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  • Scott Murphey

The trouble with Growth Mindset: The problem in Theory vs. Practice.

Updated: May 3, 2021

I recently reread this article:

In schools, especially at the elementary to highschool level, we are coming to the the common agreement that we want to develop students who have a growth mindset and passion for life long learning.

Those who have a growth mindset believe talent can be developed through hard work, mindful strategies, and applying feedback from others. They consistently try new approaches and view failure as a momentary setback and opportunity to grow. Unlike most gifted individuals, growth mindset individuals are typically more focused on learning and improving and less worried about “looking smart” and earning high grades. McClendon (2017)

The idea of growth mindset is now pretty common in education, at least in the schools I have worked in. Teachers have posters, and even know some of the phrases to pass along to kids.

Instead of saying, "I'm just not good at this." say, "I can get better if I try."

On the surface you hear this and you say, that is awesome! That student is getting good advice. But when you look deeper you realize these are just words. The application of the idea is where students really learn the lesson. This is where as educators we fail.

In general schools and educators are too focused on the "what", the content and not the how, or the processes that go along with the what. I also think we too often fall into that "expert" categort where we fail to see things as the "novice".

Growth mindset should be taught through experiences and building knowedge. As teachers we can manufacture experiences where kids fail, and then they have to try to figure out where to go from there. Scaffolding lessons, monitor and then provide feedback and adjust what to teach next as we move through the process.

So for example, if I want to teach a unit on writing a personal narrative, not only am I teaching what a personal narrative is, I also need to provide lots of room to provide these "growth mindset" experiences. For example, when writing the personal narrative, the more improat aspect for some students might be sitting and writitng for 20 min straight with out stopping. But then you find out they say "I don't know what to say", so you pull the kids through the thought process. Have them say, "I can figure this out if I ask for help" or "I can can look at other examples to guide me". Then you do that. You constantly scaffold each part of the process.

Students need to be encouraged not to give up when the encounter a problem, furthermore they need to experience success through examples of how to over come these problems. This helps build schema they they can build off of in the future.

Developing growth mindset is more akin to providing experiences for students to fail or finding those experiences where they fail, and then showing them examples of what they can do and what they can say and having them practice these things. I think most teachers understand this, but end the end fall short becasue of two reasons.

The first, like I said above, they are too worried about getting through the content. The second, is that there is this notion that if we give students the answer, it's not good learning. Kids have to come up with the answer on their own. But in general this only serves to waste time and frustrate kids more. They need to see exmaples of how something is done and then they need to try those examples on thier own. Once they have a few examples assimilated inot their arsenal of knowledge then they can start to develop ideas independently.

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