Mindsets, those internalized student beliefs that so significantly impact other behavioral skills and academic performance, can and must be shaped by us – by how we interact with students, by our pedagogies and strategies, by how we interact with students, and by the curriculum that we design. When students believe that they can learn, they tend to learn more and better than when they don’t (Cheema & Kitsantas, 2014; Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992). The presence of continual growth opportunities enhances a belief in the impact of one’s effort on learning. However, our traditional instruction, assessment, and grading policies are entirely inconsistent with a growth mindset.
If we are to encourage a growth mindset in our students, we must move beyond instruction and assessment that disallows students to complete missing work and make-up tests. Instead, our instruction methods should be adapted to require that all students improve on their first efforts. English teachers have been providing opportunities for students to improve their writing for years; let’s ensure that more of the tasks and tests that we assign to students nurture a climate of continuous learning and, once and for all, eliminate climates of fixed mindset habits for all students—those for whom achievement has traditionally been more challenging as well as those for whom it’s come easy (Dweck, 2006; Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014).
Additionally, the value of school from a student’s perspective will improve when he or she sees relevance and purpose in the tasks that the teacher assigns. This will be possible when we substitute depth of learning for breadth of covering as many topics as possible. Racing through the curriculum compromises student exploration of rich problems, including problems of their choosing. Teach less, learn more, and improve student engagement in their learning.
A student’s belief in his or her ability to be successful improves when frequent supports are in place to systemically meet student needs. Benjamin Bloom (1968, 1974, 1984) proved the success of exactly these supports beginning in the 1960s. Bloom called this mastery learning; in the 21st century, we call it Tier 2 of RTI. Using evidence from formative assessments, we must build in time to provide interventions and enrichments to deepen student mastery of essential concepts and skills. We must meet students where they are to deliver on the promise of high levels of learning for all.
Mindsets matter immensely. Here’s our challenge: How do we actively and explicitly create conditions within which positive mindsets will thrive?