How a Growth Mindset and Neuroplasticity Boosts Learning

Something as simple as the way you praise a child can affect her mindset, which can have a major impact on her self-confidence and how she deals with challenges. Saying something like, “Great job on that test! You must be so smart!” may sound good and harmless, but it can actually have a negative affect and create a fixed mindset.

According to psychologist Carol Dweck, known for her research on an individual’s implicit theory of intelligence, “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.”

Instead of telling a child he must have done well because he is smart, try saying something like, “Great job on that test! You must have worked really hard!” Focusing on the work it took to achieve a goal helps create a healthy attitude and belief that he can improve and succeed with continued effort. This is the idea behind a growth mindset. Dweck explains, “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

Along with encouraging a growth mindset, helping students understand that their brain can actually grow and become stronger can also boost their confidence and improve learning. Research shows us that the brain is plastic: with focus and practice, the brain can change, it can grow new cells, and we can strengthen neurologic pathways. This is called neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to restructure itself based on repetitive practices. GrapeSEED designers considered what we now know about the brain and neuroplasticity when developing the program. The repeated exposure to high-frequency words through engaging Shared Reading Big Books, Poems, Stories, Songs, Chants and Action Activities gives students the practice they need in order to become confident and proficient readers, writers, and communicators.

Mindset and neuroplasticity may not be something that we immediately think of or normally talk about with students when discussing the learning process. But if we explain to them how the brain changes and grows as they learn and that they can get better at a skill by trying, practicing, and persevering, we can help students believe in themselves and succeed in learning.