Growth Mindset

25 January, 2018

Have you ever looked at a task and thought “I can’t do that” or “that’s not something I’m good at”?

Those thoughts often used to invade my mind, especially when talking about maths or creativity. In these situations, no matter the task, I could never move past the statement “I’m not good at that” or “that’s not my strength”, until I started learning about the growth mindset.

The thing was in order to make an impact as a teacher I needed to remove this fixed mindset and move towards a growth mindset. So what was I going to do?

I did a course called ‘Teaching Character in the Classroom’ and became acutely aware of the impact of these thoughts through a session we did on growth Mindset. We had to reflect on an experience from our education that had shaped a fixed mindset. Mine was a no-brainer. In primary school I seemed to do well at maths and it was something I enjoyed. When I got to Year 9, I had the best maths teacher and I thoroughly enjoyed her classes. However, that didn’t last as that teacher left, which meant we got a new maths teacher. This new teacher didn’t instil confidence or a love of the subject and very soon my maths abilities started slipping.

Surprisingly that wasn’t the tipping point in the creation of my fixed mindset. But rather, when I started Year 12, I ended up with the same teacher! If that wasn’t enough, my parents (being Indian parents, of course!) made me study Maths Methods. So let’s put this into context. I was in Year 12, the pressure to succeed was drilled into me and not only was I made to do a subject I didn’t want to do, but I also ended up with a teacher who I didn’t believe could teach me maths. Sounds like a winning formula, don’t you think?! I still remember my first class that year: the teacher felt the need to tell me that I’d only end up getting a pass for Maths Methods. You can see why I had such an issue. So, as the story goes, I finished Year 12, and lo and behold I just passed (scraped through is probably more apt!) and it was the lowest mark of all my subjects. As heartbreaking as that story used to be for me, I feel quite lucky I went through that because it is the very reason why I push myself to be the best teacher I can be for my students.

Now, here I am reflecting on my teaching practice and realising that although I try and instil maths confidence in my students, without removing this limiting fixed mindset, I was never going to be as successful as I wanted to be. During the course, they gave us some strategies to change this fixed mindset and through purposeful practice I can proudly tell you “I can do maths!” It was a proud moment but one further enhanced by the evident change in my teaching practice. Although I taught maths to my students, there were certain instances where I’d end up letting my teaching partner teach maths. But after this breakthrough I was so excited to be teaching maths that I ended up always taking the top group in my Year 5/6 class, covering topics from Year 8 and 9. This was topped off by the fact that my students enjoyed my lessons and looked forward to me taking their maths class. A proud teacher moment when you’re only part-time in the classroom!

You might be wondering why I’ve given you such a long story and what point I’m trying to make. The crux of it is that I was introduced to the research of Carol Dweck and the growth mindset. It was definitely life changing for my perspective on my strengths and ability. This theory is how change happened for me and I guarantee that if you’re open to it, it will for you too.

Through research Dweck found there are two types of mindset that exist: fixed and growth. One, the fixed mindset, is a person who avoids challenges, gives up easily, doesn’t value effort, is threatened by the success of others, and forms a limited view of their ability and cannot see past it. On the other hand, the growth mindset person embraces challenges, persists even in the face of setbacks, values effort as a path to mastery and takes every opportunity to learn and expand their abilities.

Dweck found that you can change a fixed mindset through active effort and reflection. The idea of adding ‘yet’ to a statement and reframing it is one strategy used to expand thinking and shift to the growth mindset. Find out more here:

How did we do this with the students? We listed all the negative statements they say in maths and then turned them into growth mindset statements. For example, instead of “I can’t do this” they would say, “I can give this a go” or “I can’t do this yet”. It made a marked difference to their approach to learning and how they then responded to maths in general.

Give it a go yourself and see the effect of changing your negatively framed statements to positive ones. Get your students to do the same. One way is to note all the negative statements they say with “can’t” or “hard” in them and work together with them to turn these around and frame them in growth mindset language.

Sapna Sachdeva 2018