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Growth mindset and student progress

by Barbados Today
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When our children don’t learn we need to ask why. Is an overhaul of our entire educational system needed or just a revisit of the 11-plus exam? Will changing the system also change the attitudes of parents, teachers or students who are disengaged? Furthermore, will it contribute to more creative, positive and cooperative learning environments that really serve to gear up young people for 21st century learning?

If we still hold that once a child goes to a “certain” school it is doomed, maybe the spotlight should more focus on an inferior learning environment than on the child. When Barbadians still believe that intelligence are innate – you either have it or don’t, and that it cannot improve with effort, we remain seriously locked in the last century where brain science is concerned.

Current research shows that the brain never stops changing through learning. Our brains are growing and changing all the time through neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change with learning. Learning sets the brain on fire.

Imagine if we seeded the minds of our youth to think differently about their ability and intelligence – how far they could go! That is the power of the growth mindset. A new way to think about intelligence and ability according to psychologist Carol Dweck.

The growth mindset is set on the premise that we can approach learning through an entirely different perspective, helping transform, “I cant do it!” to “This may be difficult but if I dedicate myself, I can get better at this.” It is a way to progress forward with super motivation and effective redirecting language. In many parts of the world it is becoming an increasingly popular learnnig approach.

In fact school principals tell all about how the growth mindset is responsible for creating better school climates by guiding students to think more optimistically. This approach is also said to provide the best form of education equity. It shores up that with the right guidance, hard work and strategic study techniques every student has the potential to succeed.

Then we can no longer stigmatise a type of student that comes from a certain home environment  and underperforming, as hopeless. By tweaking the language used, we can replace the- I hate math with, math may not be my favourite subject but I am learning to get better at it. In this way,when students learn to say it differently to themselves then their thoughts are eventually going to change. Our teachers have a critical role to play in this, by giving students appropriate feedback in a way that rewards hard effort and also provides an accurate idea of where they are compared to where they need to be.

Parents also have a part to play in this. Instead of getting upset when their child comes home with a bad grade, they need to understand how to reframe the situation so that it is now seen as an opportunity to rethink their current approach and apply a different study strategy to achieve success.

Failure and setbacks are a part of academic life. Every student at some point will experience either a low grade or fail to pass a course. Some can feel demotivated and avoid similar challenges, while others may feel challenged, evaluate the causes of their setbacks and plan out a strategy. The latter is what we want more of in the future.

Having a growth mindset means believing that ability and intelligence are two things that can be further developed. Since children’s mindsets are shaped by their caregivers, it is therefore debilitating to attribute success to intelligence only instead of effort. It means changing the conversation around what it means to struggle, seek out challenge and persist after failure in life whether it is in a math class or running a marathon.

In the future children will need to be active problem solvers and communicators of ideas with an appetite for learning. Research by Conley (2014) shows that the economy and society of the 21st century demands competent, adaptive learners who can drive their own learning process. Teachers who stand at the helm of this movement need to foster social- emotional competence, critical thinking, negotiating, teamwork, creativity, resilience, and encourage students to be learning partners. With a growth mindset we can teach students to approach hurdles in life with positive and productive attitudes.

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