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How to develop growth mindset

Rachel Ghinn, Psychology and RS Teacher at Our Lady of Sion School, reveals why she has embraced growth mindset in the classroom

Posted by Julian Owen | December 01, 2017 | Teaching

I recently read Carol Dweck’s Mindset and also Barry Hymer & Mike Gershon’s Growth Mindset Pocketbook and it has made a lot of difference to the belief I have in my pupils which, in turn, has rubbed off on them. I love the FAIL (first attempt in learning) acronym. One set of students said, “Yes Miss, we KNOW!” Yet this group were a top set, completing an AS exam a year early and wanted to get it right first time. Failure is particularly hard for some of these students. Those who are so used to being at the top of their class, not having to work as hard as some of their peers and still succeeding. These are the students who readily get ‘excellent effort’ grades and frequently ‘excellent academic’ grades.

Rachel Ghinn

Having successful students who do well and get those top grades is all well and good – but are we teaching them to learn? Despite crediting them with ‘excellent effort’ are they really putting in effort that is beyond ‘good’? When they get to those top universities they may begin to struggle and realise that it is much harder than their A-levels and we did not prepare them for it. How do we get them to a place where they get it wrong and are able to brush off the failure and keep on going? It is all well and good talking about grit, showing them videos of Usain Bolt and Michael Jordan, chatting about growth mindset and discussing the theory, but the reality is sometimes quite different. I think it takes a few wise questions and some gentle guidance as well as only mentioning the effort they’re putting in and not their ability. 

As Dweck and Hymer have taught me, the magical word ‘yet’ is a good place to start. Making it clear what they did, reflecting to them like a mirror, and then asking them what they could do differently, not accepting their ‘I don’t know’, and letting them find the answer themselves is a step in the right direction.  Sharing real-life stories about your own struggle with something and how you persevered. Did you ever have something you have really struggled to achieve? If not, then do something new and difficult – something you’ll have to work hard at, something you will not get right or be successful at first time, not successful ‘yet’. This way you will be in the perfect position to be gritty, to be able to ask your students growth-mindset questions and to be empathic when they’re going through the same struggle. 

 Occasionally, I get my students to set themselves a personalised target at the start of a lesson. Once we have finished the lesson they return to their target, give themselves an effort score (out of 10) on achieving their target and they have to include a reason why they have given themselves that score. One Year 9 student wrote a target “to revise better” and their reflection: “8/10.  I felt I have revised a lot better this time around. To achieve this I watched the YouTube video (on revision techniques) with great detail and paused it to take notes.” Another student’s target was “try to use mind maps to take notes”.  Their reflection, “7/10 because…I did this on the (Gospel of) John notes page and homework but I’ve used them as well as notes.”

 We have given assemblies on growth mindset and also used Angela Duckworth’s work on grit to start the journey each year for our pupils.  Just today a Year 11 student told me how she had been gritty in a netball game, and other students in my lessons occasionally refer to grit when they’re struggling with understanding and learning a particular concept.  

We don’t make a ‘big’ thing out of growth mindset or grit here, we keep these ideas as fun as we can and gently chip away at changing their personal beliefs. 

To learn more about Our Lady of Sion School, please visit: 

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