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Growth Mindset

A noncognitive skill I have been trying to promote among my students is a growth mindset. Children (and adults) who believe that their effort can affect outcomes and improve their abilities are more likely to take risks, try new things, and persevere. They are also more likely to be successful on challenging tasks. Those who have a fixed mindset, (e.g., “I’m just not good at math,” or “I can’t read”) are less likely to persevere and are less likely to be successful at a given challenge.

One way my students have been helping each other to have a growth mindset is to give each other time to think and to embrace mistakes. We’ve learned that mistakes are actually a good thing. We have discussed that, if you go through the school day without making mistakes, you must only be doing things you already know how to do, which means you aren’t learning anything new. I must have said this sentence to students hundreds of times this year: “Every time you make a mistake and fix it, your brain is getting smarter!” Another favorite in our class is, “Don’t say CAN’T, say CAN TRY.”

In whole group or small group settings, some expectations need to be set in order for students to be able to take the time they need to figure out difficult things or to fix a mistake. First, when one student is working to figure out the answer to a question, we (teacher and classmates) never TELL them the answer. This robs them of the opportunity to figure it out. We can ask if the student wants help, and if so, usually the teacher provides the appropriate scaffold (though the students are getting good at this too). Also, we are quiet and patient while a classmate is working through a problem (e.g., sounding out a word, solving a math problem), so that they are able to concentrate and know that we will give them the time they need to persist.

It takes a lot of reminders, practice, patience, and self-control to maintain these expectations, but it is well worth it. This week a student volunteered to read a paragraph in Scholastic News aloud to the rest of the class. He was slow but steady, pausing at almost every other word to sound it out while his classmates followed along. At the end of the paragraph, I called for another volunteer, but the same child wanted to continue. He powered through the rest, his classmates silent and respectful. By the end, he sighed with relief and pride as his classmates applauded his hard work.

P.S

Here are some great children’s books that promote a growth mindset, though I’m sure there are tons more.

  • Ish by Peter Reynolds
  • The Dot by Peter Reynolds
  • Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
  • Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
  • The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

Melanie Berlin

is a classroom teacher on the K-2 team. Before moving to Chicago, Melanie lived in Philadelphia and worked for five years as lead kindergarten teacher at Mastery Charter Mann Elementary School. Previous to that, Melanie lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and taught at an independent school in Oakland, California. Melanie has her B.A. in psychology with a minor in urban education from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her teaching degree from San Francisco State University with a focus on social justice in education.

In her free time, Melanie loves playing ultimate Frisbee, drinking coffee, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and baby daughter.

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