We are increasingly aware that schools across the UK are embracing the work of Carol Dweck and integrating it into their daily lessons and school culture. This is a massive step in developing the thinking skills and self awareness in our young people that will prepare them for life in the workplace, which is of course riddled with challenges, difficulties and mistakes that they must have the inner wisdom to learn and grow from. Working with young people in the outdoors is filled with opportunities to illustrate the meaning of a growth mindset.
So to recap on the work of Dweck in the context of school learning. Of our two mindsets “growth” or “fixed” what we are aiming for as educators is encouraging our students to have at least the self awareness to recognise where they are at in terms of facing difficulty. Do they say “I can’t do it” and give up easily? Expressing a fixed mindset, this is rooted in a belief that intelligence is a fixed entity and can’t be developed hence discouraging these learners from trying when faced with difficulty. Or do they say “I’ll at least try and give it a go” or "I can't do it, yet" thus embracing a growth mindset harbouring a belief that hard work pays off! Their focus becomes about effort, perseverance and they get a thrill from improvement. Self awareness is the first step in this journey to developing a growth mindset
Mistakes Are Brilliant!
Outdoor learning particularly lends itself to emphasising the importance of a growth mindset. When outside trying to complete any task we often go through a process of trial and error. For example, when constructing and operating giant weights and levers in an outdoor science lesson, difficulty rarely leads to a pupil stating “I’m no good at doing science outside!” Rather they haven’t done it correctly yet! With a little trial and error they will get there. It’s the same whether you are lighting a fire, building a shelter or creating a piece of artwork, the skills come with practice and effort rather then being innate or about 'natural talent'.
Try taking your lesson outside and illustrate the benefits of a growth mindset in this setting whilst drawing parallels to inside the classroom with for example maths, language or reading skills. Effort is the key to success. For lesson plans in how to use the outdoors for co-curricular teaching, take a look at our LOC handbook.
Dwecks’ studies conclude that world class professionals always apply more effort in their area of specialism than their peers, hence their elevated status. Even Einstein and Mozart were reputed to put more time into their subjects than their contemporaries. What's more, according to Hymer and Gershon, genome papers and other scientists have failed to locate any gifted gene or the existence of a fully talented zygote. This is inspiring for our pupils to grasp, success is proven to come with effort and not born talent.
Try asking this question to your young people:
When have you stuck to a challenging task that resulted in achieving something you valued?
Answers might include: learning to walk! Riding a bike or swimming, learning times tables, juggling, getting a job, a high test score etc.
Trial and error is always a key factor in their examples and you can do the same in your lessons, here are some activities you can use to give experiences of failure and success:
- Set a problem and give them free reign to try out different solutions
- Pupils work in groups on a problem. One records the trials and errors which come about.
- Encourage all pupils to include trial and error in their written work.
- Model trial and error in front of the whole class, talking through as you go e.g. “this mistake has been helpful to me because…”
If you’d like a complete set of over fifty tasks and activities including lesson plans to enable this sort of development at your school then take a look here.
“I’ve missed over 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted with taking the game winning shot…and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
- Michael Jordan