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Paying Close Attention to Mistakes Helps Students Learn More, Research on Growth Mindset Suggests

Paying Close Attention to Mistakes Helps Students Learn More, Research on Growth Mindset Suggests

New research on the theory that students who believe academic success is obtained not inherited (growth mindset) are more likely to succeed has found that students who pay more attention to their mistakes do better.

Led by scholars from Michigan State University, the study took a look at 123 children and after assessing their mindset (growth or fixed) asked them to complete a computer-based accuracy task.

The researchers then studied the brain activity of each participating child to see which ones were focusing more on the mistakes they made.

"Within half-of-a-second after making a mistake, brain activity increases as the person becomes aware of and pays close attention to what went wrong. Essentially, a bigger brain response means the person is focusing more on the error," said Michigan State University in a release.

The bigger the child's brain response while completing the activity, the researchers hypothesized, indicates the child is focusing more on his or her mistakes in order to improve.

Indeed, the researchers found that children who had been identified as having growth mindsets were both more likely to display bigger brain responses while completing the task and more likely to improve when working on the task again.

"Children with growth mindsets were significantly more likely to have this larger brain response after making a mistake in the study. In addition, they were more likely to improve their performance on the task after making a mistake," MSU said.

Hope is not lost for children who have a fixed mindset. According to the researchers, children who have a fixed mindset yet are encouraged to focus on their mistakes will similarly improve in their next academic performance.

Teachers and parents should be telling their kids at all times: "Mistakes happen, so let's try to pay attention to what went wrong and figure it out," said Hans Schroder, lead author of the study in MSU's statement.

For those unfamiliar, growth mindset is an increasingly popular term in education coined by psychologist Carol Dweck. Put simply, growth mindset is "the power of believing that you can improve."

A similarly popular term in education that goes hand-in-hand with the term "growth mindset" is "grit," or something a person who is committed to persevering despite hardships possesses.

Growth mindset, in other words, is the thought process a student has when he or she encounters tough academic content but knows with practice he or she can understand. Grit, on the other hand, is that student's willingness to put in the hard work to obtain that comprehension and ultimately succeed.

This new study provides educators and parents with a helpful tip for encouraging students to possess growth mindset while being gritty through identifying and working through their mistakes.

Read the full MSU release here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor



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