It’s fun to look at the stats for this blog to get an idea of what interests people. By far, some of my most popular posts are the ones that list some of my favorite inspirational videos for teachers and for students. Of course, that has motivated me to continue to keep looking for more videos; obviously people are hungry for any kind of spark they can find to encourage themselves and others.
I recently came across the video embedded below, and thought it would go well with a discussion about mindsets. Each of the people cited in the video displayed a Growth Mindset when faced with obstacles. Do your students know each name and his or her story? Can your students name more people who should be added? Can your students give examples of times they, themselves, overcame failure?
“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:
For the past couple of weeks, I have been talking about mindsets with my third grade class. I plan to do a post about that topic next week, but today is Friday, and we’re in the midst of the holiday season – which means that it’s time for another gift suggestion in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series.
My recommendations for today are two maze games: Perplexus and Groove Tube. Our recent discussions about Fixed and Growth mindsets made me look at these two toys in my classroom a bit differently. Perplexus is one of the go-to toys during indoor recess. Some students view this ball maze within a sphere as an intriguing challenge, and will spend a good twenty minutes fixated on guiding the ball carefully around (reflecting a Growth Mindset) while others will grab the sphere gleefully and jerkily dump the ball all over the place, completely ignoring the point of the game, and declaring victory in about 5 minutes (that would be the Fixed Mindset, if you haven’t guessed). The latter group reminds me of the kids who solved Rubik’s cubes by moving the colored stickers around when I was a kid.
Similarly, one of my students brought in a Groove Tube a few weeks ago, which I had never seen. It consists of a one tube overlapping another. Inside, where you can’t see it, is a maze of grooves. If you can manipulate the outer tube through this unseen maze correctly, it will slide completely off.
These are both toys that will be quickly abandoned by kids who sport the Fixed Mindset. However, I have found that modeling, particularly with younger kids, can completely change their approach. When they see me persisting through the challenge, refusing to give up, and showing pleasure as I try to think it through, they show renewed interest.
Both of these toys can be great entertainers in “waiting” situations – the doctor’s office, long car rides (not the Perplexus, though, if it’s a bumpy one!), visiting family, etc… Groove Tube, which comes in different colors to represent different difficulty levels, is relatively inexpensive (making it a good stocking stuffer). Perplexus is a bit more of an investment, but still reasonably priced. However, you might be wasting your money if you don’t invest some time in showing the recipients the value of working your way doggedly toward a solution.
One of the best gifts that you can give, which costs nothing but time, is to show a child how to embrace a challenge.
A few weeks ago, some friends and I were discussing the reasons that gifted kids sometimes end up struggling in their later school years. One of the friends is a parent of a grown gifted son, and the other two of us teach and parent gifted kids. We talked about recent research which seemed to support that students who are praised for their intelligence instead of for their effort, often give up when the work gets more challenging because they are afraid of being perceived as “not intelligent anymore.” Although this is not scientific evidence, my friend’s grown son had agreed with this idea, admitting that he had avoided difficult work in school whenever possible for this exact reason. I noted that many of the high school students that I used to tutor also seemed to have this issue. They were failing classes, yet described as bright and gifted kids.
Last week, Larry Ferlazzo posted this video by Carol Dweck, “The Effect of Praise on Mindsets,” which actually addresses this topic. If you are ever in the position to encourage a child, I recommend that you watch this video. It is a powerful example of how our words can shape those we teach.