Teachers and institutions across the world have embraced Carol Dweck’s theory of the “growth mindset” in hopes of helping students to fulfill their potential. These “growth mindset” teaching strategies include changing the way teachers give feedback, encouraging self-reflection through questioning, and, crucially, praising processes instead of natural ability.

Although, many educators feel they could be doing more. A recent survey found that 98% of teachers believe that if their students have a growth mindset, it will lead to improved learning. However, only 20% of those teachers believe they can successfully foster a growth mindset, and 85% of those teachers want more training and practical strategies.

Thankfully, a growing body of research is providing better insight into how to best create a growth mindset – here are some techniques you may not have used yet.

Explore Multiple Strategies

Let’s try a quick experiment. Can you separate the following six animals into two groups of three?

Dog, parrot, shark, bear, goldfish, fox.

You could separate them into one group of pets (dog, parrot, goldfish) and one group of wild animals (shark, bear, fox). You could also separate them based on having fur (dog, bear, fox) and not having fur (parrot, shark, goldfish). Or, you could do a group with four legs (dog, bear, fox) and a group without four legs (goldfish, shark, parrot). There are multiple ways to reach the goal.

Showing that there are multiple strategies to work out an answer helps to cultivate a growth mindset. This is mentioned in a research paper that looked at teaching strategies in math class. Researchers found that if students are only taught one way to work out a problem and are unsuccessful with that strategy, some take this as evidence that they’re bad at the entire subject. If you teach using multiple strategies, however, students are more likely to persist if the first strategy doesn’t work for them – they can just try the next one!

Shhh, be sneaky! Some research suggests that growth mindset strategies should be implemented stealthily because students may behave differently if they know that they’re undergoing an intervention. This is known as the Hawthrone effect, which is when individuals modify their behaviour because they’re aware that they’re being observed. The researchers suggest that “stealthy approaches don’t feel controlling and don’t stigmatize students [who] need help.” Stealthy interventions could include getting the students to create the guidance themselves, like by writing to younger students to explain how the brain can grow.

Engage Parents

A paper published last year found that the way in which parents view setbacks and failures predicts the mindset of their child.

The researchers noted, “parents, like children, have mindsets that shape their own goals and behaviours, [and] these beliefs are relevant to shaping children’s beliefs… if they lead to practices that children pick up on.” It’s hard to guess what someone’s beliefs are – actions are more easily interpreted.

They note that an intervention targeting parents’ mindsets could be used to teach them how failure can be beneficial and how to react to their children’s setbacks in a way that encourages motivation and learning.

Assess Your Own Mindset

A research paper posed the question to teachers: one of your students gets a low mark on their math exam (65%) – what do you think of this student’s ability and how would you respond?

Those teachers with a fixed mindset saw the low mark as evidence that the student didn’t have talent for math, and were more likely to respond with a “comfort focus” (e.g. “It’s OK, not everyone is good at math”). Those teachers with a growth mindset believed it was too early to make a judgement on the child’s math ability and were more likely to offer “strategy focus,” which included tips on how to get better and tackle challenging questions.

Students who received “comfort focus” reported being less motivated than those who had received the “strategy focus.” When asked how they thought they would do on their next exam, comfort-focused students estimated about the same level (65%) whereas the strategy-focused students estimated significantly higher (80%).

This research suggests that teachers’ mindsets and beliefs influence their teaching strategies, which affects student motivation and self-expectation. So, don’t just consider ways to help your students think differently, explore your own thought processes too.

Article by Bradley Busch