BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER SUSAN MATTHIAS
After taking part in a workshop, “Developing a Growth Mindset in the Middle School Math Classroom,” I began to understand that it is the classroom culture that could positively impact the manner in which students approach their work. Although this workshop focused on math instruction, the concept of developing growth mindset in students can be applied to any content area on all levels.
If you have ever heard statements such as “I have never been good in math”; “I will never be able to write an essay”; “This science experiment is too difficult”; “This math problem has too many steps”, you are most likely working with students that operate using a fixed mindset. These students see their personal qualities as fixed traits that cannot be changed. Students with fixed mindsets do not recognize the connection between effort and success. With a fixed mindset, they believe that skill and intelligence are qualities you are born with and cannot be improved upon.
A growth mindset classroom culture can teach students that they are in control of their learning. Once students begin to understand, and most importantly, believe they are in control, an empowering mindset begins to creep in.
My classroom culture begins with me. After I adjusted the manner in which I responded to students,I began to see change. My responses to students began to communicate my confidence in them as the learner. In the past, when students came to me with questions and problems, I would be tempted to jump in and fix it for them. I stopped doing much of the work for them. What I realized is that learning stops when I respond in that way. I began to change how I responded. I began to ask more questions such as “Tell me what you do know about this problem,” or “Tell me how you got to this point.” The questions I began to ask and the discussions that ensued began to empower the students. I heard students say, “I got this!” or “I will work on that.”
Yes, a growth mindset is all about empowerment. Students need to understand that learning takes work and effort, and often, does not come easily. When students begin to experience success after doing their work, they begin to feel empowered. In a growth mindset classroom, students understand that a response such as “I don’t know” is not accepted. When students are not sure of how to respond, they learn and practice other responses such as “Can I phone a friend?”; “Can you come back to me?”, “I need a few minutes to think about that.” If teachers refuse to accept “I don’t know”, they promote a classroom culture where learning can happen, even if that learning does not appear to happen immediately.
It takes time and patience to develop a classroom culture that promotes a growth mindset. Educating students about the difference between a fixed mindset and the benefits of growth mindset opens doors they once thought were closed. It takes a strong teacher commitment to develop a growth mindset classroom. Discussions and responses to students must encourage students to do the work. At first, students may push back, as it will feel uncomfortable to them, however, if done consistently and with compassion, the culture will change. Although results will not be immediate, when promoting a growth mindset culture, I assure you that they will begin to try harder and reach deeper. They begin to be more accountable for their work and become more independent. Students will then be in charge of their learning!
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee