Dr. Carol Dweck, Fixed Mindset, French, French Immersion, Growth Mindset, Jo Boaler, Language learning -

Growth Mindset & the Other "F" Word

Growth Mindset - you might have heard the term popping up at your child’s school, or it might be completely new to you. Either way, here’s a breakdown of what Growth Mindset is, what failure has to do with it, and why we believe it is crucial in learning a new language.

Dr. Carol Dweck, professor at Standford University coined the terms "Growth Mindset" and “Fixed Mindset” after her and her team studied students and the way they responded to failure.

She defines Growth Mindset as “the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed” and a Fixed Mindset as “the understanding that intelligence is static.”

Basically, if you have a growth mindset, you believe that you can learn and become more intelligent over time, but if you have a fixed mindset, you believe that it’s impossible for you to become more intelligent. 

It’s important to note that praising intelligence in someone actually leads to them having a fixed mindset, but by praising hard work and effort, a growth mindset is favoured. This is because someone who is called “smart” or praised for natural ability may look for the easiest way to succeed and be recognized. Someone who is praised for their effort will continue to persevere in the face of challenges and will risk failing in order to learn and push themselves. Click here to read more about Carol Dwek's studies.

Now, learning a second language is all about the other "F" word, "failure." Let's face it, no one likes to fail. But to learn a new language, you have to make failure your friend. Language learning is all about taking risks, making mistakes (often in front of a group of people), learning from those mistakes, and of course – having the courage to try again. Not everyone is born quite so brave, and the fear of making mistakes can lead to linguistic insecurity.

While the French Immersion classroom is a safe environment for learning, it can still be challenging for students to overcome this uncertainty. A fear of speaking a second language can lead to less participation and even anxiety. You might even see it at home if you ask your child to say something in French or to read aloud.

A growth mindset can help us overcome that linguistic insecurity by embracing challenges and motivating us to increase our efforts.

Another education guru at Stanford University, Jo Boaler, adds to this idea by showing us that our brains actually grow MORE when we make a mistake than when we’re “right.” Again, you can thank our good friends “struggle” and “challenge” for that. Jo Boaler says that it's the time the brain is challenged the most (i.e. when you're making a mistake) that synapses fire and your brain grows. But wait, there's more! This happens again if/when you realize that you made a mistake. That doesn't sound so bad now, does it? Click here to watch a great explainer video in kid-friendly language on the science behind this. 

So folks, there you have it. Failure is actually our friend when it's coupled with a growth mindset. 

As the new school year approaches, here are a few ways that you can plant the seeds for a growth mindset:

1)  Watch Jo Boaler's video together with your child.   

2) Model it yourself.
Share your thoughts out loud and stay positive about challenges. You can say things like: "I have a big meeting tomorrow. I'm a little nervous, but I've been working really hard to prepare and know I've done my best," or "Well, my big meeting didn't go as I planned, but that's okay. Now I know how I can do better next time!" 

3) Change any negative self-talk to a growth-mindset mentality. For example:
 "I give up"  becomes "I’m going to try again!"
"I don’t want to mess up" becomes "Making mistakes helps me learn!"
"I’m not good at...."  becomes "This is tough but I’m going to keep trying my best."

4) Praise effort, not intelligence or ability. For example:
"You’re so smart!" becomes "You worked so hard on this! Great job!"


Let’s make “failure” and “French” good “F-words,”  


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