If you’ve spent any time online lately, you’ve probably seen the viral TikTok videos about all the problems with today’s students. They can’t read, they’re working below grade level, they can’t pay attention or follow directions; the list of concerns by frustrated teachers and parents goes on and on. And it’s not like these gripes are unfounded. Learning loss exacerbated by the pandemic is real and needs to be addressed.

But here’s the thing: Students can see these videos, too. They hear these messages. They might start to internalize them: “I can’t do anything. I guess I’m not smart enough. Why bother learning at all?”

If we want to fix the learning loss problem, we must help students build back a sense of self-worth. They need to recognize that just because they’re not good at something now doesn’t mean they never will be. That’s the idea behind the growth mindset.

What is a growth mindset?

Too many people think that talent is something you’re born with. Psychologists call this a fixed mindset, the idea that everyone has a certain level of ability and intelligence that can’t be changed. People with a fixed mindset doubt their abilities, making them more likely to give up in the face of setbacks or avoid obstacles in fear of failure.

On the other hand, the growth mindset recognizes that talents and abilities are not innate. Instead, skills can constantly be improved through hard work and dedication. People with a growth mindset aren’t afraid to take risks, seeing challenges not as impassable barriers, but as learning opportunities. They recognize that mistakes are just part of the process rather than signs of weakness.

Strategies for Fostering a Growth Mindset in the Classroom

Learning loss can cause many students to feel discouraged. If they struggle to catch up with missed content, they may fall into the fixed mindset trap, believing they’re not smart enough to beat the challenges they face. This is where the transformative power of a growth mindset comes into play.

Related: Addressing Learning Loss in the English Language Arts Classroom

Embrace “Yet” Statements

One simple way of instilling a growth mindset in your students is to embrace the power of the word “yet.” Getting students into the habit of saying this word when talking about their skills can reshape their entire perspective on learning.

⭐ Activity: The Power of Yet

Introduction: Begin by introducing the concept of a growth mindset to your students. Explain that having a growth mindset means believing in the potential for improvement and learning from challenges.

Discussion: Engage students in a discussion about their current beliefs regarding their abilities in a particular subject or skill. Encourage them to share statements like “I can’t do this” or “I don’t understand this.”

Introduce “Yet”: Explain that by adding “yet” to the end of a statement, students acknowledge that their current understanding or ability is a work in progress.

Personal Reflection: Ask students to reflect on their previous statements and transform them using the word “yet.” For example, “I’m not good at writing essays” becomes “I’m not good at writing essays yet.”

Classroom Display: Create an interactive display in the classroom where students can share their “Power of Yet” statements. This could be a bulletin board at a special place in your room, paper statements taped around your classroom, or a designated section of your whiteboard.

Regular Updates: Encourage students to revisit and update their “Power of Yet” statements regularly. As they make progress, they can modify their statements to reflect their evolving skills: “I’m not good at writing essays yet, but now I know how to draft an outline.”

Set Realistic Goals

That said, not every student is ready to jump back into learning right away. Some students need to have a clear purpose for doing things, otherwise they’ll never get started. Goal-setting can help students who need that extra motivational push.

⭐ Activity: Reflection and Goal-Setting

Self-Reflection: Begin by having your students reflect on their recent assignments, projects, or lessons. Ask them to identify areas where they excelled and areas where they faced challenges.

Strengths and Challenges: Have students create a list of their strengths and weaknesses in the subject or skill being assessed. This helps them recognize their existing capabilities and areas for improvement.

Setting Specific Goals: Encourage students to set specific, achievable goals based on their reflections. Goals should be framed in a way that emphasizes improvement and can be measured. For example, instead of an abstract goal like “read more,” they could set a goal like “read independently for at least ten minutes a day.”

Action Steps: Have students identify concrete action steps they can take to work toward their goals. These could include specific study strategies, seeking help from you or other teachers, or dedicating more time to practice.

Goal-Setting Visuals: Ask students to create visual representations of their goals, such as charts, lists, graphs, or vision boards that they can display in your classroom. Visuals serve as constant reminders of their growth objectives.

Check-Ins: Schedule regular check-ins to review students' progress towards goals. During these check-ins, celebrate any successes, no matter how small.

Goal Adjustments: Emphasize that goals can be adjusted as needed. If students find that their initial goal was too ambitious or not challenging enough, they should feel empowered to modify it.

Redefine Mistakes

Many of today’s students find school an incredibly intimidating place. Students with poor skills don’t want to be judged for making mistakes, so they might not speak up in class or ask for extra help. As a result, they may fall even further behind. That’s why it’s important for students to reframe their perspective on mistakes, viewing them as stepping stones to improvement instead of indications of failure.

⭐ Activity: Mistakes Spotlight

Classroom Display: Create a designated “Mistakes Spotlight” display in your classroom. Label it prominently so that your students view it as a positive space.

Student Contributions: Encourage students to contribute to the Mistakes Spotlight by sharing errors they’ve made during their time in your class. Incorrect quiz answers, misspelled words, grammar mistakes, and mixed-up vocabulary definitions are all good examples.

Reflection: Alongside each featured mistake, have students write a brief reflection on what they learned from it. This reflection could include insights gained, strategies for improvement, or the importance of perseverance.

Anonymous Submissions: Not every student will be comfortable with sharing, so it’s important to allow anonymous contributions. Consider making a suggestion box or providing forms for students to submit their reflections without others knowing.

Teacher Examples: Nobody’s perfect! Model a growth mindset by sharing some of your own mistakes and what you learned from them. This shows students that everyone, even the experts, is always learning.

Growing Student Confidence

Promoting a growth mindset among your students is not just about addressing learning loss; it’s about cultivating curiosity and a lifelong love for knowledge. When they view every challenge as an opportunity to grow, students will be ready to tackle any situation, academic or not, with confidence.