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Critical elements for succes

A large body of research in psychology and education, focused on areas such as motivation and mindset, is uncovering the critical elements needed for students to drive their own learning. It points to two essential focus areas that hold the most promise: Learning Mindsets and Learning Strategies & Habits.

praising leads to fixed mindset

Studies show that when we praise kids for being smart when they perform well, we inadvertently put them in a fixed mindset. They start focusing on trying to look smart, avoid challenge, see effort as a sign of weakness, and fall apart when things get hard (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Psychology research clearly shows that language that praises students’ intelligence or abilities backfires and leads to students’ self-doubt and avoidance of challenge.

We can’t force students to develop agency and drive their own learning. It must come from within. What can we do to help them?

Teaching learning mindset and learning strategies

We must explicitly teach Learning Mindsets and Learning Strategies & Habits for students to take on the beliefs and incorporate strategies into daily living. It is helpful to teach students how their brains work and how to strengthen them, as well as effective learning strategies, tools and habits that best enable them to manage themselves.

This is best done as a whole school effort so that one result of this explicit instruction is common understanding and language that all students, educators and parents in a school share, so that everyone can refer to that common understanding in everyday teaching and learning. Doing this work not only shifts students’ mindsets but also teachers’ mindsets.

Teachers can explicitly frame lessons or projects as opportunities to work on what we don’t know and go beyond our comfort zone to build capabilities. We can make better use of student mistakes and confusion as opportunities to learn, clarify and study the learning process. We can give feedback to students focused on their behavior, their choices, their strategies, rather than on being smart or talented.

We can teach performance skills, such as those in common core standards, using content that furthers Learning Mindsets and Learning Strategies & Habits, such as info texts on how people who struggled reached success, or on scientific research about what makes for effective self-management and learning, or about the relevance of our school work to our communities and life. We can have students chart their growth so they can view their improvement over time, and we can have them build growth mindset portfolios exemplifying times in which they took risks and achieved doing something they couldn’t do before.]

Never tell your child (s)he’s smart

Parents should not praise their kids when they succeeds at something they are already good at, but when they persevere with difficult things. Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. Neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones. Parents should tell their kids that their brain grows while they are struggling. Mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

Our intelligence is not fixed

What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed, and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.

Do you have a growth mindset?

Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has been studying people’s mindsets towards learning for decades. She has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not, that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure. Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset tended to focus their effort on tasks where they had a high likelihood of success and avoided tasks where they may have had to struggle, which limited their learning. People with a growth mindset, however, embraced challenges, and understood that tenacity and effort could change their learning outcomes. As you can imagine, this correlated with the latter group more actively pushing themselves and growing intellectually.