Patrick DonohueChicago, ILFebruary 13, 2018
Middle school is a time of rapid growth and occasional uncertainty for students. Although middle schoolers face academic, social, and emotional challenges inside and outside the classroom, school administrators and teachers have an opportunity help students build resiliency for a successful future. One way to support students in building mental resilience is to focus on building growth mindset throughout middle school. A growth mindset helps individuals believe that their brains have the ability to grow and change for the better. Growth mindset is a self-perception that skills and abilities can be developed with effort, as opposed to inherent, pre-determined traits. In contrast, a fixed mindset means that individuals believe that qualities such as intelligence and talent are static, or fixed.
Differences in these approaches to life shape students’ goals, beliefs about effort, attributions for setbacks, and learning strategies. Particularly during a time of significant physical and emotional growth like middle school, it is important to understand how a mindset can make or break a student’s intellectual and social success.
Growth Mindset Inside the Classroom: Effects of Mindset on Brain Development in Middle Schoolers
Research has shown that consistently teaching students about growth mindset and their potential to improve will yield positive results. Middle school students who received weekly emails teaching them about growth mindset achieved significantly higher scores math and verbal statewide tests, with noticeably higher scores among female students. Importantly for middle school, students with a growth mindset demonstrated higher achievement during challenging school transitions and their passing rates in demanding classes were higher compared to those with a fixed mindset.
While growth mindset can help students achieve, they need teachers who are trained in growth mindset strategies and are demonstrating it within the classroom. Teachers with a growth mindset are more likely to encourage engagement from struggling students and suggest alternative approaches when students struggle in order to help students reach their goals. They may also emphasize grades as a feedback about a student's measure of growth rather than a measure of intelligence.
Administrators can support their students and teachers on the journey to growth mindset by creating a school culture of growth. Encouraging teachers to participate in PD that emphasizes growth mindset will start a school on this journey. Administrators can also have a hand in creating a school environment where growth is praised, rather than praising static levels of intelligence and talent. Although an emphasis on growth mindset won't transform a classroom overnight, it can eventually lead to a school where students aren't worried about simply looking smart on tests but are empowered and committed to putting forth more energy to learn.
Growth Mindset Outside the Classroom: Effects on Socialization and Emotional Development
Students in middle school are very conscientious of social status, leading many to fear that any negative labels they may receive are “fixed”. When students learn that labels or social status are not fixed, they are more likely to feel confident about trying new activities and making new friends outside of their social circle or comfort zone.
Possessing a growth mindset builds resilience in the face of adversity, as students learn to adopt effective strategies to handle tough situations. A fixed mindset leaves students vulnerable to negative feedback and can lead to avoidance of challenging learning opportunities. Being able to think that you can make it out of a situation is one of the differences between a success story and a statistic.
Administrators can support students by inviting them to try new classes and extracurricular activities throughout middle school. Emphasize to students that although an activity may be new and outside of their comfort zone, learning and progress towards a goal is what matters. One caution: don't simply praise effort for effort's sake. If the effort is unproductive and not progressing towards a measurable and attainable goal, it is not growth mindset oriented. Beyond simply a mission statement or lofty values, create an environment where goals are real and attainable for students and teachers alike.
Meeting the Needs
Developing a growth mindset can help youth thrive during a vulnerable time in their lives. You can meet the needs by equipping teachers with the tools to approach students with a growth perception and through finding ways for each student to realize their potential and meet their goals.
Support your students by giving them the SEL skills to succeed. Our Turbo Leader course was made specifically for middle school students and uses proven strategies to help students learn to manage their time and set goals while building a growth mindset. Find out more.