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Set a Goal to Change Some Mindsets

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You can buy the poster here!

“You are so smart,” could be the most damaging 4 words that we ever say to children.

That sentence may seem innocuous, even encouraging, but repeated use might actually reinforce attributes that we don’t find very appealing: laziness, risk-aversion, the inability to problem-solve.

Researchers like Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) are showing that statements like, “You are smart,” help to instill a “Fixed Mindset.”  Children who are told this on a regular basis believe that they have an innate ability which produces their achievements – not hard work.  They become reluctant to put themselves in situations where they might not appear to be smart.  If they can’t do something well the first time, they refuse to do it again.  Mistakes are disastrous, and the only thing learned from them is to stop trying.

As a teacher of gifted children, I have been a witness to the detrimental effects of a Fixed Mindset.  Students who are a victim of this show a gradual decline in curiosity and enthusiasm through the years, and their parents and classroom teachers will talk to me about how these children seem to be determined to do the “absolute minimum” in required tasks.  Since I first learned about the concept of mindsets, I have been making a concentrated effort in my classroom to change the language.  Instead of, “You are so smart,” I will say, “You must have worked really hard to figure that out.”  When students say, “This is really hard!” I say, “Good, that means you are being challenged, and that’s good for your brain.”  I praise the students who I can tell are really persevering on a difficult task, rather than the ones who complete it in record time.  (“Gosh, it looks like we need to find something a bit harder for you,” I might say to the latter students, or “How could you have made that more of a challenge for yourself?”)  I emphasize that the minimum is not acceptable.  A few weeks ago, several of my first graders, when asked to write down what they thought the “Rules” for GT were, put, “Go above and beyond,” which warmed my heart.

As parents and teachers we also need to model the Growth Mindset.  We need children to see us taking risks, doing things that are outside our comfort zone.  They need to witness us deal with mistakes and setbacks in a healthy way – as opportunities to learn.  And they need to know about the hard work we put into achieving our goals.  We need to stop saying things like, “Well, I’ve never been good in math,” or “Science was never my thing.”  If they don’t see their role models taking risks, trying new things, working to get better – then why should they?

Another thing that we can do is to teach our children about Mindsets.  This year, our director bought us a great book that I have been using with my 3rd grade students: Aim to Grow Your Brain by Joanne Billingsley.  It has completely changed the conversations in our classroom, making the students aware of their own mindsets and remind each other to learn from mistakes and take on new challenges.

Here are some other great resources about Mindsets:

Video: Carol Dweck on the Effect of Praise on Mindsets from Larry Ferlazzo (EYE-OPENING!!!)

Creating a Growth Mindset in Your Students from

5 Strategies for Creating a Genius Mindset in Students from

Struggle Means Learning: Difference in Eastern and Western Cultures from

Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick from

UPDATE:  More Mindset Resources

14 thoughts on “Set a Goal to Change Some Mindsets”

  1. Terri, I’ve seen this book mentioned during my years on Twitter… countless times. I even think I own it. But if you had “too much to do” to read this book and get the main ideas (such as your graphic), what would you recommend to someone who has an hour (try just an hour) to devote to learning from all these resources? Where should I focus my attention? I’ve seen the short video… should I start with Aim to Grow Your Brain instead of Mindset? Thank you, from someone who wants to use certain ideas, but can’t find a good balance for learning in this information overload I’m on!

    1. I LOVE the poster included in this article…We are working on mindsets at school and so much of a child’s mind is connected to what you say or don’t say. We as educators have to be so careful with our words that build or tear down. Thank-you for all you do… Tricia

  2. I think that Aim to Grow Your Brain is an excellent place to start because it gives you a few great lessons to use with your students. Also, I showed that graphic to some parents at a parent meeting, and they were blown away. There was a PTA meeting right afterward, and a woman brought her husband up to meet me, saying, “I was just telling him about the Mindset information you shared. That is so fascinating!” I’ve gotten several similar comments since then. Even just starting with that graphic can make a difference, I think.

  3. Oh no! No more “you are so clever”. I am ordering the Joanne Billingsley book for school. In the meantime we could try ” you worked hard to solve that problem”

    Cheers Perrelyn Sent from my iPad

  4. Once again, we are definitely on the same wavelength :)–I just bought the Mindsets book as a Christmas present to myself! I think your post a great reminder of the ways we respond to the kiddos without really thinking about it. Definitely some food for thought for me!

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