When I was in graduate school, one of my literature professors assigned a text called The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty (2004). It arrived from Amazon in a tiny box, a thin volume with an 80s-inspired cover. Irritated, I flipped through the pages and tossed it aside. I had weighty selections from the Victorian canon awaiting my time and attention. Why did I have to wade through fluff?
Probably that attitude, for starters. With the exception of the aforementioned book, the reading list for this course was challenging. I had begun to rue the day I decided to pursue this path and was contemplating withdrawing from the program.
Fortunately for me and my graduate career, I finally picked up the little book on difficulty. What a change it made in my attitude! The book not only taught me how to conquer the challenge of a difficult text, but how to recognize and appreciate the beauty of that challenge as well. The more I viewed difficulty as opportunity, the more successful I became in my academic endeavors. Challenge had become a stepping stone, not a stumbling block, and it showed.
The Growth Mindset Philosophy
Several years later, I stumbled upon the research of psychologist Carol Dweck. Her work with thousands of elementary students reflected what I discovered in graduate school: certain behaviors and habits of mind can support or suppress intellectual growth. Dweck called these habits mindsets, noting the crucial role of a positive attitude in rebounding from setback and failure.
In 2007, Dweck compiled her research and analysis into Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In it, Dweck outlines how students learn and succeed when they move from a fixed mindset (“I’ll never be good at that.”) to a growth mindset (“I’m struggling with this topic. What do I do next?”). According to Dweck,
“When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.”
Dweck’s title received immediate acclaim. Educators and parents sought to implement the ideology in their classrooms and homes. Students and teachers who exhibited a growth mindset saw an increase in achievement across the board, regardless of age or ability level.
Cultivating a Growth Mindset in Your Homeschool
As parents, we are the primary influence on our children’s mindsets. Children can’t challenge negative internal dialogue or attitudes effectively until external forces are neutralized. Take some of the fixed mindset phrases we often say without thinking:
“It’s okay, honey. Math is hard.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not much of a reader, either.”
“Don’t compare yourself to your sister. Not everyone’s an expert in the arts.”
There may well be truth to these sentiments. Math is hard, not everyone enjoys reading, and we all have our own talents and interests. But if we want our children to change the way they look at challenge and difficulty, we must change the way we see it as well. It isn’t easy, but putting the next four tips into practice will put you well on your way.
Growth Mindset Tip #1: Practice Purposeful Effort
Doing your best is commendable. Doing your best with the intent to move mountains is admirable and more helpful in the long run.
Growth Mindset Tip #2: Find Joy in the Process
Great minds are curious, not ambitious. Embrace learning for the sake of learning and let go of the desire for accolades.
Growth Mindset Tip #3: Encourage Reflection
Take time to evaluate the progress you have made. Ask these questions:
- How have we grown?
- What have we conquered?
- What lessons have we learned that we can apply going forward?
Growth Mindset Tip #4: See Weakness as an Area for Growth
Remember: Challenges are stepping stones, not stumbling blocks. We all have weaknesses, but they neither define us nor dictate our actions.
Preparing for the Future
Looking back on my own academic career, I’m struck by the number of opportunities I let slip by because I was afraid of the challenge. I don’t want that for my own children. We’re working on developing a growth mindset in our own homeschool, and we’re closing in on the day when all of us view challenges as stepping stones. There’s great pleasure to be found in difficulty, as long as you know where to look.