“Some of the very brightest students avoid challenges, dislike effort, and wilt in the face of difficulty. And some of the less bright students are real go-getters, thriving on challenge, persisting intensely when things get difficult, and accomplishing more than you expected.” Professor Carol Dweck
Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck made significant waves in the education and parenting worlds with a 2007 study on "growth vs. fixed" mindsets. Since then much has been made of the innate weakness of a fixed mindset and how parents and teachers can perpetuate a fixed mindset through praise of intelligence and performance rather than by praising students for effort and persistence.
What Is a Growth Mindset?
A growth mindset makes the learner believe that they can grow. They accept the notion that effort and hard work can help them to learn anything, achieve anything, or accomplish anything. They believe that persistence and creative thinking are the keys to success rather than natural abilities. They are praised for their effort and their resourcefulness. So, when they fail, they don't believe the failure is due to a personal limitation but because they simply have not figured out the correct solution yet.
You have probably heard or read that the key to building a growth mindset is to praise attempts and efforts rather than intelligence or talent. But why is this important for your high schooler?
According to research by Susan Polirstok, only 37% of 12th-grade students were proficient in reading in the United States in 2015. Further, only 25% of students at the same grade level were proficient in math. As these students apply and move on to college, they face the reality that they are just not at the level they should be to complete college-level work. A student in this situation who has a fixed mindset will believe that there is no way they can overcome their skill level at the college level. And this belief will often be compounded by their placement in remedial courses, which will cost them more money and set them off track to complete a degree in two or four years. According to Polirstok, this chain of events only increases the likelihood that the student will never finish that degree.
In contrast, a student who has developed a growth mindset will believe that moving up to proficiency is something that they can work for, and they will be more likely to stick with their studies, seek out help, and complete their degrees.
Students who have struggled inside and outside of the classroom also benefit from a growth mindset. Polirstok also states that students who have long been at-risk of failure develop low self-esteem and become trapped in the idea that they will never succeed despite their work. In these cases, a growth mindset that is taught in the classroom may be able to help students overcome the belief that they will never be able to rise above challenging situations and find success outside of high school.
Adolescence is a time of considerable change for all students - both those who are high achievers and those who struggle in the classroom. A growth mindset is a critical factor in teen learning. While students are tackling the challenge of creating identities apart from their parents, they may also be striving to develop a positive sense of self. A negative sense of self can further issues caused by a fixed mindset because some adolescents will lump all of their negative feelings toward themselves into one category. On the other hand, developing a growth mindset helps students to gain a stronger sense of self, engage in more positive self-talk, and interact more positively with their peers. Self-image encouraged by a growth mindset serves adolescents well inside and outside of the classroom.