Growth Mindset

The promotion of Carol Dweck’s principle of a ‘Growth Mindset’ early in September really challenged the children to rethink their capabilities and the true purpose of education.  Dweck has shown that there are two kinds of learners, those who have a fixed mindset and those she describes as having a growth mindset. Fixed mindset learners like to prove what they can do and tend to be averse to risk (you might look silly) and hard work (struggling means you aren’t very bright).  Growth mindset children are all about improving what they can do. They don’t mind in the least that, in the course of getting better at things, they make mistakes, struggle and don’t look good. Interestingly, babies are all born with a growth mindset. By the time they start school; many children have already started to value looking good over finding out. It is vital that at Oakfields we make sure that children retain, or gain, their membership of the second of these two groups!

Exactly what subject or subjects children might be studying – the specific exercise-machines that will help them to develop self-belief, the ability to keep persisting with tricky questions and a willingness to practise and try things out – is, we believe, a matter for Oakfields curriculum and teaching styles to determine. Subsequently, it is important for me as a leader, that teachers help all our children to feel that getting something wrong is not a cause for embarrassment, but an opportunity for learning and development. A ‘mistake of the week’ accompanied by an explicit attempt to tease out the insights it can bring the class, is an example of the kind of curriculum we think children of primary age need. Moreover, experiencing the satisfaction of ‘getting it right’ is crucial too.

At the same time, it is important that children learn to think, play and compete with each other. In the real world much of what we do requires us to collaborate – but it isn’t easy!  You have to learn to listen; to see that other people have different perspectives; to wait your turn and find out how to jump skillfully and respectfully; to disagree graciously; to keep track of different threads and participants in the conversation; to ensure that you have actually understood what has occurred in a conversation and not to relay an inflated version that could have serious repercussions!  Entwined within all of these characteristics is the relationship between home and school.

For a growth mindset to truly flourish, there needs to be faith and trust—and a true intention to work together—teachers and parents—to ensure the child receives consistent support and encouragement.

Finally, there are two simple truths about learning that Oakfields actively promotes. The first is that children learn best when they are fully engaged with what they are doing.  For this to happen they have to be interested; to want to be able to do something that they can’t yet do.  The second truth is that they mostly want to do things that older people around them obviously enjoy doing, whether it is kicking a ball, reading a book or telling jokes.  So they need to be surrounded by people they like whom, for example, frequently and visibly read books for pleasure; through this and other smart methods (which I have shared on many occasions with you all!) they need to be coaxed to want to master things, not to be afraid of not doing so.  Fear prevents you from locking your attention on to what you are doing – and that obviously slows learning down.  The worst thing you can do with a child who is slow to read is to turn him into a ‘problem’, because being a problem makes you anxious and upset, and that stops you concentrating and trying.  It’s not rocket science.  ‘Ok! Ok!’ I hear you shout, ‘Message received loud and clear Mrs Ciftci!’  No more references to reading – not for this year (2016) anyway!

Laura Ciftci