14th July, 2016

Growth Mindset - It's about asking the right Questions

By Rachael S

Intuitively, Growth Mindset sits well with those who teach or tutor. The belief that ability can be improved with effort and learning is q core belief for those who work with young people. The science seems to back this belief up.

Numerous peer reviewed research papers have found evidence that those with a growth mindset reap many benefits. These include, but are not limited to, coping better with transitions, persisting longer at a task, enjoying their work more, seeking out better feedback. Some evidence suggests that this translates into better grades.

Having a growth mindset, however, is not a silver bullet or a quick fix. A whole host of other factors clearly play a part in a child’s success (i.e. socio-economic background, opportunity, access to quality teaching and ability to delay gratification). Genes also play a role. In David Epstein’s excellent book, the Sports Gene, he highlights many instances of how genes/talent/nature (call it what you will) impact on performance. If in doubt, consider this: The fastest time a woman has ever run the 100m is 10.49 seconds (with many actually questioning the legitimacy of this time). This time is not quick enough to be in the top 3000 times ever run. Genes clearly play a role.

That is not to say that developing a growth mindset doesn’t matter. It does. It is just good to set realistic expectations. So if you do want to help a child develop their mindset, where do you start? We now know more than ever about the science of developing a growth mindset.

We recommend that you begin a discussion with children using these four key questions, which can act as a springboard for a more detailed conversation. This will begin to develop an understanding of the concept of mindset, and how they can improve theirs:

How hard are you willing to work today for tomorrow success?

Research suggests that spending just a few minutes with students exploring how doing well at this topic will help them achieve their future goals creates a sense of purpose. This sense of purpose results in students paying more attention and putting more effort in. Combine this with teaching them that their ability can be improve can be a powerful combination.

What can you learn from successful people?

Psychologists have found that comparing yourself with others can have a negative impact on your confidence, motivation, self-management and academic performance. Learning from others (instead of feeling threatened by their success) is a good way to develop your mindset.

Do you spend more time arguing or actioning feedback?

Seeking out, valuing and actioning feedback is one of the healthiest behaviours students can adopt in order to improve their learning. Those who see feedback as a personal attack and a threat to their identity. This can quickly lead to a fixed mindset.

You had a setback. What would you do differently next time?

This is one of our favourite questions to ask. It stops students from dwelling on the past and helps them focus on the now and on the future. This gives them a sense of control over the situation.

This sort of question is often referred to by psychologists as ‘metacognition’. In laymans terms, this means being aware and in control of your own thought process. This sort of thinking skills are on the most effective strategies to help students improve their and performance and resilience.

Other questions that also tick this box include ‘what do I need to do first?’ and ‘who can I ask for advice?’. You can read more about these sort of questions in our post, ‘9 Questions to Improve Metacognition’.

These tips won't help a child develop a growth mindset over night. As with all things in psychology (and when working with children and teenagers) it is much more messy, nuanced and slower than that. But these conversations are definitely a good starting point to help them along the way.

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a lead trainer for InnerDrive, a mental skills training company that helps people develop a growth mindset.

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