What are you more in awe of; natural ability or hard work? A lot of people in education claim to really value the importance of growth mindset, but are we all secretly holding a ‘natural talent bias’? If so, what impact does this have on how our students think, feel and perform?
A fascinating study looked to examine exactly this question. Researchers told professional musicians about two different pianists, who were equal in current achievement. The first, they were told, was ‘a natural’, who had early evidence of innate ability. The second, was labelled as ‘a striver’, as they had demonstrated high levels of motivation and persistence.
Despite previously stating that hard work and dedication are more important than natural ability for musicians, when asked which pianist they would hire and which they think will go on to have a better career, the participants were more likely to choose the ‘naturals’. It seems that although we may publicly say we value hard work and persistence, when push comes to shove, we may be blinded by a ‘natural talent bias’.
The benefits of having a growth mindset for students have been well researched. These include:
- Seeking out better feedback and persisting for longer
- Coping better with transitions and develop better self-regulation
- It reduces stress and aggression in students as well as increasing wellbeing and emotional functioning
- It Improves self-esteem, learning orientation and reduces helplessness
- It is associated with grit and pro-social behaviours
Teacher Mindset, Strategy and Student Self-Expectations
So what does the research say about the impact that a teacher's mindset has on students? Surprisingly, very little research has been done on this. One study that explored this posed a question for teachers - one of your students gets a low mark in their maths exam (65%). What do you think of this student’s ability and how would you respond? Those with a fixed mindset took this as evidence that the student did not have a talent for maths and were more likely to respond with a ‘comfort focus’ (along the lines of ‘it’s ok, not everyone is good a maths, don’t feel bad about it, I’ll give you easier questions to answer to make you feel less stressed’).
Teachers with a growth mindset believed it was too early to make a judgement on the child’s maths ability and were more likely to offer ‘strategy focus’ which included tips on how to get better and setting them challenging questions. What impact did these differing strategies have on their students? Those who receive comfort-focused responses reported being less motivated than those who had received the strategy approach. When asked how they thought they would do on their next exam comfort focused students estimated about the same level (65%) whereas the strategy focused students estimated significantly higher (80%). This suggests that a teacher’s mindset and beliefs mediates their teaching philosophy and strategies, which in turn influences student motivation and self-expectation.
It’s Not Your Mindset, It’s What You Do With It
A recent study found teaching teachers about Growth Mindset had little impact on student performance. As always, the devil is in the detail. In this study, teachers received a course only consisting of ‘two half days of instructions’. The DfE recommend that for CPD to be successful, a key factor must be that it is sustained over a period of time, which ‘includes opportunities for experimentation, reflection, feedback and evaluation’.
Indeed, another study found that if a parent has a fixed or growth mindset had little impact on their children. What mattered more was how the parents reacted to failures and setbacks. Some saw as evidence of a lack of ability, whereas others viewed it as part of the learning curve. Why might this be the case? The researchers state that ‘it may be that parents, like children, have mindsets that shape their own goals and behaviours, but that these beliefs are relevant to shaping children’s beliefs only if they lead to practices that children pick up on.’ Someone’s mindset is not always visible to others. It is hard to accurately guess someone’s beliefs. What is easier is to see their actions.
It stands to reason that the same is probably true for teachers. Students may not be able to accurately infer their teacher’s mindset, but they can accurately assess your actions. The rollercoaster that is the school year is comprised of a series of highs and lows for students. By helping them understand that their lows are a natural (and indeed integral) part of the learning process, we can help them develop a growth mindset.
How to Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Classroom
There is no one set way to foster a growth mindset in your classroom. The subject you teach, your strengths and the characteristics of your cohort all play a role. Your mindset will shape your teaching practices, which in turn impact on how students seem themselves. If you want accelerate this process, there are some guidelines that may be helpful for teachers looking to develop a growth mindset classroom. These include, but are not limited to:
- Asking them good growth mindset questions – these include ‘is today’s effort worth tomorrows rewards’ and ‘you’ve had a setback, what would you do differently next time?’
- Be subtle and stealthy – this fascinating review by leading mindset researchers suggests that interventions should be so subtle and stealthy that students are unaware that they are receiving an intervention. Essentially, don’t expect to change a student’s mindset with a big growth mindset assembly
- High Expectations – no-one rises to low expectations. Encourage students to develop a growth mindset by encouraging them to aim high and then provide the support needed to assist them. Don’t accept low standards.
- Better Self-Talk – Teach students about the importance of how they talk to themselves. Research shows that our inner narrative is linked to creativity, persistence and mindset. To see examples of growth mindset sentences, click here.