Two students in your math classroom are struggling with a challenging task. After several unsuccessful attempts, you hear one of them exclaim in frustration:
"I can't do this!"
In this moment, where the student is feeling vulnerable, their expression of failure demonstrates a fixed mindset. Students who experience these feelings are consumed by their lack of success, imprisoned by the fear of being wrong. Researchers in one study found that students with fixed mindsets were much more likely to adopt strategies for avoiding effort (i.e. cheating, quitting) when confronted with errors.
We know that a growth mindset can help children develop more confidence and less fear in accepting challenges, taking risks, and making mistakes. But fixed mindsets are powerful, especially with learners consumed with 'getting As' and feeling 'smart.'
Take 10 minutes to watch Carol Dweck talk about "building a bridge to Yet" - it's worth it!
Video: The Power of Believing that You Can Improve
What if you tried this?
When a student demonstrates a fixed mindset, add the word 'yet' to the end of their sentence:
"I can't do this... YET."
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do... YET."
"I can't figure it out... YET."
The constant message of 'yet' will recast self-doubt into attainable hope. By saying 'yet' when a student voices surrender, we offer them permission to not know something now, while at the same time assuring them they will know it later.
Now that you have pivoted their perspective, provide ways for students to explore new ideas. Is there another strategy you can try, like using a visual model to describe the problem? Can you justify your solution by explaining it to a classmate? Can you ask another student how they solved this problem? These methods all require effort and determination, and these qualities will help learners grow.
Change Isn't Easy
Be patient. Practice saying 'yet' when you hear someone voice discouragement. The more you say it, the more natural it will sound. In time you may note a shift of tone in your math class, especially in students who were struggling the most.