“I’m just not a good reader.” “I’m not a geometry person.” We hear comments like these from our students all the time at AJ Tutoring, unfortunately. While these may seem like harmless off-the-cuff remarks, they can reveal quite a bit about a student’s mindset and attitude towards challenges.
Fixed vs. growth mindsets in students
Some of our tutors and leadership team recently read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset:The New Psychology of Success. In Mindset, Dweck, a psychologist, examines the difference between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. According to Dweck, hallmarks of the growth mindset include an openness to learning new subjects, the ability to persevere in the face of difficulty, and the willingness to fail while trying something new. In contrast, fixed mindset students tend to be afraid of failure, resistant to challenges, and unwilling to put in much effort to master a new concept. It’s possible for students to exhibit a growth mindset in some areas of life, for example athletics, while being entrenched in a fixed mindset in academics.
What’s wrong with a fixed mindset?
A fixed mindset is problematic for both our test prep and academic tutoring students. Test prep students who have a fixed mindset are often afraid to take risks and try a new approach to a tricky math problem, preferring to try the same old algebra when they could solve the problem more quickly working backwards from the answer choices. When fixed mindset students get problems wrong, they see the misses as evidence that they’re “no good at the SAT” and they’ll never improve, rather than just a sign that they need to try a new approach or work more carefully.
Fixed mindset academic tutoring students often to come us with a closed mind about how successful they can be in a particular class. Whether they have a history of struggling with math or being behind grade level in reading comprehension, they’re not optimistic about their ability to learn and improve their grades.
How can we encourage a growth mindset in test prep and academic tutoring students?
- Praise wisely! Praise your student’s process (her effort, strategies, focus, and perseverance) rather than her intelligence or the outcome of a test.
- Educate your student about the growth mindset. Tell him that every time he moves out of his comfort zone and tries something difficult, neurons in his brain are forming new, stronger connections. Just knowing this fact has a measurable impact on students’ performance!
[Click image below to view Carol Dweck’s TED talk on mindset]