Beginning with Growth Mindset

Using growth mindset in your upper elementary classroom.As more and more research comes out about the power of Growth Mindset and more and more people are leaning towards this line of thinking (heck, even my District is getting on board...they talked about it at a training I went to over the summer!), I figured that this would be as good a time as any to teach my students about their own brains and mindset.  So I began my first week of school with a few lessons that really set a great tone for my students.

This is a great hands-on lesson to set the stage for learning about growth mindset.
To begin, I wanted something tangible and hands-on for my students to experience.  So I searched online and found this lesson here.  In a nutshell, I folded some paper in a crazy figure (that didn't actually look all crazy...until I tried to make it...go to the blog for exact instructions) and told the students they needed to recreate it.  I had them get into groups of 7-8 students, put the figure in the middle and gave them each the exact same piece of paper I used.  There were only two rules:  They could not touch the folded paper and they could not have a second piece of paper.

Most of the students got right to it.  As they were working, I walked around with a clipboard and wrote down everything that I was hearing in the groups.  At the beginning, I heard things like:

This is easy.
Look, we just fold it this way and then that.
Let me get my scissors and we can all just cut it.
Hmmm....I wonder how she did that.
Can you just show me what you are doing?

Then, as time went on and recreating the folded paper wasn't as easy as they thought, the narrative started to change.  I started to hear:

Wait, what?
This isn't going to work.
I can't get this.  What did you do?
Seriously, she had to use tape.
How did she get that part?
Let's only do one paper at a time in case we make a mistake.

This was also the time when I started to see some kids just sit back and watch.  They stopped trying altogether and just let everyone else experiment.  I also noticed some kids taking charge completely and not letting others have opinions.

Then, towards the end, I heard:

This is impossible.
I give up.
I just can't do this.
What on earth did she do?
She used magic.

After about 10 minutes of working, I called them all together again (no one was able to fold it correctly), I showed the students what they said.  It was a bit eye-opening for them to see that some just quit so early on or that they declared the task impossible.  Clearly it wasn't, as I had just folded the paper.  They just wanted me to tell them the answer.  This then lead into a nice discussion about the basic principles of growth mindset.  That you have to keep going and trying.  That your brain was meant to learn.

Good way to get the students thinking about growth mindset, using a quiz!
So I passed out a quiz that I got from Angela Watson of the Cornerstone for Teachers.  (she has a whole Growth Mindset pack that is really useful)  They took the quiz, which asks questions about whether students think they can learn and grow or if they were just born that way.  Then, we watched a video that Angela links from the Khan Academy about the fact that our brains were born to learn.

We wrote down many ideas from the video, the biggest being that failure = growing.  That REALLY stuck with them.

I then asked the students to write down all of the words they could think of that pertained to their idea of what it means that "you were born to learn."  The more important words, in their opinion, were to be larger than the less important words.  Effectively, they were making a free form word cloud.

I then took their picture as if they were screwing in a lightbulb, glued it onto the word cloud they created, and using tissue paper, they formed a "lightbulb" above their hand.

All in all, this was a fabulous way to introduce the idea of growth mindset to my students.  This entire process took two days to complete, but it was well worth it.  The students continue to make connections to that first video from Khan Academy and refer to the idea of "failure = growing" still.  I am also finding that there is just a much more positive tone in class because of it.  I can't wait to continue on with future lessons.

Have you delved into growth mindset?  What are your experiences?


  1. Love love love this idea!! I spent a lot of time last year with growth mindset! This is an amazing addition!! Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you Aisling! I would love to hear some of the ideas you have. I am just starting out with it this year :)

  2. I have not heard of this yet but it goes well with a new SEL program we are incorporating with character strengths that, I think, go hand in hand with growth mind set. Awesome Job as always :)

  3. BTW can you please post pics of your classroom set up this year?!? Thanks a ton!

    1. I will soon. My room was painted right before school began, so I wasn't able to get in and set up. It is *almost* ready for a reveal now :)

  4. LOVE this lesson!!! We focused a ton on growth mindset last year and I was trying to figure out a new way to introduce it this year!!! This will be perfect!!!

  5. Love seeing a different (and new to me) way of teaching growth mindset. Can't wait to try it in a few weeks!

  6. What a fantastic introductory lesson to growth mindset! Thank you so much!!

  7. I absolutely love this! I have been part of a growth mindset group this summer and will be sharing this post with them. This is perfect for helping kids to see what they need to do to keep pushing themselves even when things are tough.

  8. Thank you for sharing this wonderful lesson. I also start my year with lessons that support and encourage learning about learning. I look forward to sharing them and hearing more about what you do to continue what you've started.

  9. I love the growth mindset classroom. Last year I introduced the growth mindset to my 5th graders. The tone of the classroom was a beautiful thing all year. No longer did I hear, "I can't do math!" or "Forget it. I give up!" Students helped each other to develop their growth mindset. They would say things such as, "I'm not able to do this yet, but I will learn this." Failure was viewed as a good thing. If I hadn't failed, then how could I learn.
    One of my favorite moments happened when a parent volunteer was helping in the classroom. The parent was participating in a group math activity. The parent became frustrated and stated, "Oh man, I never could do fractions!" The students pointed to the Growth Mindset wall, and said, "That's a fixed mindset!" Then, the students in the group took turns explaining growth and fixed mindset. Finally, the students taught the parent to say, "I am capable of learning fraction concepts." Wahoo!
    I will always give up some class time to teach growth mindset. You will not believe how it changes the children into learners who will not give up.

  10. The coolest thing just happened, a 5th grade teacher at my new school just sent me this link and I said, "Hey, that's my friend Stephanie!" Such a small, small world. Thank you for this wonderful post; it is now a part of my Growth Mindset collection on Pinterest, too! Happy new year, Barbara

  11. Hi Stephanie, I love your post about this growth mindset! I was trying to get ideas on how to get students to believe in themselves and came across your post. My whole unit will be focused on this theme, so I thought that I would add some ideas that may work in expanding the growth mindset. After sharing the negative comments with the students about the impossibility of working on a project, I would first list them on the board, then have students go back in their groups and change them into growth mindset statements. Then, I would pass them another challenge for them to complete as a group to demo. their learning. The reason why would probably not go back to the original is because I find that if I want my students to succeed, I would tend to focus on assigning tasks which are short and attainable so that their chances of success are much higher. If they did continue with the task beforehand, it is possible that I as the teacher would lose a lot of students due to the task difficulty and also undermine the confidence they would have in themselves. In the end, I believe that the short and small burst of successes should first be celebrated. When everything would be finished, I would have the students write a short reflection piece as an exit ticket on this. Lisa

  12. Our building had a huge growth mindset push last year! I'm always looking for new ways to teach/work on it with my kids, so this will be great. I am curious about how you printed the pictures so they were black like that?

  13. At conferences last year more than one parent asked me about it or shared a story of how it affected their homes. My students expected their parents to have a growth mindset as well. Not everyone was pleased, but I was thrilled.

  14. Beautiful school tour! thanks for sharing.

  15. Hi there! I have used your lesson before it was amazing! The kids thoroughly enjoyed it and found the value. Do you happen to have an updated link to the Khan Academy video?


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