ASK STUDENTS TO DESCRIBE their brain with a metaphor and they’re likely to suggest a computer, command center, or maybe a lightning-fast communications network. But they’d be better off thinking of the brain as a muscle that gets stronger with use. Researchers now understand that IQ isn’t fixed at birth. Just as we get more physically fit from exercising, we can build brainpower through the act of learning. Children who adopt what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mind-set
understand that intelligence isn’t fixed but can be developed through effort. In Mindset, Dweck explains why students who have a growth mind-set are more willing to tackle challenges, learn from failure, and see criticism as useful feedback rather than a reason to give up. This is the kind of thinking that keeps students motivated, even when learning is hard work.
The good news is that even mind-set isn’t fixed. A growth mind-set can be learned and reinforced by messages that praise persistence and set high expectations. For example, help students understand that challenging assignments will stretch their “thinking muscles.” At the same time, provide them with necessary support so they don’t get discouraged. Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa presents five key concepts on the topic. These concepts give us an accessible framework for talking about, and learning about, brain-based learning:
- Human brains are as unique as faces.
- All brains are not equal because context and ability influence learning.
- The brain is changed by experience.
- The brain is highly plastic.
- The brain connects new information to old.
Experts David A. Sousa and Carol Ann Tomlinson team up to explain the science behind differentiated instruction in Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom. They suggest having faculty discussions about how teachers’ and administrators’ attitudes and behaviors (as well as school environments and procedures) can encourage—or discourage—a growth mind-set. Download their discussion Reproducibles.