“We become what we think about all day long.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Walking the halls this week, I heard more than once, “I can’t” or “I am not good at this.” It started me thinking about how this mindset begins and how can we help students make changes and begin to feel—HOPE! How do our students begin to have a mindset that tells them they cannot achieve?
A fixed mindset, one without hope, is bred in an environment where students are inundated with negative outlooks and reminders of limited resources or even criticisms of education and hope for the future. Our schools are becoming flooded with more and more students who face financial hardships in their homes. According to dosomething.org, in 2011, there were as many as 46.2 million Americans living in poverty (1 person earning less than $23,021 per year). The children who live in this environment are 1.3 times more likely to have learning and developmental delays. They are often two years behind by 4th grade.
According to Eric Jensen (May 2013), we know students from low income families are less likely to engage in school. Lack of effort or being unmotivated is often a lack of hope and is fostered by a give up attitude that they may be immersed in each day. Living in poverty is difficult and the stress of the environment may spill over as a lack of optimism. This lack of hope leads to a fixed mindset, a feeling that “it is not worth the effort.” This can be perceived as “lazy” by teachers. In actuality, it is a lack of belief that has occurred repeatedly and has become a mindset habit.
Connecting these thoughts with brain research, there IS HOPE! Within the last few years, we have come to understand that the brain is not a fixed entity much like a machine. Our brain is constantly changing based on our actions and thoughts. The concept of our brain being able to change constantly is called neuroplasticity. Plasticity is how our brain learns new information and how to do new activities. Our students need to know that their brain can change and is malleable. They can’t do it yet!! Practice, effort, trying new strategies helps students move from can’t to can.
For example, when you are learning a new motor task, you utilize two sections of the brain called the SMA (Supplementary Motor Area) and the M1 (Primary Motor Area) which work together almost like a highway. When you repeat the motor task and increase the blood flow to this area of the brain, you are also rousing impulses and sprouting axons and dendrites. We know when you are creating dendrites, you are learning. When we use this “highway” repetitively, we are creating a strong pathway and this makes the task much easier. Think about learning how to play the guitar. When you begin, the pathway is weak but with repetitive practice, the skill of playing the guitar becomes more fluent and quick.
With the same idea above, we can change a child’s fixed mindset to one of growth and hope. A person with a growth mindset believes they can work hard, practice and improve or get better. It is not just that you practice and you learn but that trying harder and trying new strategies can help you succeed not only at the task at hand but in the future.
We need to teach our students the concept of neuroplasticity and that our brains are always changing and their actions can increase their abilities. Work to increase a positive attitude by always praising effort and an increase in choices that show the student is trying. A mindset is not changed easily but with repetitive positive words that affirm effort will help to increase a student’s motivation.
When we can get a child to try—we have increased our chances to meet the goal. I am not encouraging empty praise but an increase in explicitly guiding students in what steps they can take to improve or succeed. With repetitive reinforcement that quitting is NOT an option but that there is HOPE for success—it just takes effort which brings GROWTH.
**There are tons of Growth Mindset resources available online. If you want to learn more or for me to help you find something–just ask!
Resources that inspired or were cited in this Blog:
Article (2014) by Margie Meacham entitled, “The Growth Mindset Starts in the Brain”: https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Science-of-Learning-Blog/2014/09/The-Growth-Mindset-Starts-in-the-Brain
Statistics from dosomething.org
Article (2013) by Eric Jensen enttitled, “How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement.” Accessed on July 28, 2016.
Video from Sheridan College accessed on July 30, 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Vo-rcVMgbI