Developing a Learning Mindset

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A learning mindset is a powerful weapon in a student’s arsenal. When the inevitable failures and setbacks arise, students can reframe them as positive learning opportunities. In the sections below, we explain what a learning mindset is, why most students lose it somewhere in elementary school, and how to develop it again to help students succeed both inside and outside the classroom.

What Is a Learning Mindset?

A learning mindset involves reframing imperfects and failures as opportunities for growth and development in its simplest form. It’s like running the brain on a different software, adding filtering mechanisms to remove unproductive feedback loops. In this mode of thinking, we discover strategies and build skills and resilience that we can use when we inevitably encounter new challenges in the future. And it can even be fun because we get to be creative when we devise novel ways to negotiate with our challenges. Children typically have this mode of thinking by their childhood; however, they lose it somewhere along the way. Most teenagers and young adults have the antithesis of a learning mindset, dreading challenges and shirking responsibility to their detriment. Let’s discuss this phenomenon in more detail below.

The Childhood Paradigm Shift

The first time a child touches a hot stove, he or she doesn’t consider herself a failure for getting burned. Instead, the child simply learns not to touch the hot stove again, treating the experience as a learning opportunity rather than a negative occurrence. Children do this naturally, and it is often encouraged by their parents. For example, when a child is learning how to walk, they fall… a lot. I have yet to see a parent criticize their child when he or she tries to take those harrowing first steps. Instead, they cheer them on and pick them up when they fall. Parents are cheerleaders for toddlers but often critics for adolescents. If you don’t believe me, just consider the fact that the baby-proofing industry is worth $132 billion as of 2018. Parents pay a higher price both literally and metaphorically to allow their children to “fail forward.” When and why does this change?

Compare the child learning to walk example with a 9th grader who comes home with a less than ideal grade on their math exam. The parental response is drastically different in the second scenario compared to the first. Too many students are terrified not of failing but of their parent’s reaction to failure. If your student has ever hidden a low grade or obscured their academic struggles due to shame or fear, this is the failure paradigm shift at work. So, how do we fix it? How do we restore a student’s learning mindset?

Restoring a Learning Mindset

Hiding from your weaknesses means you’ll never overcome them. We need to encourage students to view challenges as opportunities. But that’s much easier said than done. Much like software companies issue updates to repair bugs, we must teach students how to re-program their mindset to deal with failure. We encourage two main techniques to restore a learning mindset: use the word ‘yet’ and become a parent cheerleader. Yet is a magical word that encourages students to see learning as a process rather than a point. For example, I intervene whenever I hear students say, “I can’t do this” or “I just don’t get.” I jump in with the word yet at the end to affirm the process of learning. Likewise, learn to become a parent cheerleader just like you were when your child was learning to walk. This means recognizing effort, avoiding heavy criticism when a student fails, and exemplifying a learning mindset in your own life.

We hope this post helps you and your student adopt a learning mindset at home, at the office, and in the classroom. For more ideas on grit and motivation, please see our blog page. Better yet, reach out to set your student up for success with our unique one-on-one academic coaching program.

Evan Weinberger

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