Academic success isn't just about a student's grades, but also their attitude towards education. Building confidence is a key goal with all the students we work with for this very reason. Students that believe they can learn, make an effort, and improve are more likely to become high achievers. Research has shown that students who believe they are “going to fail” or “just can't do it” are more likely to be devastated by small setbacks, which in turn prevents them from moving forward. This is why we want our kids to have a growth mindset – the core belief that they can improve – through practice, asking questions, and employing learning strategies.
Alex Scotchbrook, one of our Education Consultants at Tutor Doctor, co-authored a chapter in our Academic Success Formula book that focuses on helping students develop a growth mindset. Research on growth mindsets dates back 30 years to the work of Dr. Carol Dweck, who noticed that some students seem to have a better ability to “bounce back” after a difficult situation.
“When there's a mistake, when there's a failure, some [are able to] rebound,” explains Alex. “And some get absolutely devastated, even over the tiniest little mistake. It kind of hits them on a personal level.” This highlights the core goals of developing a growth mindset – we don't want our students to feel stuck (“I just don't get math.”) This is referred to as a fixed mindset. If a student believes that they simply aren't able to do any better, then they won't. In many ways, this is a damaging, self-affirming cycle for some students. Rather than feeling confident that they have the tools and resources to improve next time, some students criticize themselves for not being “smart” enough.
“With a fixed mindset, you're either 'clever' or you're one of the 'stupid' ones,” elaborates Alex. “[Some students] think, 'I'm someone who can achieve, give me something to do and I'll do it.' Or, you might think, 'I'm just not that clever. I can't do that – it's just how I am.' What the studies show is that when people have this mindset, it's almost like they have no control over what they do. The devastation over failure is quite profound, and sort of adds to their evidence that 'You see? I can't do it.'”
One of the goals of a growth mindset is to prevent our kids from becoming discouraged. We recently discussed this in our blog “Teaching Your Child That Failure Is Good” - when something is difficult or causing our children to struggle, we want them to be resilient and remain positive that they will take the steps to improve. In many ways, failure can be a good thing – we can learn what went wrong and what to avoid next time. A growth mindset ensures that our students see their own abilities in a positive light.
So, how can we help our kids to develop a growth mindset? A great place to start is to consider the type of praise you are giving your children. Alex explains: “You'll often hear [teachers and parents] saying, 'you are so smart', 'you must be gifted', or 'what an amazing talent you have.' And that's a lovely thing to hear as a child, it makes you smile,” she continues, “but it's [a] fixed mindset.”
Alex recommends rephrasing praise in a way that highlights the student's efforts themselves. Here are some great examples:
- “Look at the thinking you've done to reach that.”
- “How hard did you have to concentrate to make that?”
- “Tell me how you got there. Did you break that down into little steps?”
This is a key part of developing a growth mindset. As Alex explains, we want our kids to see a direct correlation between their hard work and corresponding achievements. “You're praising them for their thinking. You're praising them for their tenacity and for sticking at it.”
Ultimately, we all want our kids to develop a mindset that empowers them to build confidence in their abilities to grow, both academically and as people. When a student is struggling, we want them to see this not as a setback, but rather an opportunity to learn. “[You can] understand how to turn that into a goal, break it down into tasks, and ask questions when you don't know,” Alex says. “If you don't have the resources yourself, it's feeling okay to ask for them.”
For more information about this topic, click here to listen to our podcast episode "The Importance of Developing a Growth Mindset for Children."