Teaching Tip #7 – “I Can’t” and the Growth Mindset

Previous teaching tips have discussed strategies on how to respond when students provide right answers, and when students respond to wrong answers. But what happens when students respond with, “I can’t?”

Dr. Carol Dweck is able to answer this question in her transformative book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In her book, Dweck discusses two different mindsets – the Fixed Mindset, and the Growth Mindset. The fixed mindset exists in an individual who believes their abilities are static – you are either good at something, or you are not. The growth mindset exists in an individual who believes their abilities are dynamic – you may not be good at something now, but you can improve at it. Dweck’s work with the Growth Mindset has become a mainstay in quality pedagogy over the last decade. But how can you instill a growth mindset in your students?

One way, is to model a growth mindset for your students. Show a love for learning and an improvement in a skill. Choose a skill you do not feel confident with (art, use of technology, singing), and work at it throughout the year, within sight of your students. Regardless of the improvements you make, modeling your mindset will show students how to foster a growth mindset.

Another way to instill a growth mindset in your students is to use purposeful language. Be aware of how you use language towards yourself, and how you use language in response to student remarks. For example, if you make a mistake in class, try responding by saying:

  • “Oops! Oh well, I’m still getting better.”
  • “There’s a mistake! That means I’m learning!”

Additionally, if a student begins to make fixed mindset remarks about their own ability, you can try responding by saying:

  • “You might not be able to do this now, but you will!”
  • “You are getting better, keep up the hard work!”

There are other ways to work towards a growth mindset in both yourself and your students. If you want more examples or information about the Growth Mindset, I suggest reading Dr. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, or checking out her website here.

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