7 Tips for Fostering a Growth Mindset in your Classroom

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If you could only plan for one thing, let it be the unexpected. We’ve all been there, the ‘perfect lesson’ that doesn’t go according to plan. The students that say, “Today was the day that was due?!” or “I forgot my: homework, textbook, notebook…” or my personal favorite “Can I run to my locker/car/house to get the assignment?” The question then becomes: How do we circumvent that? In order to answer that, it must be understood that the default mindset of the student that is not fulfilling their potential, may in actuality be that of a fixed mindset wherein they feel that they will never be ‘good enough.’As teachers we have the responsibility to support our students in adapting and applying a Growth Mindset.

In order to apply the Growth Mindset, we have to understand it. Let’s start with its definition. To put it succinctly, Growth Mindset is freedom. It is perseverance in the face of adversity and not the avoidance of challenges. It is the drive to build new skills and advance with the feedback of others, in lieu of defeat in the face of challenges or solely desiring to be better without doing anything about it. It is gaining inspiration and motivation from the successes of others and not being threatened by them. 

These notions may not be inherent to students. It is heartbreaking to hear them say that mistakes equal failure and that for them, struggling means there is no possibility of being better. As educators, we see this in the student that may initially be harder to reach. The student who doesn’t take ownership over their learning. This means that we are also tasked to help students feel empowered enough to take their learning and their lives to the next level. 

How can you help foster a growth mindset? 

We had three teachers answer this question during the ASSISTments Growth Mindset webinar (watch it here). They are: Barbara Delaney, a retired middle school math teacher in Massachusetts with 22 years of experience, Kimberly Josey, a 7th grade math teacher in North Carolina, and Carrie Moy, a 7th and 8th grade mathematics teacher at Polaris Charter Academy in Illinois. 

Here are their 7 tips for using ASSISTments to foster a growth mindset: 

  • Anonymize your ASSISTments Assignment Report when sharing with the class - This tip dates back to Edward Thorndike, an American psychologist famed for his work in learning theory. When students are faced with a pleasant response they are more likely to repeat the action. Likewise, when faced with an unpleasant response they are less likely to repeat the action. In this scenario the action is your assignment. If your students see their names next to an incorrect answer and have yet to adopt a growth mindset this may lead to embarrassment. By anonymizing the reports, you remove the association of being ‘wrong’ from any individual and are able to focus on what’s important - the skill areas for growth. 
  • Destigmatize mistakes - To paraphrase the words of John Dewey, ‘Learning is done by doing.’ Students have to come to the realization that making mistakes isn’t a bad thing, but never trying is. Failure only exists when you give up therefore, those who never stop trying can never possibly fail. This can be translated to a classroom setting by going over common wrong answers and having the students figure out the solutions. This promotes autonomy and ultimately mastery of the topic. 
  • Data is Not a Grade - Imagine a world where every breath you take is graded on how complete it is. Did you inhale enough to completely fill your lungs? Did you exhale until there was no air left? Don’t even think about shallow breathing. Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? It also may have had you pay just a little bit more attention to how you were breathing. But does it impact your ability to breathe? Probably not. When we assess or score  every single thing a student does as a grade, we make it difficult for them to feel like they can try without penalty. Formative assessment, on the other hand, is all about using practice to assess progress towards learning goals and identify ways to adjust and stay on track.Giving students room to breathe, pun absolutely intended, gives them agency, boosts morale, and makes them more likely to make multiple attempts at finding the solution. Those multiple attempts will give you the information you need to know where your students strengths and weaknesses lie. 
  • Bolster a Collaborative Learning Environment - Having students work together creates a sense of community. Students will be more open to trying if they feel secure in their classes, surroundings, and self. Differentiate groups of students who are facing similar challenges, or ones where each student brings a different strength, to support each other and work through problems together. Math can feel like a very independent practice, but you can create room for discussion, collaboration and community when students support each other’s growth. They try, make mistakes, try again and work things out together. 
  • Be Present in the Virtual Classroom - The Data Report allows you to see in real time where each student is. Has someone taken a while on a problem and may need you to step in? Maybe a student is breezing through and getting all the problems wrong because they want to be done and would benefit from a check-in. You get to roam around the digital space as easily as you would between the desks in a physical classroom! 
  • Encourage Student Reflection - Providing students with consistent opportunities for reflection and encouraging them to try again is a beneficial learning experience that goes beyond that day’s lesson. This Student Reflection sheet can help students understand more about what they need. The skills learned here will help them in every aspect of their lives, as they learn to reflect on and correct their work.
  • Keep Parents Involved - We know the adage “it takes a village” and in keeping with that parents/guardians can be one of our biggest assets in educating our students. However, we must acknowledge that they may not intrinsically know how to best support the education of their child. This parent letter can be an asset to use with your students' families. It explains what ASSISTments is. This helps them understand the work their child is doing. FYI it’s also in Spanish!

If you have a story you’d like to share on how you use ASSISTments in your classroom, send us a message at communications@ASSISTments.org.

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