Developing a growth mindset for a child with a learning difficulty helps them to think of their learning difficulty as something they can work on, and feel better about their learning.
In this section we consider:
- What are mindsets?
- What are the two types of mindsets?
- Strategies that teach children about a growth mindset such as:
- Teach them about the brain
- Telling stories about achievements that resulted from hard work
- Model a growth mindset
- Praise the process
- Highlight what they can do
Understanding the power of a positive and growth mindset can have dramatic consequences on dyslexic individuals’ approaches to challenges, setbacks, and academic efforts, especially while at school.
Dr Carol Dweck
What are mindsets?
It’s what a person thinks about their own abilities and qualities.
What are the two types of mindsets?
Fixed Mindset: This is the belief that intelligence is fixed and that any subject that is difficult or requires more effort simply means that you are not good at it.
Growth Mindset: This is the belief that intelligence can be grown and subjects that are difficult or require extra effort means that you are increasing your intelligence.
Strategies to teach children about a growth mindset
1. Teach Them About Their Brain
The first thing to know is that our intelligence isn’t fixed – that it can change. It can get stronger or weaker depending on how much effort we are willing to apply.
Let them know that the brain is like a muscle that needs practice and needs to be used to get stronger. When we are learning new things it is harder, but by practicing, it will make things easier. For children with a learning difficulty this means they take longer to learn new skills but they can still do
2. Telling stories about achievements that resulted from hard work
Teach them that people with a growth mindset believe that they can learn, change, and develop needed skills. They are better equipped to handle inevitable setbacks, and know that hard work can help them achieve their goals. Here are some examples and a video story of one. You may have stories from in your family that you can use as well.
In the years before the publication of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling described herself as “the biggest failure I knew”. Her book about a young wizard was rejected by 12 publishing houses. Jo’s determination, courage, self-belief and growth mindset enabled the creation of the best-selling book series in history, and transformed its creator into perhaps the greatest ‘rags to riches’ story ever told.
Among his inspirational quotations, Thomas Edison claimed that “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work”. His growth mindset and unstoppable curiosity led him to invent and experiment to the point that he held 1,093 US patents. On his path to inventing the light bulb (or the first commercially practical incandescent light) he claimed that “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”
A video on Steve Jobs and his growth mindset
3. Model a Growth Mindset
A lot of how children use a growth mindset will be from observing and listening to you as their parent. Show kids how to recognize fixed mindset thoughts and how to replace them with growth mindset thoughts.
See the table showing examples of how to do this.
4. Praise the process
Targeted specific praise of the process rather than the outcome has a big impact on a child’s self confidence. A child with a learning difficulty can easily develop low self esteem so this can have a big impact for them. They are also generally praise starved so it may feel like you have to do a lot but they need it.
By focusing on their effort this will make them feel better about doing it next time, for example:
- Concentrating on their reading homework for 10 minutes not how many pages they have read.
- Sticking at working out how to do one maths calculation correctly rather than completing a page of calculations
- How they read over their work and self corrected some of the errors rather than how many errors they missed. (Self checking work is a difficult task for a dyslexic)
- How they managed a social situation with friends at school rather than what they could have done,
To help with those difficult homework situations in the future think of a few examples you can use before you need them and even write them down to help you remember what they are.
Here are some more ideas…
- I see that you have been trying so hard at …
- You are becoming more confident at ….
- Good job taking on such a hard task …
- You are taking on harder tasks and that must make you feel confident.
- I like the way that you ….
- I see that you are trying again, great thinking.
- You remembered to use the procedure for ….
- What a brilliant way to approach the task.
- I noticed you are thinking through the steps we discussed.
- You were confident with the task and I know you will be with the next step.
- I am watching the way you’re approaching this and I think your effort is outstanding.
- The steps you took must have really helped you…
5. Highlight what they can do
Because of some children’s struggle in the early years of school, it is common for them to believe that they are not smart. A dyslexic cannot be diagnosed unless they have normal to above normal intelligence and they work very hard to learn those skills that are difficult for them. If they could read, write and spell they would. The following examples recognise just how hard they are working.
- OK, so you didn’t do as well as you wanted to. Let’s look at this as an opportunity to learn.
- What did you do to prepare for this? Is there anything you could do to prepare differently next time?
- You are not there/here yet.
- When you think you can’t do it, remind yourself that you can’t do it yet.
- I expect you to make some mistakes. It is the kinds of mistakes that you make along the way that tell me how to support you.
- You might be struggling, but you are making progress. I can see your growth (in these places).
- Look at how much progress you made on this. Do you remember how much more challenging this was (yesterday/last week/last year)?
- Of course it’s tough – school is here to make our brains stronger!
- If it were easy, you wouldn’t be learning anything!
- You can do it – it’s tough, but you can; let’s break it down into steps.
- Let’s stop here and return tomorrow with a fresh brain.
- I admire your persistence and I appreciate your hard work. It will pay off.