Chances are that your child has come home from school in the last year or two talking about growth mindset. It’s a fairly new idea, though it seems to be based on a good dose of common sense, and the great news is that growth mindset and reading – or learning to read – are a match made in heaven.
Find out what a growth mindset actually is and how it could help your child to become a better and more confident reader.
What Is a Mindset?
The growth mindset idea was pioneered by US psychologist, Carol Dweck following decades of research. Dweck says that a mindset is something you firmly believe about yourself. For a child (or adult), this could be “I’m good at reading”, “I’m bad at maths”, “I’m naughty”, or, even worse, “I’m stupid”.
Dweck believes that your mindset – whether you’re aware of it or not – has a profound effect on the way you learn throughout life.
Fixed vs Growth
Someone with a fixed mindset believes that they’re either good at something or they’re not. For instance, good at reading, or bad at maths. They’ll put all their failures and successes down to the talent they were born with and won’t naturally make any effort to develop their skills. You could sum it up as “if you believe you can’t, you can’t.”
Someone with a growth mindset, however, believes that they can develop their skills, get better, and build on the talents they were born with. They’ll be more likely to challenge themselves and will view failures as a chance to learn and improve.
It’s possible to develop a growth mindset from a fixed one, and you can see how this would be far more beneficial to the school environment, and understand why so many teachers are talking about it right now.
Growth Mindset and Reading
One of the ways in which teachers are employing the growth mindset is in the feedback they give to their individual pupils. Instead of saying something is good (or not so good), they’ll praise the effort the pupil has put into working on it and relate that effort to the outcome.
This is something you can adopt at home. Here’s a simple example:
Fixed mindset encouragement: “Great reading.”
Growth mindset encouragement: “You worked so hard to pronounce all those tricky words and look how much better you read tonight and how much more you enjoyed it. Well done.”
The idea here is that your child will make a positive connection between putting in an effort and getting better at reading. From that, they’ll feel inspired and motivated to carry on. More importantly, they might feel more empowered by their own abilities, instead of being held back by a fixed mindset.
Some experts believe that giving growth mindset-style feedback to reluctant readers can be particularly effective. There are some useful and interesting growth mindset feedback examples here for all kinds of scenarios.
Stories for Growth Mindset
Growth mindset is also about sharing good examples to inspire children, and stories can be a fantastic source. I’ve picked just a few from Storytime, which I believe feature positive growth mindset characters.
1. The Hare and the Tortoise (Storytime Issue 1)
You could describe this famous fable as a battle of fixed vs growth mindset. Instead of believing “I’m too slow to race”, the tortoise boldly takes on the challenge and puts itself forward. The tortoise demonstrates growth mindset. The hare, on the other hand, is so arrogant about its own speed, its own fixed mindset causes it to lose the race. “I’m fast, therefore I will win even if I take a nap”. This story is a great example of how growth mindset can bring surprising results.
2. The Mouse Merchant (Storytime Issue 8)
In this inspiring tale from India, a poor but determined boy, with no father and nothing more than a dead mouse to start his career, uses what he has to slowly and successfully build his own empire, one step at a time. A character with a brilliant growth mindset.
3. The Crow and the Pitcher (Storytime Issue 19)
You could also say the clever crow in this fable has a growth mindset. While all the other animals around it are bemoaning the lack of water and awaiting their own demise (“We will die if it doesn’t rain”), the crow seeks ways to survive the drought and comes up with an ingenious solution. It employs a growth mindset to avoid a grisly fate.
4. Moscione the Fool (Storytime Issue 32)
This is an old Italian folk tale about a lazy boy who is considered to be a fool. When he’s forced to go out in the world alone, however, he doesn’t let an “I’m stupid” fixed mindset get in his way. He proves everybody wrong, especially his unsupportive father.
Like all psychological approaches to education, growth mindset has its doubters. Some are wary of how warmly it has been welcomed into schools and wonder whether it oversimplifies individual educational needs, but many argue that they’re seeing evidence of how well it is working.
If you have a struggling or reluctant reader, why not give it a try? Encourage and applaud effort, recognise achievement and give positive examples through stories, books and news articles. There’s even more to growth mindset than that (there are great resources here), but it’s a good start. And if it can help one child stop believing “I’m rubbish at reading”, then surely that’s a positive thing.
Food for thought! See you next time.