Can We Actually Grow Our Brains?
Seeking to employ a growth mindset, it can be tempting as a teacher to tell a student that “he/she can do anything” and then praise that effort. But, that is not what true growth mindset means. A growth mindset means “that trying harder —and trying new strategies—not only helps them succeed at the current task but also helps them succeed in the future by strengthening their brain.”
The point of this mindset is to understand that learning can rewire the brain so that as students learn new information, their intelligence increases and the increased intelligence changes the brain synapses. Sadly, in some schools growth mindset vacillates between praising effort for the sake of effort, to shaming students when they do not learn effectively.
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
In the growth mindset, students are taught that they have some control over success and failure. Among the characteristics of a growth mindset for the classroom are:
- When faced with a learning challenge, help the students identify the steps required to tackle the challenge. In this way, when they face other challenges in school subjects, they have a skill set that allows them to understand that the task will be hard, but they are willing to persevere.
- Teach the students how to use feedback not as criticism but as an opportunity to learn to accomplish a task better. While it can be natural to respond to constructive criticism with defensiveness, a model for students the process of sifting through the feedback to find the ways they can change and accomplish more in the next assignment.
- Give verbal feedback and praise when you hear students discuss going through the right steps and procedures for an assignment; explain that if they never fail, they also never tried; find examples of famous people who talk about persevering when it was difficult and what they learned.
- Encourage students to keep at it through the power of the word “Yet”. Help them to learn that yet means continuing to strive to learn that concept that is difficult, not quitting until they achieve success.
In contrast, the fixed mindset says that students can’t change to be more creative, more successful, or more focused on potential. Among the characteristics of a fixed mindset are:
- The guiding belief is that people’s qualities are fixed and won’t change.
- Talent is responsible for success, and persistent effort does not lead to success.
- People are born with a fixed level of intelligence that cannot be changed.
As teachers with a great deal of influence over our students, we must be careful not to use a false growth mindset in the classroom where we praise effort without feedback and the expectation that students should use that to do better next time. Remember that research has shown that “how (students) perceive their abilities—plays a key role in their motivation and achievement.” When students believe that they can grow their minds by learning new concepts, even when they have to work at it, they believe they can achieve more.