Tuning in: mindsets

Like I said in a previous post, I believe that a growth mindset should be encouraged in all of our students and we can continually reinforce it through praising the right things and through the language we use.

In Year 4, we’re lucky enough to have a whole unit of inquiry dedicated to the brain and how we learn. This unit reached new heights this year with the inclusion of mindsets.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 4.24.38 AM

I found this idea for introducing students to the idea of fixed mindsets and growth mindsets. It would be most ideal for the ‘tuning in’ part of the inquiry cycle. This idea is by Tim Bowman and it was shared on Twitter by Ross Dawson. Please find the original blog post here. You’ll need to read it for more detailed instructions, but basically, it’s about creating a complex paper structure and asking the students to recreate it. It is fantastic for capturing their attitudes towards struggle. I can’t take credit for the idea, but I do want to share how it worked in my class.

As the students came back from music class, they noticed the paper structures on their desks. This immediately hooked their attention and they were fascinated by how these structures could be made. The students inevitably struggled to create their own and the task was to monitor their attitudes and language throughout that struggle. Photos and videos are great for this, especially if you can capture the moment without being noticed. These moments were shared afterwards and they were hilarious! I wish that I could share them here. The photos/videos show a brilliant mix of facial expressions including wonder, concentration and frustration.

The language is the most important part. Here is a small sample of some of my students’ quotes:

“Let’s just give up!”

“I think we’re almost there!”

“It’s impossible!”

“I have a new idea.”

“We need to keep trying.”

“We can do it!”

“I want to keep trying at home.”

“There’s no point trying!”

These quotes, along with many other nameless quotes,  were shared in a discussion afterwards in the same way as the original blog post suggests. The task prompted a really interesting discussion about how we all face challenges and how we need to persevere with a positive attitude and believe that we can improve.

I do not believe that children develop the perfect growth mindset after one learning engagement, but I do believe that this is an excellent activity for raising their awareness and introducing the growth mindset/fixed mindset language and ideas. It paved the way for lots more learning on this topic.


  1. Adam,

    I shared your visual of fixed mindset vs growth mindset with my Grade 2D students at ISPS this week. The following are some of their connections and reflections. Thanks for sharing!

    Plan A didn’t work… by Edward Storer
    I think number 10 is really funny because once my plan 1 didn’t work because I got two different numbers when trying to solve a problem but then when I tried Plan B, I tried it a different way and I got the same numbers. So I tried it two ways to figure it out.

    I am not good at this ….by Anthony Cradock-Watson
    When we were doing our language edits one day, I came across this sentence that when I read it, I realized that something was missing but I wasn’t sure what. I actually thought that I was not good at language but after a while, when I read it again, I read the mistake and the next time we got it, I understood what was missing.

    Mistakes help you learn…by Angelina Landos
    When we were doing a math assessment, I did way too many …up to the millions. But then I learned that you should read the instructions properly as I did not really understand what I read.

    I give up! ….by Noah Kneuer
    Once when we were working on phonics, I was reading it over and over again in Unit 7, but it was too hard. But then when my teacher reminded me to read it slowly. trying ‘understand’ what they were asking, I then began to understand that it was a double vowel with oa and it gave you a choice which was sail, or water, or boat. I changed my idea of what to do too by reading the HINT box – it said something about oa, when I saw that it was focusing on oa, I realized it was boat.

    What am I missing?….by Lucas Anderson
    Sometimes I forget to put some things in my work and presentations, but now I’ve learned to always double check to make sure I have everything I need.

    Mistakes help you learn… by Ollie Eaton
    I kept falling off my bike, but eventually I learned to slowly turn instead of quickly so I won’t fall off my bike.

    I am not good at this ….by Stephanie Hoeger
    One time when working on a spelling activity, this time I had to find the words that weren’t spelled correctly and I kept telling myself that I wasn’t good at this. But then Miss told me that I have to tell myself that I can do this and to keep trying and I will get it. It was so hard to do, but I did it!

    This is too hard… it takes time and effort …by Samuel Smyth
    Once I was on my bike, trying and trying to do this trick, but I couldn’t get it, so I started saying it’s too hard, but then I told myself I can do it. So I learned by watching videos on how others did the trick by watching other people doing it and eventually I was able to do the hard trick I really wanted to do.

    I’m going to train my brain…by Aiman Muhammad Ishamuddin
    Everyday I didn’t want to go to school in the beginning of Grade 2 but my mom forced me to go – but then I was excited to go to school because of my teacher, because she made stuff that is fun for us to learn.

    As I wrote their reflections, they touched my heart. They reassured any doubt I ever had, to say the least, they moved me. I am thrilled to have had such a challenging year with such an enthusiastic, loving, and opinionated bunch. I will miss each and every one of them, including those who left us over the course of the year. Much love Grade 2D 2015-2016!

    Miss De Freitas x

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Your students are lucky to have such a passionate, caring teacher! I can’t take credit for the visual. I didn’t make it, but I agree that it is brilliant! The language that we all use is so impactful! I’m so pleased to hear that your students benefited from it!

      You might also be interested in this post:
      Check it out if you haven’t already. It explains how I try to instill a growth mindset classroom culture that celebrates struggles, challenges and mistakes.

      Thanks again for your contribution to this post.

      Much appreciated!


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