My Students’ First Experience with Growth Mindset

If you’ve read my last post, then you probably know exactly what I activity I did with my students to truly help them experience growth mindset, if you haven’t, I will give you a brief synopsis, I got the idea here

The principle of the activity is to have your students experience growth mindset rather than talk to them about it. I gave my students a challenge, which many of you experienced in a recent lesson during our course, EDTE 501.

Very little instructions were given to students; I had several of the following card-stock models displayed throughout the classroom.

Borrowed from Tim Bowman’s post

Students were instructed to take out scissors; few instructions were given regarding the completion of the task however the following guidelines were set out:

  • Recreate this
  • Work at your desks, you can discuss quietly with someone next to you.
  • If you need to get a closer look, you can stand and  look at a model close-by, but you cannot touch it.
  • The adults in the room are observing and cannot answer your questions.
  • You only have one piece of paper for this activity; we cannot give you a second one.

As students started the task, I carefully monitored my watch and the time I would give them to “struggle”.

It was interesting to observe. Some students immediately started by cutting their paper; others looked at the models carefully and developed a plan regarding how and where they would cut their paper, some students put their scissors down and decided not to attempt the challenge.

As students discussed, I quietly noted some of the statements being expressed on the board. “How?” “I am confused!” “This is impossible!”

I gave students more time to continue and persevere as some were very dedicated to the task and tried to figure out how to accomplish the challenge they were presented with.

“This is impossible!”

One student approached me and said “I know how to do it now but I just need another piece of paper”. I was worried regarding this student’s response and how I would reply as in the past I have observed tears when this student encountered challenges. I kindly told the student “Sorry, only one piece of paper”.

I allowed students to work through for roughly 5-7 minutes before I announced the end of the task as I noticed many had stopped attempting the task; the teacher must be careful here not to let students get too discouraged, however this can be challenging when you’re not engaging orally with your students, therefore, for our class, this signaled the end of the challenge.

Picture of our fixed and growth mindset statements

I asked students some of the following questions:

  • Did someone manage to recreate the model?
  • How long did this take you?
  • How many tries?
  • Were the first ten seconds different than the last ten seconds? How? Why?
  • What did you think when/if you saw someone else re-create the model?
  • How many tries did you take?
  • How long did you look at the model before starting?

This created discussions regarding the different strategies used, I also had students do A-B partner shares before sharing out their answers.

Later, I asked students what I had written on the board, and why they thought I had written this. A student quickly noted that those were the statements they were uttering during their work.

I then added the title “Fixed Mindset” and underlined it in red. We talked about how a fixed mindset can stop us from persevering. I used an example relating to hockey and a dance concert (these are some prominent hobbies in our class) and what would happen if a hockey player was saying these things in their mind during a match, or a dancer before going on-stage, students discussed the possible results with a peer then shared out.

Further, we worked as a class to adapt or change the fixed mindset statements to more positive, “growth mindset” statements. This created our new column parallel to the fixed mindset and helped students explicitly experience the new vocabulary.

Students then ripped a piece of paper from their model they had attempted to create to write a growth mindset statement they liked and could place on their desk to help them when they encountered challenges in their work. We discussed how these statements could impact our ability to persevere and push through challenges. This had signaled the start of our growth mindset journey as a classroom community.

How do you think your students would experience this challenge? Can you envision this stimulating thought provoking discussions in your classroom? Why or why not? What might be missing or needed?