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Helping Students with One TINY word....

“I can’t write good essays.”

“I’m not good at algebra.”

“Nothing I do makes Spanish easier for me.”

We all recognize these as negative statements about student’s ability to be successful. Further, it’s pretty well-established that negative beliefs like these are correlated with actual failure. This is fully supported by motivation research--your beliefs of success are major predictors of your actual success. As Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re right!”

The good news is that students aren’t trapped by negative beliefs.There is a small but powerful key to open the door to new thinking. And it only takes one word...


Add it to the end of any of the above statements or similar and suddenly there’s a very new meaning:

“I can’t write good essays...yet.”

“I’m not good at algebra...yet.”

Nothing I do makes Spanish easier for me...yet.”

Instantly, there’s hope and a view for the future. Instantly, there’s a focus on the change that needs to happen between NOW and LATER. And that viewpoint is powerful. It implies that what you change can bring can new result! Perhaps your essays aren’t great...but that will change when you apply some new strategies. The student gets permission to acknowledge that things aren’t ideal right now, but they will get better. This is a big shift in mindset that can change everything for a student who feels stuck with their negative ideas.

Dr. Carol Dweck has famously identified this new thinking as a “growth mindset.” Her decades of research and her highly successful book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” People using a growth mindset believe their ability to success is based on effort, not fixed trait. Effort can always be adjusted--more accurate, more more in depth, more strategic and so on. With growth mindset, no longer does the story for a student end at “I’m just not good at it.” It’s all what you put into it!

How to bring about this thinking?

1. Focus on Effort as much as possible. (Did well on a quiz? Say “What study strategies did you use to get there?” vs. “You must be good at spelling”).

2. Look for instances of even small successes to demonstrate the power of change on student outcomes. Chronic bad results on essays met with even one positive comment from a teacher shows that change is possible--a growth mindset at work!

3. Practice using “YET” every time you hear a negative, “fixed” statement from yourself or others. Thinking patterns are habits that take time to change, so lots of repetition is key.

Academic coaching is one useful method to make this shift. We coaches focus on building and reinforcing new thinking patterns in exactly the ways best for each individual.

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