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Building Motivation: The Power of a Growth Mindset in Education and Parenting

Weekly Update from the Director - January 19, 2024
Dear GISC Community,
 
When I first arrived at GISC three years ago, I noticed that many parents were keen on learning more about motivation. I had mentioned the work of Stanford psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck, best known for her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This book offers invaluable advice on motivation and also how you as parents may contribute to building your child’s motivation.
 
Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset
 
At the very core of Dr. Dweck’s work is the idea that intelligence is not a fixed trait. She quotes Alfred Binet, the inventor of IQ testing: “A few modern philosophers…assert that an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism…With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally become more intelligent than we were before.” Indeed, with years of her research, Dr. Dweck has expanded on Dr. Binet’s assertion by referring to two different mindsets.
 
The fixed mindset – rooted in the belief that one’s qualities are carved in stone – leads to behavior and actions that are risk-averse. Once kids experience the first sign of failure, kids with a fixed mindset avoid taking risks for fear of being seen as lacking in ability. The growth mindset, on the other hand, is attributable to an approach that one’s qualities and abilities can always improve or grow as a result of one’s efforts and engagement. 
 
In essence, Dr. Dweck advocates that the development of a growth mindset is key in fostering a child’s motivation. One such way to instill a growth mindset is to focus less on the results but rather the processes of learning, primarily among them the effort a child invests on any given task. As parents, we can choose to focus on results such as test scores, performances in a sports game, or quality of an artistic work that kids have produced – such an approach reinforces to kids the notion that only results matter and that they serve as the basis of one’s identity and/or ability. As a parent, I learned to change my tone: Instead of saying “I am proud of you – wow, you got an A,” I changed this to “You must be so pleased and proud that all your work paid off.” The emphasis is not on how you as parent feel but rather how the child might feel, and the emphasis is not on the result but rather the process.
 
“Do I want to do this?” and “Can I do this?”
 
At the very core of a student’s sense of motivation, we are most likely to encounter two fundamental questions: “Do I want to do it?” and “Can I do it?” The first question points to the need to assign students tasks that are meaningful, valuable, and relevant, while the second question points to creating tasks that correspond to a child’s ability. 
 
How The International Baccalaureate Primary Years and Middle Year programmes foster growth mindsets:
Last Word:
 
The emphasis on a growth mindset is closely related to teaching and learning. Our continued focus on the International Baccalaureate programs helps our teachers design meaningful teaching units, while our students’ agency contributes to the further design of our units. 
 
All the best,
 
Ben
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German International School Chicago is a preschool through 8th grade school that prepares students to become well-rounded, creative, and responsible global citizens. We provide students with a rigorous German-English bilingual education in a supportive and individualized learning environment.

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