From the age of 7, I grew up in small-town Illinois, the son of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees with whom I had lived through many hardships before arriving in the U.S. It was thanks to the support and encouragement of great teachers, counselors, and others here that I developed positive learning habits and ultimately had the good fortune to attend Harvard University. My experience there also started out differently from most of my classmates. I arrived in Cambridge without my parents, who had health concerns and lacked the means to travel with me. So I navigated this new experience on my own. But my K–12 teachers had given me the confidence and preparation to learn about anything. This ability to learn proved more valuable than having my parents there to scaffold me and help me settle in to college life.
I use this story as an example of just how vital confidence building is to learning and success. There is a point between what we can do and what we can not yet do that I call the Growth Point. While growth mindset receives plenty of attention today as a means of ensuring positive student outcomes, the Growth Point is where the real work is. Much of my work centers around challenging students to venture to the Growth Point and beyond— a Growth Mindset 2.0, if you will—past the intersection of can do and not yet. It’s that learning moment when a student can choose to apply the growth mindset and thereby gain new knowledge and experience.
How to Advance from Can Do to Not Yet Territory
To think of it another way, simply teaching students the concept or definition of growth mindset is not enough. We, as educators, must give young people the tools to put growth mindset to work. In Star Wars-speak, it’s the difference between knowing the meaning of “the force” and knowing what a Jedi is and actually becoming a Jedi themselves—taking up a lightsaber and applying it to a challenge.
Consider this math problem that might cause students to instantly give up—just based on its complex appearance.
Without proper preparation and confidence, many students might see this problem as impossible. Instead of letting them walk away, what if we equipped students with a plan for attacking difficult challenges like this and taught them how to use their existing skills to confidently tackle new problems—their own academic, metaphorical lightsaber?
On the lefthand side of this chart, I share some motivating “self-talk” that students can learn to use when they’re asked to take on a challenge. The righthand side shows the opposite, fixed-mindset thinking. If students can learn to incorporate these positive statements and questions as part of their day-to-day approach to learning, they will surely grow.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.