Growth Mindset in the Real Classroom
Growth Mindset for Kids
By now, most teachers have incorporated some aspects of “Growth Mindset” into their classrooms. Students are taught to take strategic steps to build up areas that are harder for them. Students are given positive language to use when tackling challenges. But students don’t live in a bubble. They watch kids and adults around them picking up on new skills quickly and wonder why these same skills take so much longer for them to develop.
Special Abilities and Child Prodigies
The very existence of GATE programs, elite sports teams, and differentiated groups for instruction tells students what we already know – there are kids (and people) who are more naturally able in certain areas. Kids are smart. They are observant. When they see or hear about a student with special abilities, we can’t convince them that the child got there only through hard work.
And what about the child prodigy? The one who learns to read at age-2, not through hours of Teach Your Baby to Read videos, but naturally? Or the kid who can listen to a song one time and immediately recreate the tune on the piano? How about the child artist, mathematician, or chess player? We all know that these kids exist – we watch them on The Ellen Degeneres Show and follow their stories online. They fascinate us. OBVIOUSLY these kids are naturally talented. And OBVIOUSLY they will continue to improve and succeed when they pair their natural talent with hard work and dedication. But how do you explain these kids to YOUR kids? Your students?
Getting Kids to Grow Their Strengths
There is a lot to be said for teaching kids about strengths and weaknesses (or, if you prefer, “areas for growth.”). We need to teach our students that all of us have special gifts, and we all have areas to work on. We can emphasize not only academic strengths and challenges, but musical, athletic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, and artistic ones as well. And of course we can and should encourage all students to improve their weaker areas, through strategic effort and positive language.
Isn’t there a way to highlight the special gifts that each child contributes, while at the same time encouraging a growth mindset? After all, a naturally-gifted artist will have much more to offer the world when she pairs her gift with additional training. A gifted chess prodigy will still improve his game with practice and coaching.
What Teachers Can Do
As a teacher, we can’t avoid the gifts our students bring to the classroom setting, and we shouldn’t have to. Yes, we must teach our students and parents to use positive talk. We don’t want our students to say, “I stink at math,” but instead to say, “This is hard for me right now. I need to keep working to improve.” At the same time, it is okay for kids to look at each other and think, “Wow, that girl is really good at math” or “Wow, he has a lot of trouble catching during P.E.” We can’t be so far in denial that we eliminate this way of thinking and force our kids into attributing all success to strategic effort. Some people really are better at things than other people. And that’s okay.
One of the best ways for teachers to balance growth mindset in the classroom is to model the behaviors they want their students to display. As teachers, we can share our natural gifts with our students. At the same time, we can show our students how WE struggle with certain areas, and allow them to see us putting forth effort to improve.
We can certainly put the bigger emphasis on working smarter and tracking our own growth rather than on highlighting “natural” gifts. But to deny the existence of natural abilities doesn’t fool anyone, especially not the children we teach.
Moving Beyond Growth Mindset
Growth mindset is a great concept to introduce, especially when paired with goal-setting. Once students recognize an area they would like to work on (whether it is already a strength for them or not), teaching them to create a S.M.A.R.T. goal is the next logical step. Click here to see the step-by-step process for incorporating S.M.A.R.T goals into your classroom.