What if there were a magic bullet that would improve your child’s attitude about school AND increase their academic performance? Would you be interested?
Yup, I thought so!
All parents want to inspire greatness in their kids. We want our kids to love learning and to confidently overcome the difficulties that they will surely encounter throughout their lifetime of learning.
As the long time homeschooling mom of a houseful of kids who struggle to learn due to dyslexia and ADHD, I have been on the lookout for such a remedy.
Interestingly, this amazing thing is not found in a curriculum or a homeschool method at all.
It has to do with how we encourage our kids as they learn.
Let me give you an example.
Your child is struggling with learning something, followed by complaining, dawdling, or giving up completely. So Mom (or Dad) steps in and says, ‘Hey buddy. It’s okay. You haven’t learned that – YET.’ Your child looks at you bewildered by your statement and tries again. As they are trying, you are quick to notice their effort and perseverance. “I like how you are persevering” you may say, or “I like how you are using your strategies”.
Research has shown that kids who are praised and encouraged for their effort are far more likely to develop the inclination to apply more effort. On the flip side, kids who are praised for the outcome of their effort (as in grades received) are more likely to quit when things get tough.
These mindsets are referred to as growth and fixed mindsets.
The day I learned about fixed and growth mindsets was the day that I experienced a huge shift in the way that I thought about teaching but, more importantly, my kids have benefited massively from the simple shift in how I talk about their learning.
The term Growth Mindset was coined by Stanford researcher Dr. Carol Dweck to refer to a person’s attitude about learning. After researching learned helplessness in lab rats, Dr. Dweck began to apply what she had learned to the same sorts of attitudes in people.
Dr. Dweck’s research revealed some pretty surprising things.
Kids were given a fairly simple non-verbal IQ test. The 3 groups received a different response towards their work:
Praise for their intelligence: The first group was praised for their intelligence. “You did a great job! You must be smart.”
Praise for their process: The second group was praised for their effort. “You did a great job! You must have tried very hard.”
The control group: This group received a neutral response. “You did a great job!”
Next, these groups were offered an opportunity to choose the level of difficulty of their next task. Fascinatingly, kids who were praised for their intelligence, chose an easy task while those who were praised for their effort chose the harder task.
It was concluded that both groups of kids were sensitive to what the researchers valued – effort or intelligence – and were motivated to continue to score well in those areas.
Growth and Fixed Mindsets
Dr. Dweck categorized growth and fixed mindsets as follows:
People with a fixed mindset:
- only cared about looking smart
- didn’t want to take the risk of looking dumb
- were determined to ‘look smart’ at any cost whether that meant lying or cheating to achieve the goal
- avoided academic challenges
- felt learning should come easily and that if they needed to apply much effort that they were not smart
People with a growth mindset:
- were not afraid to work hard
- understood that learning takes practice and that even geniuses have had to work hard for their discoveries
- understood that hard work and practice make you smarter
How to Promote a Growth Mindset
Praise the process. We tend to think that telling our kids how smart they are will increase their confidence. While this may give a brief boost, research shows that praising effort rather than outcome results in a growth mindset. Here are some ideas for phrasing your praise to focus on the process:
- I like the way that you ….
- You must have tried really hard at this.
- I see that you are trying again, great thinking.
- You remembered to use the procedure for ….
- What a brilliant way to approach the task.
- I noticed you are thinking through the steps we discussed.
- You were confident with the task and I know you will be with the next step.
- I am watching the way you’re approaching this and I think your effort is outstanding.
- The steps you took must have really helped you…
Model a growth mindset. Show kids how to recognize fixed mindset thoughts and how to replace them with growth mindset thoughts.
- Instead of saying, “I’m so stupid.” say “What am I missing?”
- Instead of saying, “I’m not good at math (or any other subject).” say I’m not good at math – yet.”
- Instead of saying, “This is too hard.” say “This is going to take some time and effort.”
- Instead of saying, “I give up!” say “I’ll use some of the strategies I’ve learned.”
- Instead of saying, “I made a mistake.” say “Mistakes help me learn.”
Do you have a child that thinks they aren’t smart or who thinks they can’t learn? Try to figure out what they do understand and what strategies they could use. Great teachers believe in the growth of talent and intelligence in their students and will take the time to learn how their students (or kids) learn.
Developing a growth mindset takes time. With consistent modeling and appropriate encouragement, you will begin to see your kids being less intimidated by their struggles and becoming more persistent.
Read more about Growth and Fixed Mindsets by reading Dr. Dweck’s book, Mindset.