It’s About the Process: Cultivating a Growth Mindset in Our Students

Teachers have a large impact on their students, having the ability to positively or negatively influence the growth of their students. In high school, I had a teacher question my intelligence because I was not able to execute what they had asked of me during a lesson. This incident left me discouraged, questioning my own intelligence, and although it did not define my self-worth, it affected my attitude and confidence during practicing and performing. Obviously, this was a negative experience that left me with long-term struggles. There were other teachers who provided positive feedback. I am thankful to them for bringing motivation through encouragement and acknowledgment of my improvements and hard work, which helped me become more confident in my playing and myself. The encouraging and positive experiences with those teachers inspired me to approach my students in that manner. The mindset we have about our students as teachers can make a big difference in how we approach our teaching. This article will explore the concept of the “fixed” and “growth” mindsets, and offer suggestions on how to improve our role as teachers by developing an understanding of the growth mindset, ultimately guiding our students to cultivate the same.What is a Fixed Mindset and a Growth MindsetProfessor of Psychology and author of Mindset: The Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck claims that people tend to lean towards one of two mindsets: the fixed mindset or the growth mindset.

A person with a fixed mindset believes skills and qualities are unchangeable and “fixed”, whereas a person with a “growth” mindset believes that, through effort and hard work, skills and qualities are changeable and can grow. Both mindsets reach an achievement in the end, but the growth mindset emphasizes the effort and process of working through the challenges rather than concerned about the pressure to get it correct the first time without any mistakes. In essence, the growth mindset stresses the long-term achievement. Psychologist Angela Duckworth states, “Most people have an inner fixed-mindset pessimist in them right alongside their inner growth-mindset optimist.” Through experiences and happenings in life, one of the mindsets continues to evolve and grow, however, the benefits of cultivating the growth mindset will hopefully motivate teachers to pursue this mindset. The Fixed MindsetAs mentioned before, a fixed mindset believes skills and qualities are unchangeable and set. Moreover, intelligence and talent tend to take precedence over hard work and effort. A teacher with a fixed mindset may believe that a student learns pieces quickly and performs well because they are smart and talented, not because they worked hard. Of course, hard work is still valued in the fixed mindset, however, the focus is on the result rather than the process. If the result of hard work is unsuccessful or not to a high enough standard, the student will equate it with being a failure themselves instead of an opportunity to learn from the experience. When a student thinks they have always struggled with a certain skill, such as rhythm, for example, it can turn into an excuse to avoid rhythm practice.

Although it may prevent the student from encountering failure short-term, it hinders the student to grow and own the skill long-term. The Growth MindsetIn contrast to the fixed mindset, the growth mindset values the process and improvement over results. By focusing on the effort and process, a teacher/student with the growth mindset achieves more in the end because they do not necessarily know their potential. Results are still valued in the growth mindset and there is an initial sting from an unsuccessful result, however, a student with the growth mindset becomes motivated to work harder and face the challenges rather than avoid them. The student learns to value their input and to not equate their self-worth with the results of their efforts. Why Push the Growth Mindset?Situations such as auditions, piano exams, and competitions evaluate our students and provide them with opportunities to develop a fixed or growth mindset. Depending on the results, certain reactions to setbacks and challenging situations can differentiate a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. Experienced musicians and teachers understand the amount of hard work it takes to succeed in a performance career, which is rife with rejection and constant setbacks. Our students, even at a very young age, can have the tendency to compare themselves to other students, which presents them with a choice: developing a fixed or a growth mindset. Those in the fixed mindset see others’ successes as hindering their own, whereas those who possess the growth mindset see the success of others positively and become more motivated to work harder to improve.

Duckworth mentions that growth mindset people “assume that it’s possible, for example, to get smarter if you’re given the right opportunities and support and if you try hard enough and if you believe you can do it.” Teachers and mentors must learn to cultivate a growth mindset because of the opportunities and influence they can provide to students. Not only is it important for us as teachers to help our students develop the growth mindset, but we as teachers can work towards developing it as well. We must understand that we, too, are in the continual process of learning and growing; just because a student is not able to execute successfully does not mean we are incapable teachers. The question should not be “can I teach them or can they learn, but rather, how can I teach them and how will they learn best?” As teachers, we can learn and grow in our teaching by finding different strategies to solve problems. Teaching in the MindsetsFixed Mindset TeachingSome examples of teaching in the fixed mindset include commenting on the correlation between a student’s ability to learn quickly and perform successfully.

Although the comment may seem harmless, ascribing success to intelligence can be detrimental to the student because they may start to believe they are smart only when they are successful. Praising students for their intelligence and talent does not offer them the tools they need in order to succeed, but praising them for embracing a challenge and engaging in the process of learning can. Another example that can potentially lead a student to a fixed mindset is subjective comments made by the teacher rather than comments that are more objective. Statements such as “I loved…” or “I liked…” are good in the sense that they affirm the student’s success and efforts, but they may lead the student to believe they must perform well in order to please the teacher, therefore making them more concerned about judgement rather than process. Students need constructive and objective criticism in order to understand the process of learning and improving. Growth Mindset TeachingThe process of teaching in the growth mindset may begin by offering the student constructive feedback and comments that will develop critical thinking in the student. To cultivate constructive feedback, it is important for teachers to give clear directions and ask specific questions.

For instance, not only could you compliment the beautiful performance, but also ask what made the performance successful. This question brings affirmation along with an opportunity for the student to think critically about how they were able to achieve a successful performance. A growth mindset does not mean exclusively giving praise with a lack of criticism and critique.According to Dweck, “children need honest and constructive feedback. If children are ‘protected’ from it, they won’t learn well. They will experience advice, coaching, and feedback as undermining. Withholding constructive criticism does not help children’s confidence; it harms their future.” Students who do not encounter constructive criticism will be discouraged easily and take the criticism more personally. Moreover, they might not want to continue with the process. Carol Dweck offers the following observations:”When do you feel smart? In the fixed mindset, it is when I do not make any mistakes, when I finish something fast and it is perfect, when something is easy for me, but other people can’t do it, it’s about being perfect right now. In the growth mindset, when it’s really hard and I try really hard, and I can do something I couldn’t do before, when I work on something a long time and I start to figure it out.”

An example situation may be when correcting student’s mistakes. An obvious and quick teaching method would be to tell the student their error and fix it right away. If not handled appropriately, this can lead the student to a fixed mindset because they might believe they are not smart or talented. However, instead of instantly correcting the error, encourage the student by asking them to provide feedback first. Ask why the particular wrong note they played does not belong in the chord or passage. By approaching mistakes this way, we create an environment where students are encouraged to accept and analyze their mistakes, work through them together and treat them as learning experiences. ConclusionMany aspects of teaching may test our patience, and students might not understand the value of the growth mindset instantly, but we as teachers have the opportunity to encourage our students to adopt this mindset. We can clarify to students that learning is a process and we must help our students reach their highest potential., Even though our student may not become the next Mozart, if we can convince them to understand they are artists who have the ability to change and grow their talents and skills through perseverance and hard work, who knows how far they will go?

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