To keep students trying, comment on the process more than the product. This is the message of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. Learning is iterative (a bit at a time) – encourage trying, learning to stick your neck out, making your “best” mistake. Below are some possibilities for different stages of learning.
The contrast is between the Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset. In the fixed mindset, students believe their intelligence is fixed; in the growth mindset, they believe they can influence their intelligence. In the fixed mindset, effort is seen as negative because the point is for achievement to look effortless; in the growth mindset, students see effort as positive. “Look how hard I am working.” With a fixed mindset, students get frustrated and quit because they don’t understand something immediately; with a growth mindset, they are resilient and keep going.
What to say if something was easy:
• Do not praise speed (or intelligence).
• That was too easy for you. I think you need something more challenging. I
don't want to waste your time.
• You deserve a challenge.
• I’m glad you have the material down pat. Now let’s have fun with a challenge.
What to say if you want the student to try harder:
• Do not say, “This should be easy. Try harder.”
• I’m proud of you for not giving up.
• School can be difficult. That shows you are learning.
• Look at how much progress you have actually made.
• If it’s easy, you are not learning.
• Tell the student to say, “I don’t know it – YET!”
What to say if a student is still struggling:
• Do not say, “That’s OK. Math (or whatever) is not your thing. Your strengths
• Other people may have had invisible experiences you haven’t had that makes it look like they learn it faster. Remember, the duck looks like it is gliding on the water, but under the water his legs are paddling like crazy.. Maybe you played Minecraft and they played Math Blaster – it’s practice or experience they have had that you can’t see.
• Let’s break it down into smaller problems.
• Let’s try a different strategy.
• No babies can walk at birth. They all learn to walk at different times, but they all walk. Hundreds of millions of neurons is not enough – trying, learning, working that brain – that’s what does it.
While I love simple models, I mostly love the research behind the model – a study that demonstrates the truth of human behaviour that has been found. It makes me confident that what seems practical, and useful, really is so. This study showed the kind of effect we can have over the student mindset by just what we say.. It started with the classic three groups. Each of the groups had a fairly easy non-verbal puzzle to solve.
Group 1 was told - “Good score.”
Group 2 was told – “Good score. You must be smart.”
Group 3 was told – “Good score. You obviously try hard.”
So far, so good. The next puzzle was designed to be very challenging with no comments for the student upon completion – whether successful or not.
For the third puzzle students were asked, “Would you like a puzzle like the first one, or a more challenging one like the second?”
Group 1 - had a mixed response. Some chose the challenging puzzle, some the
Group 2 – almost all chose the easier one. The object in these students’ mind was
no longer solving the puzzle. It was now being perceived as smart.
Group 3 – almost all chose the more challenging puzzle. The objective of these
students was solving the challenging puzzle and being perceived as
So now I’m off to work hard, without believing that achievement is all about intelligence, and that I have a fixed amount of it – without ever quitting. Have fun with your students!
- Diana Cruchley