At Barrington we encourage pupils to develop a Growth Mindset. This is not a new curriculum but simply an approach to learning in school and life beyond. Research by Developmental Psychologist Dr Carol Dweck points to people having one of two mindsets: Growth and Fixed. We all hold beliefs about concepts such as ‘intelligence’, ‘ability’ and ‘personality’, with roughly half of us holding a ‘fixed’ mindset and the other half a ‘growth’ mindset.
Children with a fixed mindset can be scared to contribute to class discussion for fear of looking stupid; who take one bad test result as a sign that they cannot do the subject, are going to fail and therefore give up; who will not try anything new for fear of getting it wrong; who will persevere with the same approach to their learning even when it is not working rather than being creative and finding a different solution.
Developing a Growth Mindset is designed to remove such barriers to learning as the children realise they can grow their ability rather than being told they can. To help support an open mindset, we aim to praise children’s effort, process and commitment rather than talent or intelligence.
Helping your child to develop a growth mindset
Five quick things you can do to help develop a growth mindset in your child:
1. Ask open-ended questions to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
“What do you think will happen if....” or “Why do you suppose....”. These questions build logical thinking skills and often lead to rich discovery.
2. Use specific feedback that identifies what the child accomplished.
We all use phrases like “You’re brilliant”, “you made that look so easy”, “you’re so clever”, but praise like this doesn’t tell your child what they have done well – these comments just reinforce a fixed mindset in your child. Instead, praise what they have done specifically – “you sounded that work out really carefully and used your phonics – well done”, “I like how you kept going at swimming and tried to get all the way to the other side”.
3. Encourage children to take a risk
Watch and listen to your child so you can take cues about what else they are ready to tackle. Vygotsky calls this the “zone of proximal development” – when we gently nudge children to use what they know to try something just a bit out of their reach, but yet developmentally appropriate. By offering small but achievable challenges, confidence and persistence emerge.
4. Be persistent and growth-orientated yourself
Narrate your thoughts as you try something new or frustrating (with a PG-rating, of course!). Your child may even be able to offer some helpful tips. This allows children to see we all have to work hard to solve problems and we all continue to learn new things. Try to avoid labelling yourself in a fixed mindset way – telling your child “oh I’m rubbish at Maths” gives them the message that you are either good at Maths or not good at Maths and there is nothing you can do about it. A more growth mindset comment would be “oh I found Maths tricky at school but if you keep trying and learning from your mistakes, you’ll get there”.
5. Don’t worry about the small stuff
Accidents and mistakes happen. Show your child there is something to be learned when we don’t achieve what we set out to accomplish. Maybe someone else lends a hand. Maybe you return to the task at another time. Maybe it is best to take a break for a while, or split a task up into smaller steps. Be specific about what worked, identify the emotions involved, and offer encouragement for the next time.