If you follow educational trends, you have most likely heard the buzz around teaching a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. What does that mean? A student with a fixed mindset believes that his or her intelligence is static, while a student with a growth mindset believes that his or her intelligence can be developed. A growth mindset promotes the idea that success comes not simply from the brain, but from hard work. A body of research has shown that students with growth mindsets demonstrate more motivation to succeed in school, are more likely to persevere on challenging tasks, and have a more positive sense of self. Mindset is not an inborn trait; a growth mindset can be acquired at any age and can even be taught. The following are strategies for instilling a growth mindset into our young learners’ minds.

Praise Effort, Not Intelligence

When a student succeeds in the classroom, teachers should praise the effort they put into their work as opposed to praising their intelligence. By praising intelligence, one can actually undermine their motivation because students who are praised for intelligence begin to view it as a fixed trait and can develop a sense of entitlement for good grades. However, there is a fine line when praising effort. Although effort is aligned with growth mindset, explicitly praising it can backfire. For example, if a teacher tells students to “just keep trying” when their hard work doesn’t pay off, they may feel incompetent. Student need to be praised for specific actions that lead to a tangible positive outcome. They need to be praised for trying to find alternate solutions to a problem. Teachers should strive to find the right balance and type of praise in order to best meet each student’s needs and foster a growth mindset.

Teach the Value of Challenges

“College and career ready” means much more than a test score or GPA. An educator is tasked with the job of setting students up for success in the real world which means preparing them for careers that do not yet exist and challenges yet unknown. By teaching the value of persisting when faced with challenges and finding multiple paths around obstacles, teachers are not only teaching valuable life lessons but also fostering a growth mindset. Explaining the inherent benefits of overcoming obstacles can help students develop a growth mindset. When people push past their comfort zones and work to overcome obstacles, the brain actually experiences a positive change. Neurons form stronger connections, leading to improved critical thinking and problem solving over time. Therefore, effort and difficulty are paths, not roadblocks, to becoming more intelligent. As Tomlinson and Javius note, “Teachers who teach up ensure that students develop the skills of independence, self-direction, collaboration, and production that are necessary for success … they demonstrate to learners the satisfaction that comes from accepting a challenge and investing one’s best effort in achieving it.”

Say “yet” more often

When your students say “I can’t do this,” finish their sentence with the word “yet.” Or when they say “I don’t understand this,” follow it up with “yet.”  This linguistic trick works especially well with sentences that include “can’t” or “don’t,” because it reverses the negative connotation. By doing this, you are demonstrating to your students that mastering skills is always possible, but it is also dependent on time. By continuously demonstrating this, eventually your students will begin to think in these phrases as well, fostering their positive growth mindset.

The power of students’ beliefs about themselves affects them profoundly. A growth mindset is very closely linked to self-esteem. A student with low self-esteem will not perform as well as a student who believes he can and he will. Children can develop a growth mindset at an early age, and it is the job of educators to promote a growth mindset in the classroom as much as possible. How can they do this? By praising consistent effort instead of intelligence, teaching the value of challenges and using the word “yet” more often, educators can begin to create a community of learners who understand the value of a growth mindset.