and how there are different types of brains, and ways of processing information and learning. Every time we work hard and learn something new, the brain forms new connections, which makes us smarter. Teachers should also vary instructional approaches to incorporate the different learning modalities.
Step Two: Use specific praise focused on student behaviour, more than results. In other words, praise a student on hard work and problem solving skills, as opposed to the final mark achieved on a test or project. “I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it,” is an example of this.
Step Three: Explicitly teach "effort" and what effective effort looks and sounds like.
The word "effort" can be quite ambiguous to students. What does effort look and sound like? How do I know if I have employed effective strategies to solve a problem or decode a unknown word? Mindsetworks.com is a great resource for “effort rubrics” and other free education resources.
Step Four: Celebrate mistakes. Show students that learning involves mistakes; mistakes are a natural part of problem solving. This creates an environment in which students will be willing to take risks and try harder tasks.
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