Some actions are involuntary. Sneezing, for example. Most others are not. They are voluntary – directed by our thoughts. Directed by our selves. And what is a self but an amalgamation of thoughts? Let’s not get too metaphysical, though. Instead, let us simply contend, without controversy, that our thoughts give rise to actions.
In the context of the classroom, the thoughts students have precipitate actions. Sometimes these thoughts are conscious, sometimes subconscious. Either way, we can say with certainty that how students think influences the things they do.
Part of our thought is the things we think about ourselves. These beliefs, so Dweck and other cognitive psychologists would argue, underpin our sense of self. Therefore, they come before the rest of our thoughts. It is as if the things we think are first circumscribed by the things we think about ourselves.
But what does this mean in practice?
Imagine a student who thinks they can’t do maths. Any subsequent thoughts they have about maths are likely to be circumscribed by this underlying belief they have about themselves as a learner. This is the basis of how mindsets work.
If I have a starting premise that I cannot change how good I am at maths, then the rest of my thoughts about maths are likely to tally with this initial premise. Therefore, what I think about myself in general as a learner, and specifically as a maths learner, will animate and, at least partially, define the subsequent thoughts I have.
In short, how students think about themselves as learners influences the rest of their thinking. This thinking, in turn, influences their actions. And this is why mindsets matter and why promoting growth mindsets can have such a positive effect on how students see themselves, along with the actions which flow from this changed sense of self.
Draw the link for students between thoughts and actions. Show them how the former causes the latter. Use concrete examples to illustrate your points. Then, when talking to students about growth mindsets, explain how thinking differently about your learning – and yourself as a learner – can lead to different ends, with these ends being the consequence of your altered thinking.