If you are not yet familiar with the work of Carol Dweck, here is a must-watch explanation of fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.
Students with a fixed mindset shy away from challenge and avoid mistakes, through fear of looking stupid. In contrast, one of the key elements of a growth mindset is the acceptance that mistakes and challenges are both essential for learning, and therefore they are celebrated as part of the learning process.
Throughout this year, I have tried to develop a growth mindset in my students. One of the most effective ways has been to simply display this in the classroom:
This diagram was introduced to me by Lynne Coote at excellent PD in Shanghai, and it has been constantly referred to in my classroom ever since. At the start of the year, I had a discussion with my students about each zone, and students gave practical examples of each.
A friend of mine has this brilliant quote displayed in her house:
“Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”
Neale Donald Walsch
The same applies to learning. My students know that they should be in their stretch zones in order to develop. The content of classes should be challenging, yet achievable. Of course, it is the teacher’s responsibility to differentiate appropriately and to use assessment information to inform planning. However, it is also the student’s responsibility to make sure that they remain in that stretch zone. For example, it might be necessary to ask for an extension, or to apply the concept in a different way.
If work is suitably challenging, mistakes are inevitable. In my class, mistakes are celebrated as proof that they are in their stretch zone. Similarly, students who work quickly, easily and effortlessly are not praised. This is evidence of students being in their comfort zones. Students with a fixed mindset prefer their comfort zone because they are successful within it and they can continue to show their success. This quote, found on Twitter recently, perfectly sums up comfort zones:
“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”
Carol Dweck’s research has a lot of implications for teachers all over the world, and I’m sure that we’ll be hearing much more about it over the next few years. As a starting point, consider introducing the stretch zone to your class. Remember to praise effort, process and mistakes.