Everywhere we turn someone in education seems to be talking about mindsets. While this talk is important, we are ready for ideas for how to take action. In my book Mindsets and Moves, my goal was to take the research on mindsets and apply it for teachers of reading. In this post I explain three steps you can take right away to figure out what mindsets your students currently have about themselves as readers and how you can reinforce growth.
Mindset is the set of beliefs you have about your own ability in a given area (Dweck, 2007). Researchers found that people tend to have either a growth mindset, believing that hard work, effort, and struggle helps you grow and develop more ability in an area, or a fixed mindset, believing that your ability is fixed, static, and there is not much you can do to change it. Not surprisingly, research has found that when people have growth mindsets in an area they work harder and tend to outperform those with fixed mindsets. It’s one of those simple but profound concepts that I’ve found really turns around disinclined, disengaged, and even able readers to re-set their reading lives.
One way we can identify a student’s possible mindset is to listen for what they say or don’t say. Let’s look at the chart below and notice the differences between what students say and how it connects to mindset.
|Growth Mindset Responses
|Fixed Mindset Responses
|It was hard to write the lesson because I could not think of the way to say it. I learned you have to try to say it a few different ways for it to be clear.
A challenge was when I had to write down the thought because we had not read very much yet and I did not know what to say. I learned to take a chance and write any idea since I could go back and change it later when I had read more.
|Nothing was too hard for me because I am a good reader.
I understood it all. Don’t worry there was nothing too hard.
I’m not a great reader so I struggled a lot with understanding this.
It was hard for me so I started to give up.
(Goldberg, 2016, p. 109).
I’m sure you noticed that the growth mindset responses acknowledged, embraced, and learned through the challenge. The fixed mindset responses showed that students ignored, shrugged off, or identified as the challenge. Spend time daily listening to what your students say about their books, themselves, and their process. This does not need to be special time and instead is woven throughout your daily interactions. It is already being communicated and all you have to do is listen closely.
In addition to listening to what students say about themselves and their reading experiences we can look for what students choose. The choices readers make reveal a lot about what they believe and value. Let’s look at a few common choices student readers might make and how that could reveal mindsets.
|Growth Mindset Choices
|Fixed Mindset Choices
|Student reads a range of texts that can help her learn and grow.
Student tries strategies on his own before asking for help from others.
Student is not afraid to acknowledge a struggle and work through it.
Student chooses texts that will help her outgrow who she is today.
|Student always looks for the shortest, “easiest” book.
Student rereads the same book over and over.
Student focuses a lot on her reading level.
Student asks for help the moment he struggles.
Student gives up when a text becomes challenging.
Notice that these choices show us who leans into challenges and who avoids them. While there could be many other factors why students make the choices they do, mindsets could be at play. I suggest you pair listening with observing so you take in as much as possible before drawing a conclusion.
The good news is that mindsets are malleable and can change. As teachers, we have the power to reinforce fixed mindsets with our choices or we can help to reinforce growth mindsets. When we study how our language, our teacher roles, and our teaching decisions impact students’ mindsets we can be intentional in the messages we send. If you find some of your students do have fixed mindsets about themselves as readers (and we all find this), there is no use simply telling students to shift their mindset. Telling a student to believe they can grow and change may not be as powerful as pointing out to them how they already are growing because of the work they put in.
When giving students feedback we can focus on five characteristics that support growth mindsets. The key to this feedback is to be genuine and authentic. We can’t just say overly general comments like “Good job reading!” Or “Great effort reading today!” These general comments do not help readers learn what they did and how it helps them grow. We can connect WHAT they did with HOW they did it and WHEN they could choose this again. The following chart shows examples of what it might sound like.
|What To Consider
|What Was Said
|Be Specific &
Name What Is
|What did the reader do?
|When you finished reading two articles on the same topic you stopped to compare how they were similar and different.
|Focus on the Process
|How did the reader do this?
What were the results?
|You reread your notes on the first article and the second article and you put a checkmark next to the notes that were the same in both.
This helped you make some inferences about what was common knowledge and important.
|Make Sure It Can Transfer
|When might the reader do this again?
|Whenever you are reading more than one text or watching more than one video you can use this process whether it be in science, social studies, or any reading experience where you want to compare information.
(Goldberg, 2016, p. 124)
I want every teacher to feel prepared to shape mindsets as well as teach reading because the two are linked. If a student believes she can learn, develop, and that her hard work will pay off, she will become a stronger reader. Follow these three steps–listen closely, observe choices, and offer feedback, and you are on your way to identifying and reinforcing growth mindsets. For many more moves and strategies read the book, Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge.
Dweck, C. (2007). The perils and promise of praise. Educational Leadership. 65 (2)
Goldberg, G. (2016). Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.