Carol Dweck’s 2017 publication of ‘Mindset; changing the way you think to fulfil your potential’ is an update of her first ‘Mindset’ book from 2006, looking at widespread research over these last two decades that highlights the importance of making mistakes as we struggle with intriguing and challenging problems in our learning. Learners with a growth mindset – a personal approach to learning and life that can be taught and developed – relish opportunities to grapple with challenges, to review and re-try when mistakes are made, to bring innovative and creative approaches to problem-solving.
This extract from ‘Mathematical Mindsets’ (2016, Jo Boaler, Stanford Maths Professor) is one brief example of contemporary research and writing in this area:
‘Every time a student makes a mistake they grow a synapse.’ This quote from Dweck focuses on the significance of mistakes and struggle for brain development – for learners of all ages, but especially for younger learners. Widespread research over the last two decades has reinforced the message that students’ brains react with much more electrical activity when they make mistakes than when their answers are correct. Importantly, this activity is even greater for individuals with a growth mindset than for individuals with a fixed mindset.
Additionally, learners with a growth mindset have a greater awareness of errors than those with a fixed mindset, so they are more likely to go back and correct errors. All learners respond with a brain spark – a synapse – when they make mistakes. Having a growth mindset means that the brain is more likely to spark again, showing awareness that a mistake has been made.
Whether it is learning in or out of school, in reading or maths or science or music, when teaching or parenting, it is really important to believe in yourself, to believe that you can do anything. Those beliefs can change everything.
As teachers and parents, our efforts to guide and lead growth mindset development, along with equipping young learners to view mistakes as key learning opportunities and times to persevere and persist, are high on the list of the more important things we can do in preparing them for the limitless opportunities that the future holds for them.
Head of Junior School