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The Right Mindset for Success

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How do you define success? Failure? Success can be seen as doing your best in learning and improving, or it can be viewed as winning because you are talented. Failure can be seen as a setback that is motivating, a wake-up call or it can be something that causes you to doubt your natural talent (Dweck, 2008).pen-idea-bulb-paper

Your choice of definition provides valuable insight into your mindset, another buzz word that is infiltrating educational institutions. It’s a complex phenomenon involving one’s attitude, behaviors, and strategies necessary for success. One’s mindset is not easily observable and often not considered as a root cause when a student acts out, fails, or even drops out. A certain mindset is related to each of these behaviors, and the good news is that it can be changed. However, identifying a generalized solution for whole institutions or even classrooms to address mindset is challenging because each student brings different experiences and perception into their learning. So how do you determine a student’s mindset?

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has published extensively on this topic.  A simplified way to think about it is that we human beings tend to have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. If you or your students have ever made a statement such as:  I cannot learn foreign languages.  I’m bad at math and so are my parents.- then you have encountered a “fixed mindset.” A fixed mindset can impede learning and even lead to some of the obstructive behaviors mentioned earlier. Statements such as: “I don’t understand this yet, but I am going to keep at this until I figure it out” is an indicator of a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset propels learning and advances in ability resulting in confident, persistent, and motivated learners. So how is mindset related to these other factors of student performance?

The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research created a model of mindset and other “non-cognitive” factors involved in academic performance. Their model demonstrates the relationship among persistence, mindset, learning strategies, social skills, and academic behaviors. Mindset works through persistence and learning strategies, so you are not likely to see improvement with homework unless the student believes s/he can succeed and that effort leads to growth. Only then will s/he want to persist through challenging tasks which can lead to improved behaviors related to homework and attendance (Farrington, Roderick, Allensworth, Nagaoka, Keyes, Johnson, & Beechum, 2012). If a student is not attending school or fails to complete homework, it may be best to address his/her mindset first. But remember mindset emerges differently among learners and is highly context dependent, so it is important to know the individual and the context of the academic content, school community, and instruction. Not an easy task, but worth pursuing.

So what exactly can you do to build a growth mindset? Here are a few strategies used at to build student confidence and mindset over the short period of time in an online environment.

  • Focus on the process of learning, not the final outcomes (i.e., correct answer or grades)
  • Celebrate a quick win early, not just the correct answer at the end, to build a sense of success
  • Break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks
  • Emphasize that the brain is like a muscle and it needs to exercise and be challenged in order to grow

Mindset is critical to success. You know you have reached the ultimate goal of the right mindset when you love mistakes and challenges as much as success. When you seek out and value feedback. When you thrive on the learning and enjoy the process of improvement. To help you reach this goal, in a future article we will dive into the types of growth mindset providing more insight into how to recognize fixed versus growth mindset, enhancing your ability to deliver a more personalized learning experience.

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