Fueling Growth Mindset

Fueling Growth Mindset

What motivates your child?

As a teacher you want your students to be creative, motivated to learn, actively engaged in the learning process, socially conscientious, and successful.  I had a second-grade teacher, Ms. Andersen, who embodied all these attributes.  At the beginning of the year my reading level was below grade.  After a year in Ms. Andersen’s class, I was reading on an eighth-grade level. 

Obviously, I was capable of learning, but what was her secret to motivating kids? 

Things She did not do: 

  • Overly praise me with statements or stickers saying “Good job” or “Fabulous”.  She let me determine the value of my work without imposing her judgement on it.  Though she would say on a few occasions, “I have seen more thoughtful work from you.  Were you in a hurry when you did this?”  Alfie Kohn, noted author in education and human behavior, gives five reasons to stop saying good job. By not praising my work, Ms. Andersen taught me intrinsic motivation. I became driven by my own internal rewards. Being able to read to myself gave me a naturally satisfying freedom.
  • Compare me to other students. 
  • Praise or scold me in the presence of others. 

Things She did: 

  • Asked me engaging questions, especially when I was struggling, and waited for me to respond even if that meant sending me back to my desk to work it out. 
  • Discovered what types of books I readily connected with and directed me to similar books and authors, helping me to find joy in my own ability to read and comprehend. 
  • Read a chapter a day to the class from a book just slightly beyond most of our reading ability.  Growing up on a ranch with its never-ending chores, I was not often read to as a child.  Ms. Andersen’s reading invited me into a whole new world of adventure.  The first book she read to the class was “Ralph and the Motorcycle” by Beverly Clearly.  Oh, how that mouse on that toy motorcycle fueled my imagination! 
  • Provided a quiet, marvelous ‘Reading Fort’ located above the front door of her classroom where students on a rotating schedule or for special reasons could climb up, with a book to get lost in. 

Igniting a Child's Internal Motivator

Studies show children who are praised for their work effort show growth mindset by being more likely to choose challenging tasks to help them learn new things. Such children don't feel controlled by what smarts or talents they might have at this point in time. They understand their goals and ambition are free to soar because they are determined hard workers.

Anything they want to learn or do is possible with effort. They can look back and see growth and development. No long-term goal is unattainable because they know they can meet short term goals leading up to it.

In addition, studies show children with a growth mindset better regulate their behavior, are less aggressive, have higher self-esteem, and have less depression and anxiety. 

On the other hand, children who are told how smart they are, feel controlled to retain their 'smart' status and are more likely to choose easy tasks. When a child is told "You are so smart" or "You are so talented," the child doesn't learn what they need to do in future to succeed at a new task.

Help Children Discover Their Own Sense of Accomplishment

Mr. Kohn suggests we overuse praise out of our own need to say something positive to a child, but instead of helping that child further engage and find his/her own rewards in the learning process, praise can steal a child’s discovery of their own pleasure and actually cause them to lose interest altogether. 

Mr. Kohn proposes three simple ways we help children discover their own sense of accomplishment and find internal motivation.

  1. Say nothing. It can be hard to say nothing. However, when we say nothing, it is totally in the hands of the child to determine how they feel about their work. Our opinions don't cloud or override their feelings.
  2. Say what you observed. A simple opinion-free statement lets the child know you are paying attention. You are interested in their work. A simple, "You did it. You got that problem right," lets them know you noticed their hard work. 
  3. Talk less. Ask more questions. Instead of putting your opinion into a child's work, ask them questions. Asking questions like, "What was the hardest part for you?" or "How did you figure out how to build this?" helps the child determine their own satisfaction with their work. 

Thank You, Ms. Andersen

Today, when someone asks me what I like to do in my spare time, reading is on top of my list.  My love for reading and learning grew from a dedicated teacher, just like you, who inspired me with her patience and willingness to allow me to discover my own rewards from reading. 


Article by Miss Jae



Kohn, Alfie. “Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!”” Young Children. Sept. 2001. https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/five-reasons-stop-saying-good-job/

Bush, Bradley. “Research Every Teacher Should Know: Growth Mindset.” The Guardian. Jan. 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2018/jan/04/research-every-teacher-should-know-growth-mindset

Chambers, Yanique. “25 Works of Encouragement for Kids that Promotes a Growth Mindset.” Kiddie Matters. https://www.kiddiematters.com/25-words-of-encouragement-for-kids-that-promotes-a-growth-mindset/ 



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