Growth mindset: How to implement it?

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A-level Physics By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Physics » A-level Physics
Last updated: 14/07/2017
Tags: growth mindset, metacognition, motivation

"Growth mindset": a term coined by Carol Dweck, is a concept which has gotten a lot of attention in the Education circles and is becoming even more popular now. If you have recently completed, or are completing a PGCE now, there is no doubt you will have heard these words many times. But what is growth mindset? In short, it is the belief that intelligence is not fixed, but can be improved upon by effort and determination. While I am convinced by the research and find this concept to be crucial for education, I feel that it is often talked about and analysed, but not implemented. When suggestions are given on how to imprint growth mindset on students, I do not find them particularly useful as they are very generic and vague.

I am not going to go into the details and findings of the educational research supporting the theory behind the growth mindset concept, but I am rather hoping to present a list of various ways of instilling this mindset in students. These are all examples that I have used in the classroom, often with very pleasing results. There is a lot of overlap between these points, but this is because I consider this approach to be holistic. You must become a role model of growth mindset yourself in order to really communicate these ideas to the students on a deep and fundamental level.

  1. Share your own failures with students: Surprisingly simple and intuitive, but it takes some courage to do so. Students often assume that teachers are an absolute authority, and were born good at their subject. I actively destroy this view by talking to my students about how I was very bad at Mathematics and Physics in school, and only after a lot of effort I became the best in my class until leaving school, merely because I enjoyed the challenge and put in hours and hours of study. But I don't stop there. I share with them that after a very successful Physics degree, I tried to do a Masters in Pure Mathematics, and failed. Then I tell them that I completed a PhD in Physics despite having failed in my second Masters, and that now, I have started a BSc in Pure Mathematics, which I will complete in a few years and then proceed to complete the Masters that I once failed in.
  2. Encourage and promote "failure": In today's fast-paced and bite-sized information culture, many students want instant gratification. This leads to the desire of "getting" something straight away and "succeeding" instantly, thereby feeling good about themselves. I consider it my role to challenge this, and I want my students to understand and feel the importance of failing. This does not necessarily refer to major failures, but small every-day ones. I always encourage them to have the resilience and perseverance to go back and see why they failed at something, and what could be done to improve it. Speaking for Mathematics and Physics, this could be something as simple as spending a lot of time on a difficult problem in class, until everyone has followed every step and afterwards feel confident that they understand. In short, I want them to struggle, but I always remind them that I am there for them to support them in this journey. That brings me to the next point.
  3.  Challenge them beyond imagination: Yes, that's right. This is what "high expectations" means to me. Make your students struggle, and create a culture of progress through hard work, determination and passion for the subject. Your own love of the subject must constantly be shared with the students and passion should be thought of as the driving force for motivation. The students need to love the subject in order to put in the hours required. Strike down with vengeance on laziness and lack of effort, as this can undermine the positive culture of the classroom you are trying to create. A "bottom" set for Mathematics? Great, let's tackle some challenging problems. Teach to the "top" and the "bottom" will have to follow; it is very important, however, to show that you are always there to support those who struggle more, both inside and outside of the classroom. Eventually, they will become stronger and will appreciate what you are trying to do, which is to show them that effort translates to improvement.
  4. The Greats also made mistakes!: Share with the students examples of authorities in your subject who "got it wrong", and what exactly they got wrong. For Physics, you can mention that Newton and Dalton thought that particles are stationary and expanded or contracted depending on the volume made available to them. This, of course, contradicts the Kinetic model! There are many more examples of famous scientists having had the wrong idea, but it would take very long to analyse all of these pedagogically. The idea, however, remains, that sharing "failures" of the Greats with students shows them that there is a process and a journey in learning, and they must not consider intelligence or success as intrinsic.

Dr Lampros Andrinopoulos A-level Physics Tutor (West London)

About The Author

I am a Physics and Mathematics teacher and tutor. I am very enthusiastic about the subjects, something that I always share with my students. I have had experience teaching and tutoring in various forms since 2009.

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