We are often asked about how to motivate students. The truth is that there is no single answer or magical cure for motivation in children or adults. We all have different reasons as to why we want to succeed in our goals. Although we may not all have the same reason for why we want to accomplish a goal, there are mindsets that help us all stay motivated to succeed and endure challenges.
The Importance of a Growth Mindset
Standford Professor of Psychology, Carol Dweck, studies how humans learn and she has discovered an important division in how people see learning. She suggests that there are two patterns of thought students might practice: a "fixed" mindset and a "growth" mindset. A growth mindset values development through consistent effort rather than inherent talent in something. A fixed mindset is the idea that success comes from innate gifts that cannot be changed. Thus, a student with a fixed mindset is prone to labeling herself based on her immediate success or failure, rather than accepting failure as a means to improve.
The mindset that contributes more toward long-term success and happiness is the one that prizes growth through challenges because it recognizes them as an opportunity to grow rather than as failure. A fixed mindset is easy to fall into during times of success because it feels good to label oneself as a "good student" or "naturally clever." However, that mindset renders an accidental D grade on a math test as devastating.
Luckily, this mindset can be turned around! We can foster an environment of growth mindset by praising effort rather than success and rewarding the quality of the work itself over the quality of the product.
If your child presents a report card to you, one thing you can say is, "I see that B in Language Arts! Wow, you must have worked really hard to improve that grade! I’m
proud of you." This empowers the student because they can recognize their own agency in improvement. It was not just their natural "cleverness" or "laziness" that earned the grade, but their dedication to the task. Similarly, you can coach your child through a bad grade by suggesting that their teacher point out what they can do better next time.
For more on this, check out Carol Dweck’s research.
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