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Toronto Catholic District School Board

Pillar #2: Growth Mindset

Creating a Growth Mindset in Our Students

Do good because it's good to do! 
We are continuing on our life-long journey in this positive, motivational, and growth oriented belief that we can grow in our abilities, talents, and intelligence (as individuals and as a collective).  Yet, we know it's not easy.  This growth is all encompassed with our increased "rigor in the school" and we are stepping up to make our school a safe, academically rigorous, and nurturing place to learn and to prepare for life!  Is it perfect? - No, not yet. 


Belief that you can become smarter and more talented opens the doorways to success. That’s what twenty years of research has shown Carol Dweck of Stanford University. She has identified two opposing beliefs about intelligence and talent, beliefs that strongly impact our ability to learn.


Though the fixed mindset has traditionally ruled the way of the world, many recent studies show that the growth mindset better represents our abilities. Our brains are much more elastic than previously thought, constantly growing new connections. IQ and talent are not fixed, but are mutable based on experience and attitude - we can grow and we have ... as a young child, how did you learn to walk, talk, ask for things, learn to ride a bike?  If intelligence were fixed, we'd all be babbling, crawling, grunting, and never have any idea what a bike could do!  We learned and grew and we're continuing to do so - so why can't we work on learning better and more effectively?
In her book Mindset, Dweck outlines the dramatic effect that these opposing beliefs have on learners:


Fixed Mindset  
Growth Mindset
Wants to prove intelligence or talent.
Wants to improve intelligence or talent.
Avoids challenges for fear of failure.
Engages challenges to improve.
Gives up in the face of tough obstacles.
Persists in overcoming obstacles.
Avoids hard labor.
Sees labor as the path to success.
Treats criticism as an attack.
Treats criticism as an opportunity.
Feels threatened by others’ success.
Feels inspired by others’ success.
As you can see from this chart, the fixed mindset leads to many of the learning and discipline problems in school, while the growth mindset leads to optimal learning. Recent articles in Scientific American, Wired Science, and the New York Times cite numerous studies that support Dweck’s conclusions.


How Can We Create the Growth Mindset?

Clearly, if we can shift students from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, we can eliminate many learning challenges and classroom-management issues. But how can we make this mental shift?  


Here's an easy 5-step process to fostering a growth mindset in the classroom and at home ... I stress, this is not just a school thing, it must be a home thing too:


Believe it.

You can’t instill a growth mindset in students until you have it yourself. Start by recognizing your current mindset. It determines the way that you interpret experience.


The fixed mindset is focused on judgment. Positive experiences mean that you are smart or talented or both. Negative experiences mean that you are dumb or talentless or both.


The growth mindset is focused on improvement. Positive experiences mean that you are on the right track. Negative experiences mean you have a chance to make changes and grow.


These mindsets manifest most clearly in the self-talk in your head. Whenever you hear a judging bit of self-talk such as “I’m just no good at this,” stop it and replace it with improvement talk: “I want to become better at this.”


Teach it.

Now that you are shaping your own mindset toward growth, you can teach your students to do so as well. Tell students they can improve their IQs and talents—which are not fixed. Present the evidence you find in this article and in other resources. Teach students that education is not something someone else gives to them. Education is something they must grab for themselves.


Model it.

Show students how to recognize judging thoughts, how to stop them, and how to replace them with growth thoughts. Make the rule that judging thoughts spoken aloud in your class will be stopped, and the student will need to rephrase the idea as a growth thought. By doing so with external dialogue, you help students recognize judging thoughts in internal dialogue. You also help students monitor each other and shift their thoughts toward growth.


Don't Say
Do Say
I'm so stupid.
What am I missing?
I'm awesome at this.
I seem to be on the right track.
I just can’t do math.
I’m going to train my brain in math.
This is too hard.
This is going to take some time.
She’s so smart, she makes me sick.
I’m going to figure out how she’s doing it.
It’s fine the way it is, and yours isn’t any better.
That’s an interesting idea for improvement.


“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” —Thomas Edison


Nourish it.

Mindsets exist within a larger classroom culture. In your classroom, shift the focus from proving to improving, from product to process. An inquiry-based approach to learning facilitates the growth mindset by embracing challenges, obstacles, and criticisms as chief drivers of learning. Failure can be a great teacher if it is approached not as judgment but as opportunity. That mental shift frees you up as well. If you take some missteps as you are trying to shift the classroom culture, don’t be embarrassed. Be empowered to improve.


 Assess it.

A classroom that focuses on summative assessment fosters an environment for a fixed mindset—assessment is all about judgment. A classroom that focuses on formative assessment fosters an environment for the growth mindset—assessment is about learning. That’s not to say that summative assessments should be eliminated. Rather, when you focus on the formative side, the summative side becomes a rubber stamp that certifies the learning that students have been doing all along.


Look for some signage in our school ... you've already seen plently over the last few years (our sign outside, our monthly newsletter, the Student Computer Lounge). Look for our "cartoon students" to welcome you with words of wisdom ... Here are some examples of what we're using to create a "growth mindset" in ourselves, our students and in our school ... This is what we BELIEVE, TEACH, MODEL, NOURISH, and ASSESS:


To find out more about GROWTH MINDSET, you can view these links ...  Go ahead, I know you'll enjoy growing with us!
Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck: The Power of Yet
 A Growth Mindset
Sal of Khan Academy speaks with Prof. Dweck
A Study in Praise Mindset
Mary Cay Ricci
Come into the school and see if you feel the growth. Look around and ask your child what does it all mean?
With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.  With a rigorous program of study, a clear and defined continuum, and the collaborative work & support of school and home, student achievement and growth are not just nice thoughts, they are the goal!
Top 10 Tips for developing a Growth Mindset in your Classroom
August 3, 2014 by Pete Jones
Imagine if every classroom, every teacher instilled this culture within your school.  Every day, every hour, every minute. It would be transformational. Look to see how it affects the learning culture within your classroom and be prepared to share it with others. Teachers can be the very antithesis of a growth mindset. Having routines and expectations of ‘that bottom set’, which haven’t changed in the last 20 years. This is your biggest challenge. Embrace it!
1. Be Critical. Students should expect and welcome criticism. They must also be given the opportunity to act on any criticism or critique. This will allow students to realize that through improving their work and responding to feedback, they can be better than they were. For this to happen, the culture of improvement needs to feel completely normal. As teachers, we also need to think about how and when we give feedback. We should not always tell students how to improve. What if we gave them an exemplar piece of excellent work and asked them what changes they would make? Or get them to write a success criteria based on this to help students see what was missing? Or maybe just come back to the same piece later in the term and look at what improvements they would make. We need to make our students far more aware that they can improve without us ‘butting in’ every five seconds.
2. Share the pain! Encouraging discussion about what students in your class find difficult; what they are struggling with can be really helpful for students. It helps students realise that we can all be challenged, no matter our starting point. There may be ways in which students can find answers, but it’s also incredibly healthy to listen to the nature of struggle. We can all overcome challenges or set backs, and together, we can all keep going. As the teacher, we need to let students struggle. Don’t always offer the solution, this way students will realise they are capable of doing it for themselves, through perseverance, reflection and effort.
3. Question the effort. Questioning serves a pivotal role in nurturing a growth mindset. How could this be even better? What do you need to work hard at to improve on this? Is it time to adopt a different approach or do you need to just keep going? Are you putting in enough effort for you to make major improvements this time? Go and have a look at X’s work. What can you tell me about the approach she has taken with this work? Getting the right answers is part of the battle; the other is insisting that students respond to what they know about how to improve. The proof being in the pudding so to speak.
4. Make it difficult. What about those students who are producing great work without struggle? Is this because they are working exceptionally hard? Putting in extraordinary effort or is it too easy? As designers of learning, we must ensure that everyone struggles. Without making mistakes, we don’t learn. Without a real sense of challenge, the idea that you can grow as a learner is a fallacy. There is always a sense of struggle for almost every learner. As teachers, we need to help make those challenges explicit for every learner. Students cannot hide away from the things they always find a challenge. Whether that be presenting to the class, handwriting, spelling or something more subject specific. With hard work, every student can improve. They need to know that. They need to be given the chance to find out!
5. Make a big deal about effort. This starts with us posing the challenges, talking about the qualities required for excellence. “I know this is going to be exceptionally difficult”, “It’s going to take a lot of effort”. When those challenges are complete, we need to give space in our lessons to reflect and celebrate on the effort it has taken to get there. To celebrate the struggle, to ensure students realise that it was all worth it. They are now more intelligent and capable than they were at the start of this lesson, project or scheme of learning.
6. Acknowledge the effort. Make a big deal of those who are putting in the effort. Those who are spending time on their homework. Talk about their work ethic in the class, and what effect it has on the quality of their work and understanding. Let those who are not putting in as much effort see what happens when you do. Keep persevering with those who aren’t. The more they are surrounded by a strong work ethic and a persistent teacher, they will crumble!
7. Demonstrate that work ethic yourself. Be ready at the door, welcoming the students in for another challenging lesson! Have their work marked when needed. Talk to students about their improvements as they enter the door. Make sure you embody the work ethic you want to see in your students.
8. Display a Growth Mindset. Make your classroom a place where they can thrive as a learner. Have work of exceptional standard for them to see on your walls. Have examples of great learners in your subject. What did they do to get where they are now? How passionate about their work did they have to be become great? What would the greatest minds say about your work? If Steven King were going to mark your horror story, what would he say about how to improve the suspense in this passage?  If Sir Dave Brailsford were to mark your long answer paper for GCSE PE, what marginal gains would he say you could do to improve? Who are your local heroes? Who are those amazing people who have kept going despite enormous challenge to make a name for themselves? The Catherine Granger’s of this world.
9. High expectations for every single student. If you know about the Pygmalion effect, then you know about the exceptional power we have as teachers to affect students’ lives through our own expectations for them. Know every student can work hard, can embrace challenge, can develop their understanding and can continually improve.
10.  Provide elements of choice. Allow students opportunities for students to have periods of autonomy and choice. This will lead to greater persistence, productivity, well-being and ultimately better understanding through finding their own path, learning for themselves.