After 17 years of teaching art and listening to students put themselves down for not having enough “talent,” I decided to employ a growth mindset this upcoming school year. My intention is to get students thinking more about their internal negative conversations and hopefully get them to change those unhealthy beliefs. I find that students (and some parents) think they’ll be graded on their “talent” as opposed to their ability to try new things.
Defining Growth Mindset
Having a growth mindset is basically believing that everyone has the same opportunity at learning and growth. It’s understanding that intelligence, ability, and character aren’t fixed. Carol Dwek, author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” defines these beliefs we hold about ourselves as “self-theories.” These belief systems, can cause us to think we’re a “great teacher” or a “poor teacher.” Or in the case of our students, “smart” or “dumb.” They are a barrier for achieving personal and professional growth starting at an early age and can have far-impaction reach into one’s happiness later in life.
Fixed Mindset v. Growth Mindset
The art room is an environment ripe with internal conflict. Students often measure their self-worth based on the work their peers create. They mentally document their self-perceived talents (and that of others) instead of developing their skills. This in turn generates a fixed mindset where students feel “talent” is a barrier they can’t cross and therefore they won’t try. For them, to be successful means you have to have innate “talent.”
However, a fixed mindset isn’t just about maintaining a negative “self-theory” about yourself. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a student who believes they have learned all they can on a topic is also placing a barrier for further learning and exploration. These students strive for success and work to avoid failure to maintain their positive “self-theory.”
[Side note: Between the two types of students, I have personally found the later to be hard to navigate towards a growth mindset than the former.]
On the contrary, a growth mindset is one where students are working towards skill acquisition and achievement. Students who employ a growth mindset believe that effort and dedication to learning will lead to success. They thrive on challenges and when unsuccessful, they use it to their advantage to learn and grow further.
Starting Off the Year Right
To help visualize the concept mindset, I created a giant brain with one half gray and the other half in rainbow colors. I printed out common phrases that I hear students say often. Each has an equivalent growth mindset phrase to accompany the fixed one.
I used my Growth Mindset clipart but gave it a marker texture that matches the feel of clipart from my Photo Clipz store. I’m hoping these will appeal more to my older students who I find I need to expend the most amount of energy . I use neutral colors for the “fixed” version as those colors feel more stagnant than the rainbow ones I used to illustrate “growth.”
This bulletin board will be used as a means of teaching about mindset. I want my students to understand the basics. And I hope with the phrases listed there, they will recognize their own voice on either side of the brain. In short, I intend to:
- Demonstrate we all face the same challenges but we internalize it differently.
- Show how being successful at art involved practice and dedication, not “talent.”
- Create more opportunities for peer-to-peer and class-wide critiques in art. I don’t do enough in this area. Students need to learn to hear critiques of their work in order to learn and grow from one another.
- Verbally support student effort and not innate abilities. I think I do this well, but I I’d like to be more cognizant of it.
So what do you think? Do I have my work cut out for me? Have you tried growth mindset in the art room? If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts.