Whether explicit or implicit, Growth Mindset is central to the ethos of many schools within the Herts & Bucks TSA, which is why the Reach Free School asked Robin Launder to deliver his training session on it for a whole school INSET. Robin delivers INSET across the TSA on a number of issues, especially behaviour management, but is also passionate about Growth Mindset. Importantly, he said that a Growth Mindset is not this:
By way of this example, he basically means that none of us have a fixed position in life; whether in terms of our intelligence, our abilities or our potential to achieve the supposedly impossible. Although improving our performance as professionals and achieving our goals can seem like a daunting prospect at times, Robin argues that it is far easier if we develop a Growth Mindset.
The term “Growth Mindset” is mostly associated with the work of Professor Carol Dweck (2006) and her researchers who have spent decades researching pupils’ responses to failure. This includes how some pupils show resilience and determination in the face of challenge whereas others become apathetic, disheartened or completely give up when things do not go their way. This has lead Professor Dweck to identify two types of mindset, which are termed fixed and growth. Those children, or pupils, with a fixed mindset will see setbacks as concrete evidence of their “fixed” intelligence or abilities. Moreover, they will subsequently accept labels thrust upon them by peers, family and even teachers; these could include labels such as “stupid”, “less able” and “difficult” as well as “intelligent”, “most able” and “gifted”. The latter is particularly problematic as it can lead to a fear of failure or complacency – just because a child is labelled as “intelligent” or “bright” does not mean they will necessarily have a Growth Mindset later in life. However, children with a growth mindset will constantly endeavour to improve and progress regardless of their mistakes, labelled ability or previous experiences/performances.
It is well worth researching Growth Mindset in more depth, even if it initially seems like common sense (if you think this, you probably became a teacher for the right reasons). However, Professor Dweck has emphasized that Growth Mindset is not simply a theoretical perspective for us to dwell on, but an explicit idea that must be taught to pupils (and teachers). Importantly, Growth Mindset should be seen as an intervention strategy to be used to encourage pupils to realise their potential. In essence, Growth Mindset is a power tool for our everyday ‘teacher toolkits’.
To understand how Growth Mindset can be applied practically in the classroom, Robin Launder gives 5 top tips (see Launder 2016). These include:
- Top Tip No.1: teach neuroplasticity
- Top Tip No.2: teach mindset theory
- Top Tip No. 3: teach the importance of growth: stretch, feedback and stickability
- Top Tip No.3a – an addendum
- Top Tip No.4: teach the true meaning of the word fail
- Top Tip No.5: use descriptive rather than evaluative praise
To understand these top tips better, it is best to read his article on Growth Mindset (click here). Moreover, when giving descriptive as opposed to evaluative praise (top tip 5), he suggests:
Praise is important, but the praise you want is not evaluative (as above), it’s descriptive. Descriptive praise also has the power to induce a mindset, and that mindset is a growth one. It has four components: effort, progress, process and detail. Here’s an example:
Grace, well done for your hard work.
When I saw your picture last week you hadn’t really managed to capture its movement, but now I get a real sense of the train coming towards me.
You’ve thought hard about perspective and been careful about how you’ve shown it.
The way you’ve drawn the smoke, how the track narrows, the size of the engine at the front, all add to the sense of movement.
And how about another sentence on effort:
What are you going to do to make the picture even better?
It’s not always necessary to give all four elements of descriptive praise – often it’s enough to focus on one or two. But what you mustn’t do (ever!) is praise outcome or intelligence. Do that and, paradoxically, outcomes will worsen and intelligence will reduce.
Therefore, praising how a child has attempted a task or challenge – as opposed to how well they completed it – can improve pupils’ view of their potential to succeed (see, for example, Cimpian, Markman and Dweck, 2007). Importantly, this praise must not centre on their intelligence or abilities per se, but their attitudes to learning and desire to improve.
However, no one is suggesting that pupils’ ability does not differ nor that personality traits can be genetically predisposed, but Growth Mindset posits that all our pupils can intellectually (and physically) improve and progress given the right mindset or attitude to learning.
Perhaps, if Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I am What I am‘ is fixed mindset, this is Growth Mindset:
Cimpian, A., Aree, H.C., Markman, E.M. and Dweck, C.S. (2007) ‘Subtle linguistic cues affect children’s motivation’ in Psychological Science, 18(4), 314-316.
Dweck, Carol (2006) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Launder, R. (2016) ‘Mindset theory – five top tips for embedding Dweck’s work into your school (with a little help from Lionel Messi and superglue)’ in Behaviour Buddy [online]. Availabe at: http://behaviourbuddy.co.uk/mindset-artcle/
Andrew Jones is Assistant Headteacher for CPD and professional mentoring at the Reach Free School, which is part of the Herts & Bucks TSA. He is also a SLE for RE. The featured image is © Caleb Roenigk, but used here under a Creative Commons Licence via Wylio.