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My former student David Yeager and I have been very concerned about violence in school. The problem in high school gets worse. People are shifting social groups; social labels are flying around, and kids are really stressed. If you add to this the common belief that people can’t change—that everyone is fixed in their roles and that you are always going to be picked on or always going to be a loser— then the conflagrations begin.
In other words, we realized that students’ beliefs play an important role in this. In our study, we saw that many students believe that people are just fixed. They believe that if you are a bully you’ll always be a bully and if you are a victim you’ll always be a victim. When these students are picked on, they feel like losers, ashamed of themselves, and they desire violent retaliation.
David Yeager created a training program that taught students a growth mindset, the idea that people’s behavior is due to thoughts and feelings that can be changed. Then we brought students into a situation where they were excluded and they had the opportunity to retaliate against the excluder. We showed that kids who have the growth mindset intervention were 40% less likely to retaliate and 2-3 times as likely to engage in pro-social behavior than students who did not receive the training. Furthermore, their teachers reported much improved conduct in the classroom, students’ attendance at school was better, and their suspensions were way down.
Mindset in Action: Jennifer Maichin, from Mineola Middle School, NY, shares her experience, tips and classroom activities to introduce students to the growth mindset
I always wanted to teach. I dreamed of inspiring and empowering every student who entered my classroom. I imagined all students walking into school highly motivated and eager to learn. Reality of course was different. Mindset not only helped me get the class I always wanted, but also reminded me why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place.
For the past 16 years, I have had the privilege of spending my school days teaching 11 through 14 year olds with learning challenges. These students are interesting and unique and, yes, they are challenging to teach. People sometimes ask me: “How do you do it? Do you feel successful? Do you feel like you actually get through to them? What motivates them? What is the best way to engage them and get them to want to learn? Why bother? They don't listen anyway...”
How, then, do I get through to them?
In November we wrote a post about the impact the mindset of a teacher can have about a student’s problem behavior. Related to this, Stanford researchers Jason Okonofua, David Paunesku and Gregory Walton recently published research demonstrating the power of teacher mindsets on student behavior.
My team and I worked tirelessly for three days to create an online middle school math lesson that would engage kids and excite them about math. At the end of three days, our lesson would be judged by real live students against lessons created by other teams. When it came time to present our lesson to the kids, we were nervous but excited. We had worked well as a team, really bonded over the past three days, and were proud of what we had created. Ten teams presented their ideas, and they were all fantastic! I felt gratified to work with people who put so much effort into writing creative and engaging online lessons. At the awards ceremony, we were sad to see we hadn't won first place, but still proud of our efforts. We knew we had a lesson that would engage kids in math, and felt we had put our best ideas to good use. Until the next, "surprise" award was announced. You can imagine our shock, dismay, and embarrassment when we heard our group called as winners of "The Worst Idea" award, and were then called to stand in front of our colleagues and accept the award. What an epic failure! How does one recover from such a humiliating setback?
Many teachers are embracing growth mindset and in so doing have shifted the way they teach and invite students to learn. Educators, who have adopted a growth mindset approach, explicitly teach their students that intelligence grows by exerting effort, that this growth occurs most when facing challenges, and that likely – in fact, undoubtedly – students will make mistakes as they learn. So when students make mistakes while facing a learning challenge, the teacher guides them to use their effort and fix their mistakes.