The following are samples of weekly posts I sent to faculty and staff to promote a growth mindset.
Effort, abilities, and poor growth mindset messaging
I believe these and other critics make some very good points. I also believe many criticisms are based on poor interpretations or expectations of growth mindset.
A growth mindset believes that we can increase our intelligence, talent, aptitude, ability, etc. regardless of the innate aptitude we are born with. Folks with a growth mindset tend to be more resilient, embrace challenges, and so forth.
The means by which we communicate these virtues of a growth mindset can muddy how people interpret a growth mindset. For instance, you cannot increase your intelligence if your work doesn’t stretch your capacity, so you must do work that is hard in order to increase your intelligence. That said, it is easy to believe we should tell students, “You can improve your intelligence if you work hard.” But that gets interpreted as “If you aren’t increasing your intelligence, it’s because you aren’t working hard enough.” That’s the wrong message—you can work very hard but not increase your intelligence if your strategies are poor. If you aren’t improving, it’s not necessarily because your mindset is faulty; it could be because your study habits are lousy.
The message ought to be that students have the capacity to increase their intelligence, but they have to stretch themselves and take on harder assignments that force their brains to think in different ways. In other words, we must make it clear that “working harder” means “not settling for what is easy,” and not “studying seven hours a night with poor study strategies.”
The articles above are worth reading. They come from observers who are interested in empowering students and strengthening their mindsets.
As we read them, let’s remember what growth mindset is(i.e. the belief that your intelligence can grow), and what it isn’t(i.e. a promise or guarantee that your intelligence will grow).
What do you think?
Classroom assignment: Have students write the comments
I write the same comments over, and over, and over. I try to make them pro-growth mindset comments (that is, comments that encourage students to take their work to the next level, so as to help them stretch their brains), but I feel like I recycle the same four or five comments on all of my students’ work. “To take it to the next level, try . . .” is one of my go-tos. So are “The idea here is strong,” and “Consider what would happen if . . . .”
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the comments themselves. I just use them A LOT.
For this classroom assignment suggestion, acknowledge to your class that you, too, find yourself using the same comments over and over and over again. Then, have the class create a new set of comments for you to use. Tell them that the class must agree on four “positive” and four “needs work” comments, and each of them must promote growth mindset.
A few things can happen with this assignment. First, students are forced to think about what growth mindset means. Second, they are forced to acknowledge that the comments on their work is designed to help them get better. Third, they may read the comments to see if you used the comment that they wrote. Fourth, you get new comments to add to your toolbox of student responses.
“You can only grow your intelligence through work that challenges you.”
Students can choose how challenged they want to be. Students can choose electives that affirm their current strengths, or they can choose electives that stretch their abilities. They can choose to work only as hard as they need to to earn a “D,” or they can choose to put forth the work that an “A” grade demands. They can choose to have an “easy” semester, or they can choose to have a “challenging” semester. The choice is theirs.
Given the choice to be challenged or not, few of us would blame students to choose the easy route. But we should remind them that trying to make college “easy” does them no favors. If students are not challenged, their intelligence will not grow. A student who chooses to make college as easy as possible could conceivably leave HPU after four years no more intelligent she was when she started. That’s her choice.
Remind students that they have the choice to grow their intelligence, but that means they must choose to be challenged.