Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Nurturing a Growth Mindset in a sea of perfectionists.........

I teach in an all girls' setting. I love my school and am really proud to work at Selwyn House; I think that we really "get" girls and give them a very clear message that they can be anything they want. As a result, our girls are tough, gritty, open-minded and highly competitive in a huge range of activities from rugby to robotics.

Studies consistently show that girls are more prone to perfectionism than boys and my experience at Selwyn House would certainly back that up. I have seen more than my fair share of almost crippling perfectionism in recent years and this week I've been thinking a lot about how nurturing a growth mindset could have a positive impact for students whose perfectionistic traits are holding them back.

In the past week, I've been reading a lot of blog posts and literature about developing a growth mindset and have even subjected my husband to countless clips of Carol Dweck on You Tube. I recognised the self-talk of a fixed mindset in myself at times and began to suspect that many of my students were subjecting themselves to self-talk that is limiting their potential, self-talk that was representative of a fixed mindset.

So I found some Level 5 and 6 Maths problems from  NZ Maths. These problems were difficult enough that the girls would be extremely challenged but not impossible for them to solve. I told them to complete the two problems in silence (which is very rare in 8C) and also completely independently with no allowance for working in a small group (which is also very rare in 8C). The girls looked at me like I had grown two heads- having no choice in the way we approach a task is a very unfamiliar feeling for them. Many also looked terrified at being given a problem to solve which was clearly going to really stretch the rubberband so to speak- others were visibly excited and embracing the challenge. I then gave them each a number of post-its and asked them to write down the thoughts that were going through their heads and to continue recording the thoughts they were telling themselves as they attacked the problem.

At the conclusion of the activity, I asked the girls to bring their post-its to the carpet and they shared their self-talk with a small group.

We decided to classify our self-talk and the girls came up with three loose categories; Positive Self-Talk, Negative Self- Talk and a kind of middle ground where things like, "How long is it until morning tea?" belonged!

I explained to the girls that the two main categories they had identified corresponded to an important idea in education at the moment, the concept of a Fixed or Growth Mindset. We watched some clips on brain development and many girls were genuinely shocked to find that intelligence is not fixed- some were excited at the prospect of being able to increase their intelligence and potential while others looked a little shocked. What would this mean? How could we apply this new concept in our lives?

 It was clear that a number of my particularly optimistic students naturally possess a growth mindset. Many girls with perfectionistic traits, displayed a fixed mindset during this task, shying away from the challenge for fear of being wrong. When listening to their small group conversations, I identified a common theme amongst some of the girls who achieve extremely good results in maths; "What if others find out I'm a fraud?" Hearing this was alarming and confirmed that teaching about a growth mindset and their ability to increase their own potential was imperative for all my students, but especially the perfectionists.

This was just the first step in a very important journey; our next step will be to find alternatives to some of the negative self-talk and to find ways to celebrate evidence of a growth mindset in the girls.

We finished the session with a book that I highly recommend for stimulating discussion around mindset, "Rosie Revere, Engineer" by Andrea Beaty. I love this story and it is an absolute must-have if you have a Makerspace or STEM mindset in your school. Love it!

I love to use literature to spark discussions. Have you found picture books that encourage a growth mindset? Please share in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.

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