We've all heard defeatist self-talk from students:
- "I'm terrible at math."
- "I'll never be a good writer."
- "I hate history."
Of course, such beliefs make learning these subjects all the more difficult.
But sometimes positive self-talk can also be problematic:
- "I'm great at math."
- "I'm a natural-born writer."
- "I know everything about history."
What's wrong with such statements? Like the negative self-talk, these statements limit learning because they create a fixed mindset.
What are fixed and growth mindsets?
Students succumb to a fixed mindset when they think that their intelligence and talent are set: They are either smart or not, either talented or not. A student who says, "I'm terrible at math" will avoid the subject whenever possible. A student who says, "I'm great at math" will probably not work very hard to improve.
On the other hand, students develop a growth mindset when they realize that intelligence and talent grow through practice, patience, and hard work. Conversely, intelligence and talent grow "rusty" from neglect. Rather than focusing on a fixed level of ability, students with a growth mindset focus on continual improvement.
Carol Dweck of Stanford University defines these beliefs in her book Mindset and shows how they impact learning:
|Fixed Mindset||Growth Mindset|
|Wants to prove intelligence or talent.||Wants to improve intelligence or talent.|
|Avoids challenges for fear of failure.||Engages challenges to improve.|
|Gives up in the face of tough obstacles.||Persists in overcoming obstacles.|
|Avoids hard labor.||Sees labor as the path to success.|
|Treats criticism as an attack.||Treats criticism as an opportunity.|
|Feels threatened by others’ success.||Feels inspired by others’ success.|
But isn't IQ fixed?
Not at all. Recent articles in Scientific American, Wired Science, and the New York Times cite numerous studies that demonstrate the fluidity of intelligence and talent. Even the person who initially defined the idea of IQ saw it as fluid. In Modern Ideas About Children, Alfred Binet wrote, "With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally to become more intelligent than we were before."
How can I help my students develop a growth mindset?
Start by presenting the two mindsets and giving examples of each. Download and distribute this PDF to explain the concept. Then help students focus on growth, shifting from "I'm terrible at this" to "I need more practice to learn this." Also, create a classroom culture that listens to self-talk, replacing fixed-mindset statements with growth-mindset statements. You'll find that this small change can make a big difference in learning.
Use the minilesson "Creating a Growth Mindset."