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7 Tips for Moving Students to a Growth Mindset

Try these strategies to promote risk-taking and perseverance.

Darlene Painter | August 17, 2015

Some students come into school believing that they're either smart or not. That kind of thinking is a fixed mindset. They see failure as the end of the road rather than recognizing its learning value. To "fail" does not mean being unsuccessful. FAIL is simply our “First Attempt In Learning.”

Three years ago, I was introduced to Carol Dweck and her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. That book altered my outlook on both my teaching and parenting. It helped me change my own mindset on things that I thought were difficult or talents I thought I didn't have, like drawing, painting, and even writing. By tackling these challenging activities myself and changing the words I use with my students, I now model a growth mindset. And even more exciting is seeing my students take more risks, excel on assignments, and really take their education to the next level.

Try these strategies to move students (and yourself) from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset:

  1. Remind kids that to FAIL is just their First Attempt In Learning.
  2. Take a risk as a teacher and let your students teach you something new.
  3. Acknowledge students’ hard work. Remind them of the hard work that led to their successes rather than telling them how smart they are.
  4. Use words like "innovation," "creativity," and "growth."
  5. Create opportunities for students to practice growth mindset activities like Genius Hour, Passion Projects, and creative centers.
  6. Comment on assignments and work rather than assigning grades or scores.
  7. Create a bulletin board that helps students change the phrases they use to build a growth mindset using phrases like these:
    • Instead of “This is too hard,” say “I can work hard to get this, but it may take time.”
    • Instead of “I’m not good at this,” ask “What am I missing?”
    • Instead of “I made a mistake,” say “Mistakes make me better and help me improve.”
    • Instead of “This is finished because it’s due,” say “I can always make every assignment better and take it to the next level.”
    • Instead of “I give up,” say “I can use these tools and strategies to try another way.”
    • Instead of “It’s good enough,” ask “Is this really my best work?”

By changing how you talk about and think about your students' (and your own) skills and abilities, you'll likely find the learning process becomes a more fun, more rewarding experience for everyone. 

Photo "FAIL" by Moodwall. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.