3 Practical Strategies for Teaching about Mindsets

Teaching students how to learn often involves teaching about mindsets.

There is substantial evidence that positive academic mindsets are strongly linked to better academic performance at all levels of schooling, not just in younger grades. Teaching students about the role of motivation, growth and fixed mindsets in their learning can be beneficial to develop the “productive persistence” needed to succeed in college, as well as for life beyond the classroom.

Saundra McGuire’s book, Teach Students How to Learn, is full of ideas and strategies for teaching metacognition and study strategies. Kathleen Gabriel’s book, Creating the Path To Success in the Classroom: Teaching to Close the Graduation Gap for Minority, First-Generation, and Academically Underprepared Students also provides numerous ideas about supporting students to be prepared for college study.

When it comes to reinforcing growth mindsets, both authors share comparable approaches and suggest three similar practical actions we can take to reinforce productive academic mindsets.

1. Teach students about mindsets

Academic mindsets are the attitudes or beliefs that we hold about ourselves in regards to academic work and academic performance. When someone holds a positive academic mindset, it can motivate them to persist in their effort, which leads to more effective academic behaviors and improved academic performance.

Our mindsets can be shaped by what we hear, see, and feel from our teachers, schools, families, and society in general. Not only do we need to be aware of the impact of our own actions and behaviors on students’ developing mindsets, but we also should see the need to support students from marginalized populations who may have been exposed to ongoing negative messages about their academic ability.

It’s important to teach students that mindsets are not fixed traits. But rather, that mindsets are shaped by our environments and therefore can be changed and adapted.

2. Continually expose students to successful individuals who have faced failure (using diverse examples)

Because our mindsets can be strongly influenced by our environments and society, providing stories of overcoming challenge from diverse soruces can reinforce the mesage of success.

Gabriel uses a “Quote of the week” where she posts an inspirational quote from notable or famous individuals from different backgrounds each week. She briefly shares their struggle and ability to overcome challenges as a way to keep reinforcing the message of hard work and imperfection.

There are many great videos out there that could be easily incorporated and certainly attract students attention, from the Kahn Academy collection of You Can Learn Anything videos, to individual stories such as Michael Jordon Nike commercial about success and failure or Janelle Monae’s fun Sesame Street video of The Power of Yet (as in, I can’t do this “yet.”)

3. Share our own stories of overcoming academic challenges

At a recent conference about Metacognition, where the keynote speaker was none other than Dr. Saundra McGuire, the message she shared loud and clear is that learning is a process, and anything we can do to help students become better in that process, short term and long term, is time well spent.

I will admit that my favorite part of that day was listening to a panel of students, speaking earnestly about their learning struggles.

Each and every student on the panel said they were often intimidated by their instructors, they felt that instructors were ‘born smart,’ and they appreciated when instructors shared their own challenges and failures.

They said hearing stories of their instructors challenges made them realize that they were not themselves “bad or stupid” because they struggled. But rather, that this struggle was a normal part of learning. Some students even said it allowed them to see themselves in a teaching role one day!

Small gestures can be powerful

We often think that students will find it boring or demeaning to be taught about their own motivation.

Yet these students expressed how much it meant to them when they felt their instructors believed in their success, especially when they had their own doubts. It was a wonderfully reaffirming message of the power of these small gestures in our courses.  

These strategies certainly will not work magically for every student at first. And misperceptions among college instructors about the concept of mindsets should be noted. But the research suggests that over time, with ongoing exposure, promoting positive academic mindsets can make a difference.

Interested in developing concrete strategies into your course to teach students about mindsets and more? Explore our online course: Teach Students How to Learn

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