As schools fully reopen after this last lockdown, finding effective strategies to support students as they navigate these uncertain and challenging times is crucial. Not only have their motivation and mental well-being taken a hit, but students’ stress levels are soaring as a result of this increased pressure to catch up.
Many students have reported feeling helpless and stressed about the future. There is also scope that any learning loss will lead to students feeling frustrated at their perceived lack of abilities and knowledge when schools return. Could having a growth mindset in their classroom help?
With Ofsted inspections illustrating that the majority of students have slipped behind in their learning and further research emphasising that primary school children are at least two months behind, improving academic performance is essential. Having the belief that ability, intelligence, and academic performance are not fixed is an effective way of re-engaging disengaged students.
Growth mindset has been associated with a range of benefits – meaning that a growth mindset philosophy may well be the very thing students need to get through the challenges ahead.
4 ways a growth mindset is beneficial
Although the roadmap out of lockdown provides hope for students, there is still a lot of uncertainty around what the future may hold. As a result of this uncertainty, many students have reported feeling stressed – especially since many find their exams cancelled for the year. Whilst research suggests that small amounts of stress may act as a motivational tool, too much stress can negatively impact students’ well-being, motivational levels, academic achievement, and can result in cognitive overloads. Therefore, learning how to manage stress levels during these upcoming months is crucial for students.
Developing a growth mindset is one way students can alleviate their stress levels. Research suggests that students with a growth mindset have lower levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. This is because they viewed setbacks as temporary and were more inclined to find solutions.
Improves mental health
Many students’ mental well-being has taken a hit after prolonged social isolation and a lack of normalcy. One way for students to manage their well-being is developing a growth mindset. Research reviewing 17 studies that looked at over 6,500 students found that students with a growth mindset experience less mental health problems. On the other hand, students who had a more fixed mindset were 58% more likely to display severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, or aggression.
Growth mindset interventions have also been shown to reduce anxiety, stress levels, and depression in adolescents struggling with mental health issues. Researchers from Harvard University found that having a growth mindset not only boosted physiological recovery following a socially stressful task short-term but had long-lasting benefits on mental well-being and self-esteem as well.
Helps to cope with change
Change is an inevitable part of any person’s life, and this past year has been no exception. Fostering a growth mindset helps students cope better with uncertainty and change instead of being overwhelmed by it. These students are also able to adapt faster and more effectively when exposed to an unfamiliar situation as they view it as an opportunity to develop both on a personal level and academically as well.
Potentially Better Grades?
Although the link between having a growth mindset and academic achievement has been widely debated, research looking at over 160,000 students found that a growth mindset can have a significantly positive impact on students’ grades.
It is important to note that not all studies have found this benefit, and as such probably needs further research. What is interesting to note is that a recent study found that students with a growth mindset were more likely to place higher value on effective revision strategies and were more likely to be intrinsically motivated whilst completing them. It is therefore safe to assume that a long term consequence of developing a growth mindset and learning about effective study skills will lead to better grades.
3 ways to develop a growth mindset
Try different strategies
Different strategies are going to work for different students, so it’s important that you don’t fall into the trap of telling students to ‘try harder’ as there’s a lot to catch up on when one strategy doesn’t work. If one strategy fails, students may think it reflects their inability to do well at a task. So, practise what you preach and persistently approach subjects from different perspectives - your students will be more likely to develop perseverance.
One potential strategy could be to get students to reflect on their performance and think critically about why a certain method may not be working, then asking themselves metacognitive questions such as ‘what could I do differently?’. By reflecting on the past and how they’ve gotten through previous challenges, students can focus on what they need to do in the future.
Avoid ‘I can’t’
We’re creatures of habit. So when it comes to trying new things or attempting a challenging task, the initial response for many is to say “I can’t do this”. This is especially the case when students feel overwhelmed by a task: their mind shuts down.
If you reiterate that it’s okay to make mistakes (learning isn’t a straight-forward process), students may be surprised at how well they can actually do if they change their perception of situations. Developing the mindset of “I can’t do this…yet” enables students to be more curious and confident with their learning.
Set high standards
An abundance of research has highlighted how having high expectations is one of the best things a teacher can do to improve their students’ academic performance, as students adjust their effort levels to meet these expectations. This is known as the Pygmalion Effect and the most successful teachers will have at least 80% success rates in their classroom. No-one rises to low expectations. However, make sure these expectations are also realistic - if not, it will only add to students’ stress.
With the academic year in disarray, many students are going to lack self-confidence. Having expectations that are both challenging and realistic will motivate your students to raise their performance and confidence in their ability to do well.
‘Developing a Growth Mindset’ shouldn’t be thought of as an assembly or a worksheet or a tick box exercise. It is not an intervention, but a philosophy. One that is built on the foundation that every student can learn, improve and develop.
Helping students to realise this themselves and providing an environment that supports this is going to be very important moving forward. Arguably now more than ever. Helping them develop a growth mindset by setting high standards, building their resilience back up again, and having an optimistic outlook on life can really help students regain a sense of normalcy as life resumes again after lockdown.
For more information and tips on how to help your students develop a growth mindset, check out our online academy workshop on growth mindset.