In tutoring we will often study a single subject area, it might be maths or literacy or something else altogether. Often, for a myriad of reasons, the children I work with find this area of study difficult, and this can lead to negative feelings. These feelings can lead to a child switching off to a subject. Deciding it is hard and they are not good at it and never will be. This is when I find myself suggesting to parents that we supplement this specific subject area with that of growth mindset. But what is growth mindset, why do I think it is important and what have I learned myself from it.
In basic terms, Growth Mindset is the understanding of how the brain works and how our attitudes make an impact on our learning. Carol Dweck discovered that mental attitude and our self-beliefs made a real difference to levels of achievement. It turns mistakes into a positive tool to learn from. Children learn that reflecting on and learning from mistakes helps neurons connect, strengthens existing neural connections, which in turn helps us learn. This is not only achieved through reflection but also through using a range of strategies, asking questions, practicing skills and developing good habits. This is what is classed as a growth mindset. The interesting things is that these are all things that we naturally do within tutoring sessions.
This image illustrates perfectly the difference between a growth and fixed mindset:
It is important to know though that whilst we talk about a growth and fixed mindset, and we would like every child to develop a growth mindset, it is not a destination to be reached or an aim to achieved. It is in fact a journey and we need to continuously reflect and improve to help us maintain momentum on the journey. This, I think, is the hard bit. To keep on trying when things are tricky takes determination, tenacity and self-belief.
So why do I think this is important? Today, I worked with a young lad who was confident with the 4 times table and answered 4×7 almost instantly. He was willing to give it go and any answers he had not memorised he was willing to try and work out using his learnt strategies. He was showing a strong growth mindset. However, we are working on all the times tables, so we then switched to the 7 times table. Instantly he said he found this one difficult and explained he hadn’t practised, he showed a fixed mindset. I reassured him, and we began the questions. Quickly we got to 4×7. He couldn’t answer it this time. What was the difference? There was none! The equations were the exact same, the digits in the same place, my approach the same. So, the difference was not in the work but in his attitude to the work. He approached the 4 times table with a can-do attitude, feeling confident. The 7 times table began with him saying he could not do it, and guess what, he couldn’t. Conversely, when I told him to stop and breathe and told him not to worry as he knew this, when he looked at it again he could work out the answer easily. His attitude made all the difference.
From working one to one with these children I have discovered a few things about growth mindset. For me, it is important that children understand some things in life are hard. This is a fact. This is ok. But it is not only them who encounter hard things, adults do too! I will often discuss my university studies, my difficulties and achievements with the children. I also encourage their parents to engage in similar conversations about their lives. It is amazing to see the realisation dawn on a child that everyone finds things hard sometimes. You can easily do this on a subtle level. Discuss your day with your child, your successes and any difficulties. How did the successes and difficulties make you feel? How did you over come any difficulties? What would you do differently next time? Ask them about their day and a similar way.
I have also started to recognise when my own mindset moves more towards being fixed. This is often when I am finding things tough in my own studies, like the children find their specific subject area tough. Understanding how my mindset works is helping me develop my own strategies and keep on trying. This in turn is helping me achieve great results within my Masters. It is healthy and hugely rewarding to finally excel at something which was tricky. And, this is always the aim in tutoring, to help children succeed in something they find tricky!
If you would like to know more about Growth Mindset please look up https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/Default
or check out the TED talk by Carol Dweck at https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve