At after-school this year, one of our goals has been to see growth in the kids’ ownership of their learning. Research has shown that when a child feels his intelligence is “fixed”—that you get whatever smarts you get and there’s not much you can do about it—he develops a passive and risk-averse approach to learning. Why try if your efforts don’t amount to much? And when children believe this about learning, it becomes true for them. They do not grow, take risks and learn to their greatest potential. They avoid challenges, give up more easily and their internal motivation dwindles.
On the other hand, if a child develops a “growth” mindset about his or her learning—believing that the mind is like a muscle you can strengthen through exercise—they become active, engaged learners. A child who believes this about his or her mind seeks challenges. In their failures, struggles and weaknesses, they see opportunities to grow. They become their own educational advocates. Rather than passive vessels of instruction, they become curious problem-solvers, driven from within. This is what we want for the kids at after-school. Such a shift in mindset would help them not just in their work with us but throughout their life.
We’ve been encouraged by signs of real change in mindset in many of the after-school kids recently. Each child meets weekly with a leader to reflect on their learning. The child is helped to consider their personal strengths and struggles and to set a clear, actionable goal for the coming week. We have seen the kids take such ownership of these conferences. They keep their binders organized and jump into their goals once their homework is done. They feel proud and excited to move their reached goals into a special section once achieved.
About a month ago, Moenae, one of our 1st graders consistently struggled to complete her homework in the allotted hour. When the clock struck 5:00, she became destitute, moaning at the thought of having to do the rest at home. She saw herself as a helpless victim of her own unchangeable abilities.
However, in her weekly conference, her leader helped her to consider what might be slowing her down. What strategies and skills could she work on to try an overcome this seemingly impossible problem? From this conversation, Moenae set several goals. She realized that her wandering eyes and pencil were getting in her way so she committed to keep them both on her page at all times. She also realized that after finishing one problem or assignment, she would lose her work flow and drift into daydreaming. She set a goal to promptly move on to the next task after one was finished. Her leader helped her record her list of strategies and gave her a copy. Over the course of the next week, Moenae kept her goal list on the table, right next to her work. When she got distracted, her leader would simply remind her of her goals. She would scurry back to work. After a few days, we noticed Moe glancing at her list independently and re-focusing herself.
By the end of the week, Moenae was consistently finishing her homework with time to spare. There was a time when Moenae insisted—and genuinely believed—that she was not capable of finishing her work in an hour. Now, if you ask her if she’ll be able to finish, she says, “Yeah, of course,” as if it had never crossed her mind to doubt it. This past week, she told her leader that she wants to start using her focus strategies at school too.
Small as it may seem, this and the other simple signs of shifting mindset are so significant.They show is that the kids are taking their learning into their own hands. They are gaining confidence and motivation. They are developing an outlook that will help them bounce back from failures and overcome struggles. We are so thankful for these encouraging glimpses and pray that it will grow in the months and years to come!