Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When Students Say, "I Can't Do It..."

I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I wanted to become a teacher is because I find the "aha" moment (also known as the "lightbulb" moment) so exhilarating. I love it when a student finally understands something he has found difficult in the past. I feel a rush seeing the delight on a child's face when she masters a topic in class. Oh, the triumph!

But some students, and you know you've had a few, are so beaten down by past failures that the "I can't" attitude is difficult to break through. 

In college, I remember learning about the growth mindset vs. the fixed mindset. If someone has a fixed mindset, she believes that some people are smart and some are not. Period. (Oftentimes, this person also feels that she is not smart.) If a person has a growth mindset, she believes that people can improve and get better at things. (Thus, she can improve and get better at things.)

There's a chart floating around the interwebs (I've seen it pop up on both Pinterest and Twitter.) It's a way to move kids from a fixed mindset into a growth mindset way of thinkin'.

I love this! I love it so much that I made a copy to put in my classroom. But then I stepped back and thought a little more about doing that. 

Here was my inner dialogue:

What if this just becomes visual clutter?

Well, I'll go over it the first few days of school. That will be nice.

But what if they don't listen to you?

Well, they are going to be precious little angels and hang on every word I say. They won't be so rude to ignore me!

Okay, but what if they are just pretending to listen, but it doesn't really sink in?

Well, then... I will just... Um... You see... I'll...

I'm quite used to having two sides of my brain debating and having an inner dialogue. Does this only happen to me? I digress...

So, I didn't want this to just be visual clutter. I want this to make an impact. So, in order to do that, I want the students to get more involved in this chart.

I typed it up in a sweet little document like this. 

I want to spend some time - on one of the first days of school - to go over this. I want the kids to know the difference between fixed and growth mindset. I want the students to know that after I failed the "gifted test" twice in 5th grade, I found myself STUCK in the fixed mindset. Those kids were smart. Obviously, I was not. Add in the fact that I really struggled with math in middle school and high school, and I was convinced I was no longer part of the "smart kids club." Then, in college, I started to move over toward a growth mindset. With unbelievably hard work, I went from being a failing math student to making a 99 average in statistics and a 101 average in an environmental logarithms class. WHAT ON EARTH? 

I found out that it was true. It IS possible to get better at things. If I can become smart at math, then by gosh, anybody could! The growth mindset is for real, y'all.

So I want the kids to recognize the things they think and say. Those things are in the left column. I want them to brainstorm with partners or in small groups how they could CHANGE THEIR THINKING into a growth mindset point of view!

If they work on putting together a growth mindset list of things they could say instead of that "stinkin' thinkin'" - well, they might be more likely to use those phrases. Later in the year, if I hear someone say, "I can't do this math problem," or "I can't understand this book," then I can gently say, "Hey, love, why don't you turn this into a growth mindset phrase? What can you say instead?" 

I'm hoping that having a REAL dialogue about this with the kids - and letting them discuss it with each other - will make this an idea that lasts all year.

Have you seen this chart floating around? Do you teach your kids how to think in a growth mindset frame of mind? Tell us what you do!

(Oh, and if you want a free copy of this chart for your students to use in your classroom, you can download it here.)


  1. nice post, really helped w/ my presentation

  2. Thanks for sharing this, it is great! I would like to create something similar for my students and it will help me because I am going back to school!

  3. Thanks for sharing this, it is great! I would like to create something similar for my students and it will help me because I am going back to school!

  4. Thanks for sharing this, it is great! I would like to create something similar for my students and it will help me because I am going back to school!

  5. Thanks for sharing. I will use this also. This will be incorporated into my first few days when we write and talk about how we learn. I do a writer's workshop lesson on writing about a time they had to really practice at something to learn it. (sport skills and learning video games work great here) Often students don't seem to make the connection between things they wanted to learn how to do, how they practiced to get good at it, and their school success.) You're right they just think other students are "good" or "smart" at the subject. This mind set chart is a great idea. Having students brainstorming ideas with each other and then share out to a class chart is an excellent idea.

  6. I had the same problem. It took me to Scribd and I didn't want to pay to subscribe :(

  7. Loved this post! I use growth mindset with my math students and THEY are telling each other comments when they hear something that stops brains from working harder! LOVE it@


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