How to Help Students Develop a Growth Mindset in PDHPE

growth mindset pdhpe Jun 26, 2023

There are many strategies we can use as PDHPE teachers to foster a growth mindset in our students. By using some of these strategies we can empower students to embrace challenges, persevere through setbacks, and develop a lifelong love for learning.

Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is a personal belief that our intelligence, abilities and capabilities are dynamic, not static. That is, they can be improved through effort, training, and hard work. Someone with a growth mindset does not believe they were born with an IQ of 120 and must stay there. They do not believe they are bad at a subject or topic because they were born that way or that they can never get good at a specific topic because they are "dumb" in that area. No, these are fixed mindset positions. A fixed mindset assumes abilities and intelligence are unchangeable, while a growth mindset believes these can all grow with work.

A growth mindset then promotes a belief in personal growth and the understanding that failures and challenges are opportunities for learning and improvement. Extensive research supports both the beliefs and the benefits of a growth mindset in education, including increased motivation, enhanced academic performance, and improved overall well-being. All of these are important in any PDHPE lesson for each of our students.

PDHPE is Perfect for Developing a Growth Mindset

PDHPE is a unique subject with all of its applications to real life and offers a unique platform to develop a growth mindset due to its focus on holistic student development. Our subject provides physical challenges helps our students set goals for life, fosters collaboration, and requires students to see failure as part of their improvement process. PDHPE provides numerous opportunities for students to develop a growth mindset in various aspects of their lives including their health, well-being, relationships, risk assessment and a whole lot more, not just in their academic performance.

Strategies for Fostering a Growth Mindset in PDHPE

1. Create a Positive Learning Environment

  • Encourage Effort and Resilience: Rather than focusing on the end result, we develop a growth mindset by focusing on student effort and perseverance. This doesn't mean ignoring the outcome, it just means we shift and ensure the 2 are clearly connected. Encourage students who take on challenges not just those who overcome them. For example, celebrate students who show improvement in physical skills or demonstrate a positive attitude towards health habits not just those who perform the skill well or get a good result.
  • Celebrate Progress and Improvement: Recognize and reward students' progress, emphasizing the value of incremental growth and personal achievements rather than focusing solely on outcomes or comparisons to others. One way to do this is to help students collect examples of their work and then provide them with the opportunity to reflect and compare to see their improvements. Another is to reward the students who make the largest improvements in outcomes not just those with the best outcomes.
  • Emphasize the Learning Process: Shift the focus from grades, marks and goals to the learning journey itself. Encourage students to reflect on their growth and identify the amount of effort, practice, and mistakes they made to make that improvement. Really highlight thess for them as opportunities for improvement. This can be set up well by looking into elite athletes or successful people and highlighting for the student all the mistakes and extra practice they put in to be the best. They were not born that way, they worked hard for it.

2. Provide Constructive Feedback

  • Focus on Effort, Strategies, and Improvement: When providing feedback, highlight students' specific efforts, effective strategies they employed, and areas where they have shown improvement. Include feedback on how they overcame barriers and obstacles or how they failed at first but now have a better understanding and ability to apply the information. This helps them understand that progress comes from their actions and resilience, no one was born good at anything.
  • Promote Self-Reflection and Self-Assessment: Encourage students to reflect on their own strengths and areas for growth. I would often use a portfolio of student work kept in a Google Site to aid this reflection. This way students can see the progress in their work. For PE, allowing students to record and upload a few videos can help them see their own improvements. Foster a culture of self-assessment where students set personal goals and monitor their progress, nurturing their ability to take ownership of their learning journey. This can even be done through the success criteria you create or the marking criteria for an assessment task. 
  • Focus on next steps: As we provide feedback to students it can be helpful to not just highlight their progress but to provide them with the next steps they can take to continue to improve. This doesn't;t need to have a lot of detail, just suggest they now look at shooting from the 3-point line or encourage them to consider a more complex case study.

3. Teach Students about Brain Plasticity

  • Explain the Science Behind Learning and Growth: Neuroplasticity has been around for quite a while now. I used to work in rehab before I was a teacher and I was always amazed at how the body could rewire the brain after a stroke. Brains change according to how they are used. Introduce students to this concept. Highlight how their brains are adaptable and capable of forming new connections throughout life as long as they seek to create them. Explain how practice and effort can reshape the brain's structure and enhance their abilities. You can connect this with muscle memory and training for a sport. The more movements are made and adjusted to feedback the more developed and coordinated the nervous system becomes for that movement. The brain is just another part of the nervous system, adjusting and adapting to how it is used, just like a muscle grows as it is used.
  • Highlight the Ability to Develop New Skills: Share stories and examples of individuals who have achieved remarkable growth and success through perseverance and deliberate practice. Personally, I love seeing how the major rockstars in sport got there. It is never because they were born with it, I always find they achieved greatness because of their extransive training programs. Consider looking at Michael Jordan or Arnold Schwarzenegger, neither were "natural talent".  By illustrating real-life examples, students can grasp the potential a growth mindset has to transform their life.
  • Promote a Lifelong Learning Approach: Emphasize that a growth mindset extends beyond the classroom and into all areas of life. This is especially important for us to do in PDHPE, where life is central to the curriculum. Encourage students to see challenges as opportunities for growth and to approach new experiences with curiosity and a willingness to learn, not with a fear of being seen as inadequate or "dumb" as these are not realities.

4. Incorporate Goal-Setting and Reflection Activities:

  • Set Realistic and Challenging Goals: Engage students in setting individual and group goals aligned with PDHPE as well as their life beyond the classroom. Teach them to not just create SMART goals, but encourage them to break down these goals into smaller achievable steps, providing a clear roadmap for success. These goals can then be used as part of the benchmarks as students reflect on their progress and then adapted as needed.
  • Reflect on Progress: Dedicate time for your students to reflect on their achievements, challenges, and areas for improvement. Have them identify how they overcame challenges and what they can learn from times when they failed. Encourage them to analyze their strategies, setbacks, and the lessons learned. This reflection promotes metacognition and deepens self-awareness.
  • Adjust Goals Based on Feedback: Teach students the importance of receiving and incorporating feedback into their goal-setting process. They can receive this feedback from teachers, friends, family or experts in a field of interest. We can emphasize the dynamic nature of goal-setting and encourage our students to adapt their goals and strategies based on this feedback.

5. Promote Collaboration and Teamwork:

  • Assign Collaborative Learning Tasks: This is not group work. I tend to find group work gets little structure and has little benefit in the classroom or PE. Design activities that require students to work collaboratively. That is, where each student is needed and has a role to play. Such tasks foster cooperation, communication, and collective problem-solving. This allows students to appreciate the value of diverse perspectives of others as well as the power of shared effort.
  • Peer Learning: Encourage students to teach, provide support, and give constructive feedback to their peers. This will help create a culture of collective growth and learning as students see each other as learning and growth resources, not as competition. Collaborative environments also help foster empathy, resilience, and a sense of belonging within the classroom.
  • Emphasize the Value of Collective Effort and Shared Success: Finally, let's make sure we celebrate achievements as a group. Whether this is the whole class, or just 2 students working together, highlighting their growth and resilience is a great way to foster a growth mindset in the students. This will help show that success is not just an individual endeavour but is in fact something that we work on together. This is easier to do in our PE lessons as teams work together for success, but here we still need to focus more on the progress of collaboration and improvement not just on victory over an opponent. 

Developing a growth mindset among students in PDHPE can shape not only their educational journey but also their life journey. By implementing these strategies during PDHPE lessons, we can create an environment that fosters resilience, perseverance, and a love for continuous learning. Empowering students with a growth mindset equips them with essential skills for success in PDHPE and in all aspects of their lives. Let's inspire and nurture the next generation of confident, resilient, and lifelong learners.


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