After reading Bounce by Matthew Syed last summer, one section in particular has transformed my teaching approach this academic year.
The particular section described psychologist Professor Carol Dweck´s theory on mindset. Dweck argues that a person´s attitude can be described as a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. It´s more than a label; the repercussions are reflected in all areas of life.
- Positive attitude
- Learns from failure
- Takes risks
- Believes they can learn anything
- Fostered by praising effort and process: “I can tell you´ve been studying”.
- Believes talent is innate
- Unwilling to take risks
- Gives up easily
- Encouraged by praise which promotes the idea of innate intelligence: “You´re amazing at English”.
In Practice in the Classroom
The prize is huge: developing self-motivated students who label failure as nothing more than a stepping stone to success.
From my experience, the Spanish education system seems to prioritise marks over learning from a young age (I´ve seen many a 7-year-old with exam anxiety on the eve of an ´important´ test). This encourages a fixed mindset: an obsession with marks, a fear of failure, and a reluctance to engage with challenging new material (which is the real reason they come to Nessie after all!). They were used to being rewarded with 100% and praised accordingly; why struggle through something unfamiliar and only get 50%? Why try harder if talent is fixed?
So what have I done to try to plant the seed of a growth mindset among my students? I´ve made an effort to avoid generic, lazy praise like “Well done”. Instead, I´ve been more specific with praise, for example praising the strategy e.g. ”The clear plan you did helped your structure”; and especially effort e.g. “I think you studied a lot more this weekend than last weekend. Am I right?”. Also, I´ve focused more on what they have left to improve, rather than what they´ve already mastered.
Moreover, as Professor Dweck recommends, I´ve tried to use the word “yet” as much as possible in feedback, because as she explains, when receiving a “yet”, ´you understand that you´re on a learning curve; it gives you a path into the future´.
It´s still early days; mindset is developed over long periods of time. Nevertheless, after initial shock/disappointment among many students that I wasn´t just going to tell them how clever they were, I´ve started to see some very positive changes.
Students´ general attitude and resilience to failure is now healthier: instead of beating themselves up over a low grade, many now see that it´s part of a process of gaining better knowledge and higher marks in the future. Furthermore, fewer hide from challenges; they seek them, and are motivated to better their English level.
In summary, transforming mindsets can make a huge difference. For me, at least, it´s a work in progress!