Our students live in an increasingly fast-paced and rapidly evolving world that places new and unforeseeable challenges in their paths constantly.
Given the accelerating rate of change, it is impossible for any of us to predict the shape of the social, educational, or employment challenges that lie ahead with any degree of certainty.
In such a volatile environment, it is essential that our students develop a growth mindset that enables them to adapt to the changing world around them and helps them to rise to the challenges it will present.
Writing is a powerful tool to help our students to achieve just that.
Writing things down doesn’t just help students to record what they are thinking; it’s also an effective tool to help them to explore and discover what exactly they are thinking in the present.
In this article, we’ll look at ways we can use writing activities in the classroom to help our students uncover how they think and then ways they can develop a robust growth mindset through writing.
First, however, we need to ensure our students understand what the term ‘Growth Mindset’ means.
What Is a Growth Mindset?
For our students to understand what the term ‘growth mindset’ means, it is helpful for them to consider it in contrast to its mirror image, ‘the fixed mindset’.
Just as a growth mindset is an attractive and positive characteristic, a fixed mindset is something we want to avoid as a negative and unattractive trait.
Let’s take a closer look at individual definitions of these terms:
A Fixed Mindset is a belief that the skills, talents, and intelligence we possess are predetermined and unchangeable. This type of mindset is resistant to learning new things, critical feedback, or other attempts to improve one’s lot in life. It can be a barrier to finding happiness and success in life.
A Growth Mindset is a belief that the skills, talents, and intelligence we possess can be improved upon by effort and perseverance. This type of mindset is open to learning new things, critical feedback, or other attempts to improve one’s lot in life. It can be a help in finding happiness and success in life.
Writing Activities to Develop a Growth Mindset
Once your students have a firm understanding of exactly what a growth mindset is, they can begin working to develop one.
Writing is one effective tool to help students identify what type of mindset they currently have and also to encourage looking at things from a more growth mindset perspective.
Growth Mindset Writing Activity 1: Keep a Writing Journal
As we mentioned above, to help students to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, they must first develop an awareness of their current perspectives and behaviors. With conscious awareness, they can begin to operate from the perspective of a growth mindset until this becomes an unconscious habit.
Personal journals are perfect for this. Keeping a daily journal encourages students to reflect on their thoughts and actions each day. Doing this will help them to identify behaviors in both.
Writing is a great way for students to reveal their thinking to themselves. Encourage students to identify times when they’ve displayed a fixed mindset and record these in their writing. These recordings will help them to later use goal setting as a means to improve their outlook, as we shall see shortly.
Journals are great because they force students to create and define specific goals and provide a way to track progress and keep themselves accountable.
To make sure the journal writing project is successful, it’s important that the student writes in it every day.
The best way to do this is to set aside 15 minutes or so at a regular predetermined time dedicated solely to journal writing.
Often, this will be at the end of the day before going to bed. But, you may also like to set aside time at the end of the school day if students are having trouble creating the time at home.
Growth Mindset Writing Activity 2: My Biggest Mistake
The beauty of developing a growth mindset is that it can take the raw material of what would previously have been considered a mistake and use it as a means of making progress.
The first step in learning from our mistakes is to acknowledge them. This requires some honest self-reflection on the part of the student and so it’s important that we create a classroom environment conducive to this level of honesty.
Students will need to ask themselves some tough questions about the decisions they’ve made in the past. It’s important to provide motivation at this point by making sure the student understands the underlying purpose of this exercise. Remind them constantly along the way that this is an exercise in self-development, not self-flagellation!
The mistakes the student identifies can come from any area of their life: personal, social, or academic. As mentioned in the previous activity, their Growth Mindset Writing Journal can serve as a rich resource for this activity.
Once the student has identified an error they have made in the past, they need to dig into what the reason for making that mistake was.
For example, if they fought with a friend, perhaps the reason was that they have a habit of losing their temper when they don’t get their own way.
Alternatively, maybe they were late for a presentation at school, and the reason was they routinely got up out of bed too late.
The key here is for the student to focus on taking personal responsibility for their mistake.
Taking responsibility involves the student accepting that they have power over outcomes in their life. It is conducive, indeed essential, for developing a growth mindset. The alternative perspective is fatalistic and gives away any sense of control we might have over our own destiny.
From this embracing of responsibility, the student can decide on a course of action they can take in the future to prevent the same negative outcome from happening again.
Now, ask the student to make a list of reasons why they would like to change their current behavior. These are the benefits that will provide the motivation to make the conscious decisions necessary to establish new positive behaviors. Over time, these will become habits.
From this, students can plan the details of how they will establish these new patterns of behavior and begin to implement them. We’ll explore these a little later when we examine action plans.
GROWTH MINDSET Activity 3: Create a Growth Mindset Classroom Display
Seeing the world always with a growth mindset is challenging. Especially if our students have developed a fixed mindset over time. Old habits can be hard to break and the habits of young cynics are no exception.
To help make a shift from a growth to a fixed mindset permanent, a conscious effort is required initially. With practice, however, it will become a habit and the student’s default approach to life.
Creating this new habit will require students to develop continuing awareness of their current mindset to allow them to correct it as necessary. One great way of helping them to develop this awareness is to make a Growth Mindset Classroom Display.
For this display, students should collect interesting quotes that demonstrate a growth mindset. Students can copy these on colored cards and decorate them to display prominently in the classroom as a source of inspiration.
Students could also write out their long-term goals, whether these are social, academic, or career goals. These can be displayed on the board too. They will serve to keep students motivated and provide a reason for developing a growth mindset.
Growth Mindset Writing Activity 4: My Gratitudes
Developing a growth mindset is all about developing a positive outlook on life. It is about seeing the good in things around you rather than looking for flaws and imperfections.
Focusing on what we are grateful for is one technique to help shift an overly critical mindset into a more positive frame of mind.
For this activity, ask the students to choose three things they are grateful for and write about them. There’s no limitation on what they can write about, it could be anything from a new toy to a special friendship.
The importance of gratitude is that the student is taking the time to consciously recognize the ‘goodness’ in their life and acknowledge that they are fortunate to have it. This encourages them to appreciate factors often outside their control that have bestowed some beautiful gifts upon them.
Making gratitude a regular focus enhances personal well-being and helps students form deeper relationships with those around them. It is a powerful tool for building connections between people.
Gratitude helps the student focus on the good things in life and encourages optimism which is at the very core of the growth mindset.
Growth Mindset Writing Activity 5: Identify Your Obstacles
A growth mindset is all about making progress. And to make progress, it’s essential that we learn to identify the obstacles in the way and to devise strategies to overcome those obstacles.
And that’s what this next activity is all about.
First, ask the students to think about the life they would like to live. Encourage them to take a moment to imagine what this looks like in as much detail as possible.
Now, ask them to think about the obstacles that stand in their way of living that life and write these down.
Be sure to encourage the students to describe these obstacles in some detail. The better they understand the nature of each obstacle, the more likely they will be able to find a way to overcome them.
Once the students have written down their barriers to progress, ask them to reflect on the relative ‘threat’ to their ideal life each poses. They can do this by ranking each item out of 5, with 1 denoting an insignificant obstacle and 5 being a gargantuan impediment.
When they’ve finished, they now have the necessary fuel to devise an action plan!
Growth Mindset Writing Activity 6: Devise An Action Plan
Once the obstacles to progress have been defined, it’s time for the student to devise a strategy and set goals to overcome those obstacles.
For example, if the obstacle was defined as not having the grades to take a certain course, then the student will need to set a goal to improve their grade in specific subjects by a specific amount within a specific time frame.
That’s a lot of specifics! But the key to a good action plan lies in the fact that it states explicitly (and yes specifically) a number of things:
Each goal in the Action Plan should be written according to the SMART target criteria:
● Specific – Each goal should be clear and well-defined, the more specific the goal the sharper the student’s focus on achieving it will be.
● Measurable – The student’s action plan should include a way to assess their progress and to identify when each goal has been achieved.
● Attainable – Students should ensure that the goals they set should be realistic and achievable. There’s no point aiming for targets way beyond what can be reached within the limitations of the time, ability, and resources available. Setting unattainable goals can be discouraging and counterproductive.
● Relevant – The purpose of an action plan is to set out a path toward the achievement of an overall vision. Usually, the individual goals within the action plan will be stepping stones towards that vision. Students should ensure that each goal aligns with this overall vision.
● Timely – The word ‘action’ is the operative word in the phrase ‘action plan’. Goals should be assigned deadlines or at least target dates for completion. A growth mindset is about taking action. Deadlines help focus the student on the importance of taking definitive action on the road to accomplishing their goals.
Go and Grow!
Finally, encouraging a growth mindset in our students doesn’t ensure their success in every endeavour they undertake.
It’s important that we help our students realize that success isn’t always guaranteed, no matter how much we want it or how much effort we put into achieving it.
The essence of a growth mindset communicates to our students that even though we cannot always control the outcomes of every action we take, we can take control over our response to it.
With a growth mindset, our students can learn to find opportunities where others may find failure.
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The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing, can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.