Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Power of a Growth Mind-set

Recently my a fellow teacher gave me an article to read on mind-sets.The idea of mind-set, and it's effect on success were discovered by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. This is a profound article and my blogpost will make more sense if you read it first. Here is the link to the article: "Mind-Sets and Equitable Education"

In a nutshell the article says that the most important factor to success as a student or as a person is to have a growth mind-set, meaning that regardless of how well you are able to do something at first, you believe that with hard work you can get better. You believe that you will eventually succeed if you keep trying. This has been proven to be more important than I.Q., more important that socio-economic factors, or any other factor in determing success.

I started to think about this growth mind-set as an Art teacher, and how it might effect a classroom teacher as well. I have so many students who come into my class believing before they even begin that they are not creative, that they aren't "good" at art, when in reality anyone can become good at art through hard work and practice. It is only a matter of learning how, just like any other subject. When I tell them this is seems to be a revelation, and it might be for you too! I know that as classroom teachers you also come across students who feel like failures before they even begin.

I was inspired by Rick Carson's book, "Taming Your Inner Gremlin," to create an art lesson that dealt with this fear and that inner critic that keeps us from being the artist, or person we are meant to be. The lesson is done in an art journal style. Students create an Inner Gremlin page full of all of the negative thoughts they have about themselves and about being an artist, they actually draw their gremlin on the page. Then they create a 2nd page that is full of Positive Affirmations. This lesson is intended to help free kids up from the fear of making mistakes and allow them to explore their creativity. I have them give themselves permission to make mistakes. We talk about how often times it is the mistakes that make art beautiful. Here are some of the results:
This exercise, although I use it in an art classroom, can also be used in your classrooms. Instead of having them write about their negative feelings about being an artist, have them write our their fears and negative thoughts about being a student. It's important that they create a picture of what that gremlin looks like, as well as the written thoughts. Then on the reverse side have them replace those thoughts with positive affirmations, again drawing a positive image as well as writing. It's difficult as a teacher not to judge, or put any kind of evaluation to this assignment at all. They need to have the freedom to mess it up, when you take off the pressure of having to do it perfectly the students will rise to the occasion. Give them lots of examples to use as a jumping off point, and then let them go! It is a powerful lesson for many students and very freeing. If nothing else it opens the door to start talking to your students about the power of a growth mindset.
Another lesson that I recently completed with my beginning art class was a self-portrait drawing. My students were overwhelmed with fear of this assignment. We talked about focusing on the process, learning from our mistakes and continuing on our drawing even when it got hard. Nearly every one of the 50+ students I taught were able to complete their portrait and were proud of the result. Here are just a few of the drawings, with a pre-instructional example and a final drawing.

With some instruction and more importantly the belief that they could do it if they continued through the tough parts, they were able to do self-portraits that were amazing. Even my students were impressed with themselves!

I hope you take the time to talk to your students about mind-set, it's such a valuable lesson and I love it when they are able to get past that first hurdle, continue on and then be successful, it's so awesome!

Here is a free doodle movie that might get your kids started on their gremlin/self-affirmations pages!
Click here if you'd like to use the Inner Gremlin/Postive Affirmation lesson above.

Have fun!

I'm curious, what do you do in your classrooms to encourage a growth mind-set?

Sabrina Wingren - A Space to Create



  1. Just astounded by the lovely results your students achieved! So great!

  2. Wow! I wish I'd had an art teacher like you when I was at school! Great post!

  3. Thanks! It's so much fun being an art teacher!

  4. I LOVE this activities I think they will go hand and hand with this lesson in my classrooms! Thanks for sharing!

    Here is a lesson on being first isn't always best!