Carol Dweck’s—‘MINDSET’: Motivating Andrew Lewis Middle School Students to Embrace Challenges and Realize Their Academic Potential

by Forest Jones, Principal of Andrew Lewis Middle School

Andrew Lewis Middle School located in Salem, Virginia chose Carol Dweck’s ‘mindset’ as the theme for the 2015-16 SY. Dweck’s beliefs on mindset have been used throughout educational circles. Our school wanted to continue to engage students and foster that ‘growth mindset’ approach. We truly believe that students can learn this because the brain is the most powerful muscle that we have.

The goal of our school this year is to teach the growth mindset (the ability to understand that intelligence can grow and improve with effort and practice) to our students. We want them to be able to embrace challenges and not shy away from them. They also should be able to assume ownership of their learning and realize that they have the potential for great things.

The research behind Dweck’s book indicates that the growth mindset of a child can have a powerful effect on a student’s motivation, their willingness to embrace challenges in the classroom, and their overall responsibility for learning and academic performance.

The mindset book resonated with me because it described some of our middle school students. Many of them come to us with a fixed mindset (they believe that knowledge is unchangeable). They also avoid challenges in the classroom (they view this as a threat or indicator of their intellectual limitations). These students also are less likely to seek help from teachers and most likely will disengage from academics. Because of this, individual growth and academic performance suffer.

We were interested in the growth mindset because of the research done in the K-12 setting. Carol Dweck found in 2011 that 7th graders showed a sharp increase in grades compared to students who only received study skills training when they were provided with growth mindset training (in which they learn their brains could be trained as muscles to get stronger).

There are several initiatives that ALMS will participate in this year to help implement the growth mindset:

• Iteration of growth mindset themes at key times during the school year (by administration, academic teams, guidance)

• Implementation of growth mindset strategies by the Friends of Rachel Club for fostering growth mindedness in students about their social interactions and development

• Implementation of growth mindset interventions at key times during students’ academic development (academic planning, service learning projects, career curriculum)

• Guest speakers who will address growth mindset themes, encourage risk taking

• Extracurricular activities/events that challenge students to leave their comfort zone/experience growth

• Professional development opportunities for faculty and staff to learn practical and effective approaches for fostering a growth mindset in the classroom

ALMS believes that our school’s focus on the growth mindset will foster a high level of engagement for our students, a sense of ownership for their learning and mindsets that motivate them to seek opportunities that challenge them and help them reach their full intellectual potential. We also believe that the growth mindset approach will build upon a tradition of excellence at ALMS, as faculty and staff continue to identify new ways to innovate and inspire our students for the 21st century.