(an extract from my book The Mindset Continuum: Your Key to Growth Mindset Interventions that work!)
The vast majority of Growth Mindset interventions in the classroom don’t recognise the journey of becoming increasingly growth-oriented. The expectation is that after a Growth Mindset intervention, students will be cured of their Fixed Mindset and “have” a Growth Mindset. This expectation sets both students and teachers up to fail.
Many popular Growth Mindset interventions ask students to jump to the finish line and “adopt” a Growth Mindset. Classrooms abound with posters and affirmations that list the behaviours associated with Fixed and Growth Mindsets, asking students to adopt Growth Mindset behaviours. We create displays that advocate, “Instead of saying … say this …” We list catchphrases and ask students to repeat them. We tell students that instead of saying, “I can’t,” they should say, “I can’t yet.”
The problem with these interventions is two-fold.
Firstly, they set the number of students with a Growth Mindset as the measure of a teacher’s success. As we have discussed, very few, if any, students “have” a Growth Mindset, even after significant interventions. Consequently, in many schools, teachers implement these strategies, then after some time recognise their students don’t “have” a Growth Mindset. As a result, they abandon Growth Mindset as “last year’s initiative“.
The beauty of the Mindset Continuum is that it helps teachers reset their expectations. The success of our Growth Mindset interventions is not measured by the number of students with a Growth Mindset, it is measured by how much more growth-oriented our students have become! Our goal should be for our day-to-day classroom practice to nurture, nudge and nourish an increasingly growth-oriented Mindset in students. It is unrealistic to expect significant changes in students’ Mindsets in short periods of time.
We shouldn’t expect students to suddenly start embracing challenges, listening intently to all our feedback, and persisting for long periods. Rather, they will start taking on slightly more difficult challenges, perhaps only if they think there’s a reasonable chance of success. They will listen to more of our feedback, as long as they don’t feel criticised. And they will stick at tasks a bit longer before they start feeling as though their effort is wasted. Our goal should be small incremental changes along the Mindset Continuum, not flips between Fixed and Growth Mindsets.
This highlights another common misconception based on the fixed/growth dichotomy: the idea that sometimes we have a Fixed Mindset and at other times we have a Growth Mindset. There will certainly be some contexts where we are likely to be more growth-oriented than others. And we are likely to have triggers that, at a given moment, may temporarily incline us towards one end of the continuum. However, it would be inaccurate to suggest that our lives are made up of “Fixed Mindset moments” and “Growth Mindset moments”.
The second problem with these interventions is they don’t tackle the real issue. A Mindset is the set of beliefs we hold about the nature of our abilities. Typically, classroom interventions don’t target student beliefs. Instead, they target student language. And while it might be possible to get students to sound as though they have a Growth Mindset, it is doubtful their underlying beliefs have changed!
This is where the popular “Change your words. Change your Mindset” posters get the message back-to-front. While they are accurate in describing what people towards each end of the Mindset Continuum tend to say, simply changing words does not change underlying beliefs. These posters would be more accurate if they said, “Change your Mindset and watch your words change!”. This is because it’s our underlying beliefs that drive our language, not the other way around.
Learn how to move students along the Mindset Continuum and create more growth-oriented mindsets by attending my Growth Mindset Toolkit workshop.
James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.
James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.
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Having been to a day-long workshop with James, I find it really helpful to revisit these ideas, to help me remember what I found inspirational and help apply it. It’s great to use these strategies in the classroom and be able to drip feed them to teachers in my Collaborative Inquiry Group when they hit a wall when working with a challenging student.