Why We Should Cultivate a Growth Mindset in Our Students

Notes from the Classroom

A cynic might say that a “growth mindset” expects students to work with diligence in an area for which they are not genetically gifted, practicing something in which they will never gain excellence.  

My journey with growth mindsets has been different.

I’ve found that it’s not about motivating students to necessarily work harder. Instead, it’s an effort to propagate a way of thinking and talking. It’s helping high-achieving students realize that it’s normal to face challenges, and that being challenged is an opportunity to push forward and grow.

Why Our Learning Zones Should Be Risk Tolerant

Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, tells us that “to get good, it’s helpful to be willing, or even enthusiastic, about being bad.”

But what if I am a student who is not enthusiastic about learning from mistakes?

We all have the students who know how “to do” school. They’re the ones that get straight A’s without much effort.

For these students, mistakes are not an opportunity to learn. Instead, they’re a stamp of disapproval. So, we need to be conscientious about our feedback–giving feedback on things students can control, like their effort, challenge-seeking, and persistence.

This means feedback should also avoid praise for children’s “smartness.” At the same time, we can help students understand that effort is not simply doing something for a long time, or doing the same thing over and over; but that it is seeking out challenges, setting goals, making plans, and using creative strategies to achieve those goals.

Language Matters when We Give Feedback

We need to support our students with lots of growth-mindset language. Students need to be praised for taking risks. That might mean saying, “Thank you! You just stretched our learning today.”

In that way, we show that mistakes are building blocks to our learning. Students need to be praised for looking at situations in new and different ways, and thanked for giving the learning community the opportunity to explore their thinking.

Yes, We Need High Expectations

Grant Cardone, in The 10x Rule, reminds us that success is important to our self-identity. “It promotes confidence, imagination, and a sense of security and emphasizes the significance of making a contribution,” he writes.

It’s an important lesson, but one that has been twisted over the years.

So many of our students have a sense of entitlement. Many times “the target” is lowered in order to make the student feel “successful.” But is that success? I don’t think so.

Success is about setting goals, working hard–and then even harder–until you reach your target. It’s not enough to just play the game.

Perhaps most overarching is the idea that we are all unfinished human beings. There is always room for change. Even when you think you have reached the top of your game, a growth mindset person is continually looking to reach higher: not to please others but to just become a better human being.

Tina Luchow (@tluchow25) is a fifth grade teacher at Oakwood Elementary, in the Brandon School District. She is in her eleventh year teaching upper elementary students, fifth and sixth grade, in the areas of math, reading, writing, and language conventions. Tina has studied reading and writing workshop practice, conducted action research, and is a 2017 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant. Tina attended Baker College for her undergraduate degree in education, and Marygrove College for her Masters in the Art of Education with a focus in Reading. Unlike your average perfectionist, Tina understands that “good enough” falls around the 50th consecutive attempt to hang a poster completely level. How does she do it? An unwavering commitment to the sole source of her strength: yogurt, granola, and tea.

Routines, Goals, and Risks for Struggling Readers

AARI Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

AARI LogoNow that I’ve covered the elements of a strong learning community, I want to delve deeper into some of the practical strategies you might use when building a community in AARI, the Adolescent Accelerated Reading Initiative, which brings students quickly to grade level. The students you have in your class might start out afraid and guarded. And so it’s appropriate to look closer at routines, protocols, goal setting, and risk taking.

Use Routines and Protocols to Promote Community

Consider teaching your students ways in which to talk to each other. I learned the 7 Norms of Collaborative Work from an Oakland Schools consultant (Jen Davidson), and I have used them with teachers and students alike. You could start small, with just the first three, and challenge your students to pause, paraphrase, and pose questions. You will probably have to adjust the language for students and use a “sounds like”/ “looks like” approach to show students how to carry these out.

Use thinking routines. Consider using some of these routines to check in with students each month, or at the start or end of your books.

Set Goals and Share them to Encourage Community

Try posing some questions for students. What has been a struggle for you in reading? What do you hope to get out of this class?

Develop shared goals. These include improving nonfiction reading through inferential questions and text mapping.

Don’t forget to revisit these goals throughout the year. Also, post them in a place that students will look at every day (like their work folder or a bulletin board). If your students are tech savvy, you could have them tweet their goals or use some other platform to share the goals and be held accountable.

Take Risks as Readers and Be a Vulnerable Teacher

Draw on your previous struggles. Youshutterstock_117860992 (2) are probably not a struggling reader. But you probably have struggled with learning something new or tackling something difficult. You could try something new, or bring in your graduate school work and explain what is difficult for you–anything to show that improvement takes time, practice, and strategies to succeed.

Give students an initial success. In order for students to take risks in reading, they have to feel comfortable. For this reason, I often started my teaching in AARI with a much lower-level book, so students can experience some initial success in the class and become experts at the texts’ structures.

Try a new book, one you’ve never taught before. (You can always borrow a set of AARI books from the Oakland Schools Library.) If you are new to AARI, don’t be afraid to tell students the areas in which you are struggling. Being vulnerable goes a long way with struggling readers.

All of these areas, when used to help students soften and open up, lead to strong communities. You are setting up your students for success when they have a group they can turn to for support and growth.

Caroline Thompson

Caroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for 12 years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She lives in Berkley with her husband and their 2 year old daughter.