Fear of failure holds many people back from achieving their true potential, no matter what their age or circumstance. How many of us have avoided saying or doing something for fear of looking dumb in front of our peers?
In a society that worships “talent,” many of us are quick to assume that success is the result of superior intelligence or ability – along with a healthy dose of confidence. From an early age children are aware of their skills and shortcomings, which affects their perception of self and their ability to learn.
However, more than 35 years of scientific studies have shown that this overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves even the so-called “smart ones” vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings. It seems that if people believe that their intelligence is innate, fixed and is unlikely to change, they lose the impulse to learn and grow. A child reasons, “I’m smart, I don’t need to try.” Mistakes become a threat to their ego and they completely lose motivation when attempting a task that does not come easy.
What is a Growth Mindset?
According to Carol S. Dweck from the Psychology Department at Stanford University, the brain should be treated as a muscle and can be trained and developed just like any other part of our bodies. This is what she calls the “growth mindset,” in which a passion for learning replaces the fear of failure or need for approval at any cost. A growth mindset can be developed early in life and dictates the way we tackle new challenges. The idea that the smart will remain smart, and the less adept are doomed, could not be more wrong.
Throughout the 70’s Carol conducted a series of attitude experiments at Columbia University. Together with her assistants, she visited educational institutions and found that children that were praised for being “smart” were helpless in the face of failure. A single failure at a difficult task affected children’s ability to successfully complete exercises that they had previously been able to solve. Whereas children that were encouraged for making a good “effort” were more willing to seek out challenging tasks and enjoyed the learning process even if they did not succeed.
The research team began to train the children to persevere in the face of failure. The results were surprising. After a few sessions, children started to choose more difficult tasks stating, “Oh, I love a challenge!” or “I thought this could be informative.” Even though Dweck focused her research on a group of primary school children, she strongly believes that the growth mindset is relevant across all ages.
The growth mindset encompasses the theory that your intelligence, personality, or character can be developed through focused practice and experience. When you are faced with challenge, you can learn to see it as an opportunity to progress and grow, rather than a potential defeat and embarrassment.
How to teach a Growth Mindset
So we know now that a growth mindset is good for children. “But how do I teach it to my students?” you might wonder?
The answer is simpler than you might think: Tell and repeat often to your students that the brain develops throughout life, and that the ability to learn is not fixed. When they fail, tell them that failing is not a permanent condition. It sounds almost too simple, but the thought of “keep trying!” is a lot easier to handle if you know you can learn anything, as long as you don’t give up.
It’s important not to set the bar at equal height for all students. For children just starting out with a growth mindset it can be daunting if everyone around them seem to be better at the task at hand than they are. That’s where a tool like Creatubbles can help. When your students see that children around the world with very different skill levels upload and proudly share their work, they are much more likely to think “I can do that too!” Just see the variety in this 5th grade gallery where students proudly share their work.
At Creatubbles you will notice that there is no lower bar. This allows for students of any skill level to feel that there are kids like them elsewhere. That their work is good. And they can find inspiration to improve their skills, whether they want to raise the bar a little or a lot.
The importance of effort is often underrated
Carol Dweck believes that a growth mindset can be nurtured in children at any age and that children often underrate the importance of effort, and overrate the amount of help they really need.
Children need to gain confidence and see setbacks as something they can easily overcome with more time and focus. They also need to understand that success rarely comes naturally, and that learning something is a crucial part of this process. Teachers can help them achieve just that by switching from saying “You’re really good at this! You must be smart” to using phrases like “Wow, you’ve really worked hard on this task! I can clearly see that you’ve put some effort into this!” Another approach Professor Dweck and her team used was to explain to students how their brains worked, encouraging them to imagine that every time they learned or tried something new, a new connection in the brain was formed. Dweck recalls one of the students looking up, while she was explaining it, and asking loudly: “Do you mean I don’t have to be dumb?”
As Dweck is quoted as saying: “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”
Are you ready to teach a growth mindset to your students? Then why not start by signing up to Creatubbles?
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