Growth Mindset Made Simple

Sunday November 13, 2016

There is nothing we educators like more than a silver bullet. Although we often then shoot ourselves in the foot with it.

Growth Mindset is the current go-to school improvement ordnance so, with alarm bells ringing, we asked Associate Dr Phil Wood of Leicester University what he thought. He suggested we check out the original research Carol Dweck undertook as explained in her earlier book, Self Theories.

So we did. This is what we came up with:

Self Theories in Four Headings and One Mantra 

Don't focus on how easy a child finds a task but on the level of challenge they felt was involved. The purpose of the task is not its completion with the highest score possible, but embracing a suitable level of difficulty (not ease). And if you don't know what that level is, let the child choose. You'll be surprised.

'What have you learned?' is a far better question than 'What mark did you get?'. Children will be honest if you ask them what they have actually learned (just be ready for 'We did this in Year Six, miss!'). And by learning we don't just mean new knowledge and skills but what they have learned about themselves too. 

One child has scored five out of ten. Another has scored ten out of ten. One of these children tried twice as hard as the other. The thing is, you don't know which. Make how hard you tried - or rather how hard you had to try - part of any feedback discussion when it comes to learning.

'How did you manage to get two out of ten?' is a far better response than 'Must try harder!'. Whatever a child achieves in their learning, they will have used certain strategies. Some more useful than others. The more you focus on improving them, the more you move children away from 'becoming' their results.

Which leads us to the Golden Rule:

You Are Not Your Exam Results
If we had to sum up Growth Mindset, it is this mantra. Whether you are dealing with the child (often high-achieving girls according to Dweck) who gets her first ever non-A grade and feels a failure or the boy who continually fails to shine academically, make sure they know they are so much more than any grade or score could ever measure.
Or, in the words of one 18-year-old who has benefited from this Golden Rule:
'The idea of "You are not your exam results" has enabled me to have control over the impact my results have on me. I have learnt never to let a percentage define me, but to accept progress and change. A result isn't who I am, and it will never determine my intelligence.'
Perfect! (ITL)


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