Mindset, and the Power of “Yet”

As teachers, we are charged with helping our students develop a deep understanding of and appreciation for the material in our courses. Our ultimate goal is for our students to leave our classrooms with skills that they can apply in college or in their future careers. I cannot, of course, expect my students to remember everything that they learn in my class. I frequently re-read this article that describes the Forgetting Curve, which was created by psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the 1800’s. The Forgetting Curve measures how much information we forget over time without reinforcement or prior knowledge. I use this article to remind myself that while I cannot expect every student to forever remember the content from my class, I hope that strategies we use for developing a deep understanding of new material and for tackling challenges stick with them long-term.

The longer I teach, the more firmly I believe that mindset (as explained in the book Mindset by Carol Dweck) must be a cornerstone of the learning strategies that we use to teach our students. I take time at the start of the year to help my students understand fixed and growth mindsets, the value of making mistakes, and the importance of struggle in learning. Last year, I read an interview in The Atlantic with Carol Dweck that gave me additional direction. In the interview, Dweck explained that simply giving praise to a student for their effort during a failure is not likely to help them develop or maintain a growth mindset. Instead, it is important to help them realize that “nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time.” Dweck said that we all have fixed-mindset triggers, and it is important to help students (and ourselves) identify those triggers. We need to learn strategies that can help us overcome those triggers.

I see triggers in my students all the time: shaky self-confidence, not enough sleep, heavy workloads, or sometimes even nice weather on a Friday afternoon. The triggers usually manifest as words or body language. This year, my favorite tool to address triggers is a poster that I found online called “The Power of Yet”. A large printout of the poster is displayed prominently in the front of my classroom (see picture at right). It took only a few days of class to see the positive impact that the poster was making. When I hear a student say that something doesn’t make sense, I point to the poster and say, “…yet.”. When someone states that they don’t get it, I point to the poster and say, “…yet”.  When students ask me a question and I don’t know the answer, I point to the poster and say, “…yet.” Of course, using the word “yet” in the classroom is not a new strategy. But I love this poster because the phrases that it contains gives all of us a common vocabulary to use during times of struggle. The phrases are a constant reminder that deep understanding takes time. I remind students that we need to allow ourselves the gift of time to ask more questions, work with peers or teachers, or consult additional resources to master the material. The words lead to strategies, and the words give us hope.

My students’ response to the poster has been overwhelmingly positive. Within days, they had integrated the word “yet” into their everyday vocabulary. They use “yet” to encourage each other. They use “yet” when asking questions. They tell peers and other teachers about “yet.” They even use “yet” to encourage me! I printed the poster onto smaller stickers, hoping a few students would take one. To my surprise, every one of my students asked for a sticker. Most put it on the back of their tablets (see picture below) so they would have a constant reminder of the “Power of Yet”.

Parents responded positively as well. During our “Follow Your Student’s Schedule Night”, many parents took pictures of the poster. Some parents commented on the relevancy of the poster to their own personal and professional lives. Parents appreciate that the poster gives them the vocabulary to support their children in times of struggle.

For me, the “Power of Yet” poster has been a powerful strategy that has amplified and supported the love of lifelong learning that we hope to instill in our students. Such a simple reminder to persevere through the rough spots can be the difference between a student who gives up on a problem and one who routinely concludes that understanding will come with more effort, questions, or use of additional strategies. Though student retention of some content will wane over time, using strategies like “The Power of Yet” to obtain deeper understanding of the material can create useful habits and increased confidence.  This truly prepares our students for the future.

For teachers interested in integrating mindset into their classrooms, here are some ideas that have worked for me:

  • Learn as much as you can about mindset and the related brain science. Start with Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, and the interview I mentioned at the beginning of this post. For math teachers, Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler is a must-read. Twitter is a great place to look for mindset resources, too.
  • Take the time to teach your students about mindset and brain science. What is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset? What examples of growth mindset language should we use with ourselves and with each other? How do our brains react when we struggle? Why is it important to make mistakes?
  • Ask your students what kind of mindset they have in various subjects or activities. Ask them how they react when they make mistakes. Ask them how they feel when they face a challenge. Share their responses in a word cloud to stimulate class discussion.
  • Remind students that it is normal to have a mindset that changes from growth to fixed and vice-versa. Help them identify things that trigger a change of mindset. Share their responses in a word cloud to stimulate class discussion.
  • Establish a vocabulary for your class to use in times of struggle. The Power of Yet poster is a great example.
  • Use mindset comments on report cards and on student work. I often refer to this Twitter post by @BelievePHQ for ideas.
  • Discuss strategies that students can use to overcome a struggle: asking questions during class, meeting with a teacher outside of class, using content-specific books or internet resources, etc. In other words, make sure students know how to get help when they need it.
  • Be honest about your mindset. Admitting that “I have a fixed mindset today” reinforces that everyone has to work at mindset. It also gives students a chance to practice the skills of helping someone else work through a struggle.

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Getting Smart - Teacher Blogger - Jamie Back

Jamie Back

Jamie Back is an Upper School STEAM Teacher & Makerspace Coordinator at Cincinnati Country Day School.

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1 Comment

Douglas Diemel

I want one of those posters, and one of the stickers for the back of my Surface... I am actively working to teach adults this same insight, and look forward to reading more on the growth mindset and other items mentioned here. Thanks for sharing...

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