Encouraging growth. Encouraging learning!
“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments, everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
The most exciting thing that’s has happened to education and learning has occurred in the area of neurology. The most significant finding is that the brain is being referred to being neoplastic: the brain can change and develop. It is often referred to as the mind’s ability to rewire itself. Brain development is more in line with what we understand about with muscle development and growth. You can improve muscle function by stretching and adding increased stress to a particular muscle and the muscle develops; so too does the brain.
To stretch the brain, we need to think and expose it to thinking which strengthens the number and depth of the network of neural pathways and brain cells related to that particular topic concept or skill. The connections in the brain become stronger when you learn new things, add to an understanding or revise. A path becomes more distinct the more it is travelled. And just like a body-builder if you keep on using it and stretching the muscle you want to develop, inevitably it will become stronger and more efficient. Use it or lose it! As we have learnt the new potential of the brain to grow and develop, we have also come to understand a ripple effect of new understandings, new insights into learning and intelligence that will revolutionise our thoughts and beliefs about how we learn and how best we learn. While this is terribly exciting, the reality is that some education systems are in direct conflict with how we, as a species, learn.
The work in neurology and new understandings of brain development have given way to having a growth mindset and the incredible work done by Carol Dweck.
When you have some time, watch Dweck’s Ted talk on Growing your Mind.
Intelligence is not fixed, your intellect can improve. It doesn’t mean you can be anything you want to be, but you can certainly make improvements in a particular area. It is interesting to see how a fixed mindset permeates so much of our habits and belief, and it is found in so many of our through away comments and sayings.
“Oh yeah, smart like his mother.”
These beliefs are limiting, they suppress individuals from reaching their potential.
People have learned to see move using different parts of their brains, learned to move once paralysed limbs, recovered from stroke by reteaching and rewiring undamaged sections of their incredible minds.
Worth watching is Josh Kaufmann’s, The First 20 hours — How to Learn Anything. Kaufman is the author of the #1 international bestseller, The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business.
A growth mindset can ensure your child becomes more academically resilient—if not more resilient in other areas as well. The growth mindset is the overarching principle which will lead to increased growth in any of these areas. Just working towards the basis of a growth mindset will have a positive impact in all areas of development.
My suggestion is: start working towards a growth mindset first and your efforts to develop other skills and concepts in particular areas will be maximised.
How do I develop a growth mindset?
We model it; we encourage it!
Well, the good news you can start straight away, and it is never too late or too early. Children with a growth mindset believe they can learn just about anything they are interested in learning. It may be hard and it may be challenging, but if they are resilient and persevere they will succeed. A growth mindset is focused on learning rather than being smart or just mastering one task very well. It is focused on the process more so than product though the product will be improved. It is worth looking at what it isn’t and what it isn’t.
A child with a fixed mindset is more likely to give up quickly prematurely and not re-engage with the learning process or activity. A child with a fixed mindset may think: “This is too hard, and I’m not smart enough to do this”. They may say: “It’s good enough”, instead of reflecting if it is their best work. “I give up”, instead of “time for another strategy”. “I’ll never be that smart”, instead of “I will learn how to do this!”
Kindergarten or prep children usually enter their first year of school with a growth mindset. Often I have heard kindergarten kids say to their teacher:
“Yes, I know how to read to already, when are we going to learn to write?”
It is a fantastic natural attitude, but sadly it is almost ‘assessed’ and tested out of children as they progress through our current education system. Many studies are revealing not only a disengagement of children from school and ‘learning’ but also a regression from being able to learn anything, to a fixed mindset where only ‘smart’ people achieve. As I have stated previously, on entering formal school, children are expected to have very similar skills abilities and experiences in all areas at the same time, and this is just not the case. They realise very quickly that some of their peers have these skills and some do not. They learn the kids with these skills are praised, and those who don’t are dealt with differently. They learn quickly that some children are ‘smart’ and others are not, which is just awful. Educators and education departments need to catch up to developing a growth mindset, and there is some brilliant work being undertaken in schools. Perhaps a question to ask in the transition meetings you have with your child’s school is: “What is your school doing to develop a growth mindset?”
Praise—and what we praise—is also imperative when developing a growth mindset in children. Dweck and her colleagues suggest effort rather than the outcomes encourage a growth mindset.
Instead of: “That’s a great painting”.
“That’s a great painting I can see you put a lot of time and effort into it”.
“That’s a great score!”
“That is a great score, you worked a long time to achieve that.”
“Just because you haven’t got it yet, doesn’t mean you won’t.”
Following is a small short list of examples of a mindset attitude and perspective:
See mistakes as an opportunity to learn. You haven’t failed, you are still learning. It’s not about being smart it’s about doing smart things, making smart choices.View learning as a journey like life, not a destination.Find out what others do to make things successful.See learning as a process, not a product.
Model to children actions such as thinking out loud. Educators refer to this as ‘metacognition’ which means just verbalising, stepping outside yourself, looking at the problem and how you went about solving the thinking around the issue; thinking out loud about your thinking.
“I love a challenge. That didn’t work I will have to try and figure this out!”
Having a positive attitude does affect how children approach tasks and tests, and children with a positive mindset do better than their peers without this mindset. Children with a growth mindset are much more academically resilient.
So, combine a growth mindset when undertaking growth in the following areas. Just thinking you are going to do well is never going to work: start planting those seeds of unlimited potential in your child’s mind now, it is a real investment in your child’s educational future—and for the challenges ahead as a parent.
Having a positive perspective is excellent, but as your child gets older, they also have to be a realist. Just thinking it’s going to happen isn’t going to make it appear; they need to put time and effort into it for the positive outcome. This may seem like a simple progression—even logical for you—but I fear many children are disappointed because they have thought positively about getting improved grades, and it hasn’t occurred. In some cases, they receive awards or rewards from schools just for being, rather than achieving; so that ‘some’ children or parents don’t get upset or feel their child has been overlooked. The celebration of mediocrity has slipped in under the guise of political correctness…. Awards for participating, no matter what, or awards for just turning up, give children a false sense of achievement and confuse the developing work ethic. This unfortunate delusion has been further reinforced by a generation of ‘role’ models’ famous for nothing else rather than being famous; famous without making a contribution to society. But I believe there is hope as we all become savvy to the influence of social media in our lives and how it has become a new form of advertising and marketing.
Feedback is essential, if not crucial, too; constructive feedback is vital in supporting a growth mindset just saying: “No, that’s not how we did it”, or “Wrong again” doesn’t educate a child it. Nor does “That’s lovely, dear”, when it’s awful. Showing them what needs to be done, modelling it and then giving them a chance to succeed creates change in the directions we want. Give the kids the bridge—the support the scaffold—they need, and once success has been experienced then gradually remove some of the scaffolding—the support—and eventually all of it, so the child can stand independently. Training wheels are useful and give a child learning to ride a sense of balance and movement. The training wheels will inevitably—and must—come off. There comes a time when as a parent you must trust your child to do it themselves after all this is what childhood is: a winding journey towards independence.
As a teacher and parent, this can be challenging, but it is a key to moving children along the spectrum of learning and not stalling motivation. Great teachers always find something constructive to say even if at times it’s just getting marks on the paper. It is true if you look for faults that’s what you will find; look for progress, and that is what you will see.
Great parents allow their children to make mistakes as Michael Carr-Gregg points out in his book Strictly Parenting.
‘Young people will feel the most competent when they have to struggle to achieve something—when they need to be persistent, tenacious and dig deep as they face a challenge, cope with a setback or make a mistake along the way. It makes them stronger, more independent, more capable. That is what makes for successful kids—not parents who get all the hard stuff out of the way for them.’
“I love the way effort you put into writing your name. Those letters look like real letters. How about I write your name and you trace it or even copy it.”
“Well, you are so close to learning those addition facts, but you haven’t quite learnt it yet, try this…” or “Can I show you how I do it? or “Can I draw it for you.”