Most Psychology Research Is BS
Jason Hreha
1989

How to Train Growth Mindset to Third Graders

Editor’s note: I’m the editor who finds personal development articles for Medium Members and I like to put each of those articles in context of the overall topic.

The essence of Jason Hreha’s post, above, is that instant fixes don’t work. Psychologists are trying to replicate each other’s studies and the studies that are failing are all categorized in the realm of instant gratification.

I have one story to add, which is about turning one of these instant fixes into a long term habit that (probably) did work.

My story is about my mother, a 3rd grade teacher, adopting Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset work.

In Dweck’s most famous study, Dweck taught high school students about brain plasticity and about how the characteristics of intelligence are not fixed. The idea was to convince students that they had control over improving any academic characteristic. Years later, these students scored higher on standardized tests.

It’s tempting to think of that lesson from Dweck as an instant fix. But maybe her study or the reporting on her study failed to take into account what happened after the lesson.

My mom, took that same concept of teaching growth mindset and reworked it for 3rd graders. The reworked lesson plan came down to three YouTube videos. I’ll share those below and then share what happened in the class room after the lesson was over. In my observations of my mom’s classroom, all of the magic was in the habits that the students built afterward.


#1. Success is not an accident

First, my mom inspired her class with someone who embodies self-improvement. Steph Curry came into the NBA too short, too small, and too slow to be a star. Now he’s an MVP and World Champion. And it was all because of his practice habits.


#2. Your brain changes!

Then she threw a two minute video on neuroplasticity at the class.

This is a classic self-improvement tactic — practically all self-improvement books are written to start with an inspirational story and then to immediately pivot into an explanation of why anyone could achieve the same thing.

So my mom was hitting her kids with Curry for inspiration and then brain science for plausibility.


#3. The power of yet

After the first two videos, my mom’s class was sold on growth mindset, but they didn’t know how to put it into practice.

Thankfully, Jannelle Monet was a guest on Sesame Street and gave the simplest behavioral pattern for practicing growth mindset: use the word Yet.

I’m not good at math

vs.

I’m not good at math, yet.

The growth mindset habit

The three videos above are not enough to change a child’s life. They have to be followed up by a change in behavior.

That’s the entire misunderstanding with Carol Dweck’s study. The focus is on the initial lecture, not the follow on behavior.

One of my mom’s strengths as a teacher was that she brought a consistency to classroom management. And one of the changes she made to her classroom was that she started insisting that the class adopt the word yet.

Every time a kid says yet, they are representing that they are open to learning something new.

The lesson that my mom put together was the launchpad for a new habit. And that new habit was then reinforced hundreds of times over the school year.

You can’t A/B test my mother because she retired at the end of last year. But I can share that her kids had one of the highest test score improvements of any class in her district. Regardless of the merits of standardized testing, something about her teaching that year worked especially well. And anecdotally, that something revolved around the word Yet.