I’ve learned quite a bit about the attitudes students can sometimes have about their work, their learning, and themselves by reading Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.
Since reading this informative book, I’ve become more adept at recognizing the signs that a student might have a fixed mindset—he or she might be reluctant to try a new task, fear making mistakes, or make negative comments about school work, to name a few. I’m glad that I’m now better able to identify when a student has a fixed mindset, because I’m therefore better able to help him or her overcome it!
One of my test prep students, Alex, had a completely fixed mindset. He was the kind of student that I wouldn’t initially have expected this from, because he was very bright, got great grades in school, and was overall very pleasant to work with.
But, I started noticing signs of a fixed mindset as we began working through practice problems for a challenging test I was helping him with. Alex started asking me, as soon as he’d finished a problem, “Is this right?!” He’d also hesitate to do a problem if he didn’t immediately know how to get started with it. These were easier issues to address by stressing to Alex the importance of trying each problem before worrying about the correct answer.
Then, more blatant signs of a fixed mindset started to appear. Alex would be excessively hard on himself each time that he made a mistake. He would say things like, “Oh man, I should have known how to do that!” or, “I can’t believe I didn’t get that one right!” He would try to spend several minutes analyzing his mistakes so that he wouldn’t make any more. This was when I realized that Alex’s fixed mindset wasn’t just related to this challenging test. Overall, he was terrified of challenges and new tasks because he hated making mistakes.
Once I realized that a fixed mindset was an issue with Alex, I was able to do a number of things in our sessions that helped significantly:
We used mistakes as a learning opportunity. With each mistake that he made (before he could start making comments about how he should have gotten the problem right), I started asking him “what did you learn by making that mistake?” By putting this positive spin on the question, I was able to help Alex focus on the learning instead of the mistake.
We used mantras. Throughout our sessions, I would repeat phrases like, “remember, mistakes are good” or, “if it isn’t hard, you probably aren’t learning.” It got to the point that when Alex made a mistake, he would tell me, “I know, I know, mistakes are good.” That’s what I call progress!
We used a lot of positive self-talk. I would look for opportunities to get Alex to say positive things about himself. I would ask him questions like, “Do you think you did a good job of using your strategies on that reading passage?” knowing that he had done well and would have to tell me so.
We incorporated NW’s Mindset Lessons. We discussed the idea of a fixed mindset and used these lessons as a guided reading of Dweck’s book, so that we could help Alex understand more about where he had a fixed mindset and thus help him overcome it.
By the end of our tutoring, Alex had made a lot of progress toward overcoming his fixed mindset about the test and about his learning in general. It was exciting to see this transformation happen during our time together, because I know that having a growth mindset toward learning will only benefit Alex later on!
Does your child remind you of Alex? Contact us so that we can talk to you more about our Mindset Lessons and how we can help your child develop a growth mindset about learning!