Chapter 2.1: Envisioning an ‘A’ Student: Developing a Growth Mindset
When a student is struggling in school, there is usually more to the issue than just academic abilities. Nearly every parent tells us that they know deep down something could be done to make school easier or more approachable for their student, but we often end up focusing too much on grades. At Tutor Doctor, we don’t believe “fixing” grades should be the true goal of tutoring. Although important, merely addressing grades is only a temporary solution. We believe that helping a student to develop their own positive strategies and attitudes towards education is essential to the learning process – and ultimately what leads to their own personal fulfillment.
Every student is truly unique, and there is no blanket solution that works for everyone. Grades are merely a reflection of the student’s academic habits, and no two students are exactly alike.
At eight-years-old, Emma was a well-liked student in her school, but often received average grades because of her tendency to be quiet in class. Emma was very social when it came to her hobbies and her friends, but lacked the confidence to participate in the classroom. When we gave Emma a math assessment, she completed 80% of it perfectly. The remaining problems were simply left blank – a classic example of how Emma, like many students, would “close up” when approached with concepts she didn’t understand. After working with Emma intently, she soon became engaged in the material, and was able to approach these problems with critical thinking and confidence. The issue holding Emma back was not her academic strengths, but rather her mindset when it came to effective learning. At Tutor Doctor, our goal is to help students develop a “Growth Mindset” – a more engaged and motivated attitude towards learning in general, even when challenged.
Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, performed a detailed study to examine how a student’s mindset affects their overall performance in school. With thousands of students participating in the study, Dweck was able to divide them into two groups, one of which received brief training on the “Growth Mindset.” The results were staggering.
Here are some of the widely disproved beliefs held by the “Fixed Mindset” students:
- You’re either “smart” or you’re not
- Some people are just “good” at math (i.e. the “math gene”)
- Some people can do it, and some people just can’t
- If you get something wrong, you’re probably just not that clever
As a contrast, the “Growth Mindset” group of students had a much more positive attitude towards learning and education in general:
- Everybody can learn if they put in the effort
- The learning process requires us to try new things
- Making mistakes along the way is an integral part of this process
Positively encouraging students to challenge themselves is more crucial to the learning process than fixing a low grade in a specific subject. Students need to be encouraged to make mistakes! We actually learn more when we make mistakes because they require us to examine our work to find where the error occurred. This has been proven scientifically as well – Dweck’s research from MRI scans shows that every time a student makes a mistake in school, a new brain synapse is formed. This is what the Growth Mindset is all about – accepting that concepts that challenge us are a good thing, and through perseverance and application, we CAN do it!
We have had countless students that, right off the bat, we know they will not benefit from conventional approaches to teaching. Until the student’s habitual response to learning, growing, and making mistakes has changed, the process will continue to get harder (and ultimately, the problem will worsen). Whether it’s a fixed mindset, fear, stress, or lack of interest – students have many different reasons for struggling in school. At Tutor Doctor, we believe there is more than the ‘A’ grade. Success and achievement can only come from a positive attitude towards learning, and we believe everyone has the potential inside them, just waiting to come out. Our brains are designed to grow and learn, and when we set our mind to something, there is no limit to what we can achieve!
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