Could you run a marathon tomorrow?
The chances are, unless you have done a great deal of training and preparation, completing the full 26.2 miles would be impossible. We understand that our bodies won’t achieve the maximum potential without the right training – but what about our brains?
Science has shown that our brains can in fact be “trained”, meaning they can be change, develop and grow. The belief that this growth can take place and that we are not limited by our capabilities is called a Growth Mindset. The same way you can strengthen and condition a specific muscle by using it often and in the right way, you can in effect train your brain to think differently. This concept has a global following, and is being used increasingly in educational institutions. Teachers and professors are recognising that students with a growth mindset can improve upon abilities and talents, and that these can be nurtured and even changed. Therefore, there is endless potential for students that subscribe to this way of thinking. So what exactly is growth mindset, and how can it positively impact both teachers and students?
The scientific community refers to the aforementioned brain training as Neuroplasticity.
People use Neuroplasticity for all manner of things – retraining the brain following a medical event such as a head trauma or stroke, learning a new language, or improving one’s memory. This umbrella term covers changes in the neural pathways in the brain, changes that can alter everything from perception to emotional development and the way in which we learn and process information. The growth mindset, then, is about just that – growing your mind, and realising your potential.
Let’s take an example; Sarah is a student struggling to grasp concepts in maths. Despite being strong academically in other areas, she finds equations to be difficult. Sarah sees getting sums wrong as failing, and believes she is simply not good at maths, and never will be. Sam, another student in the same class, is presented with the same work. Although the work is a challenge, he embraces learning new concepts and welcomes the opportunity to learn something, even if that means getting a few equations wrong.
Some teachers may compare the work of the two students, and arrive at the conclusion that Sam is naturally talented at maths, and that Sarah will never excel in this particular subject. But is it a case of one student being more intelligent than the other, or is it a question of mindset? The same way Sarah and Sam approach the maths equations with differing mindsets, the same goes for teachers. Many have a fixed mindset, believing students to be a set level of intelligence or capability, while others see areas of potential and growth.
Growth mindset is all about this belief – that the mind can be expanded, and that intelligence or talents are not static and can change over time. With the right training and way of thinking, any student can maximise his or her potential.