“It’s fine! You just don’t have the aptitude for English. You’re more of a science student.”
It’s simply not fine when children are told that they don’t have an “aptitude” for something, academic or otherwise. The younger the kids are, the more impressionable their minds tend to be.
Such a child who will be told early on by some teacher that it is okay even if they are not good at one subject will lead the child to develop a “fixed mindset”. This will make the young learners believe that inherently they aren’t as “smart” as the toppers who effortlessly ace the class. In fact, this falsely propagates the idea that intelligence is fixed-you either have it or you don’t. Needless to say, it is a completely erroneous notion.
The traditional form of education endorsed by schools is actually on the same pattern that was followed to train the assembly line during the industrial revolution! In a world where automation is taking over, this obsolete method does not stand a chance. There is a need to focus on learners instead of finishing the syllabus. The unidirectional teaching isn’t effective in developing curiosity, creativity, and confidence among the students. These qualities go a long way in honing their personality and making them problem solvers instead of immutable rote learners. They need to be taught to think on their own and make decisions for themselves from an early stage. This is where the idea of a “growth mindset” comes in.
Carol Dweck, a renowned psychologist elaborates that people with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with effort. They outperform those with a fixed mindset, even when they have a lower IQ, because they embrace challenges, treating them as opportunities to learn something new. Her research clearly implies that it is only a psychological limitation and those who manage to overcome it become the real-life warriors. Warriors who look up to challenges as opportunities and not obstacles. They are problem solvers and self-aware achievers thanks to the early modification in their mind programming.
Now comes the question of who will act responsibly to guide the young minds. It is up to us to make them optimistic and assertive in their quest for knowledge instead of relying on adults for direct answers.
First, there is a need to encourage them to work on the topics they are uncertain about. The challenge is to get them started on something that they had felt wasn’t their cup of tea. Mindset intervention programs are found productive in this regard. Involve does such programs at the school level with a central focus on peer teaching. Even the pilot programs which are of shorter duration bring significant changes in the students. We focus on the soft skills of the students which help in furthering their hard skills.
Second, there is a need to develop an attitude of perseverance in them. If they can’t get it right the first time, they must stay inspired to keep going. Practice does make one perfect. If an endeavour does not yield results the first time there is always room for improvement. Unproductive advice as is given at the beginning of this piece is the worst thing that can happen to a susceptible child. If we want the child to succeed we need to be persuasive, “You will certainly improve if you put a little more effort. We are here to help if you get stuck.”
Third, the prerequisite to see definitive progress is to show faith in the students. An educator must hone their abilities and keep them positive during the entire process. Relevant information needs to be provided and they should be allowed to make decisions based on that. It gives autonomy to the kids as the guide only needs to monitor while the kids make choices on their own. In case they encounter a setback instead of mulling over it they should be motivated to try the alternatives.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”- Samuel Beckett
The growth mindset model had been tested by the National Study of Learning Mindsets which found that an effective intervention helped the students who used to find a particular subject difficult. Not only this but the students who were already doing well were influenced to take harder courses. It is high time for us to abandon the outdated one-to-all method of teaching. As in the words of Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” It is just not enough to have academic knowledge in these fast-moving times. In this ever-changing environment, a growth mindset will bring about a set of learners who will not be ready to face just the examinations but the whole of the world!