Brains & Mindset

How can we help students learn more?

You wake up one morning on the wrong side of the bed. You get up, hit your head on the way out the door, and miss the bus. Things just aren't lining up for you today. At school, you're in a bad mood and can't concentrate. The day inches along with you missing obvious answers in science, and social studies. Then there's language arts. A course you've always found easy. But wait- there's a test today? Oh no! you completely forgot to study! Well, you did well on your last test in language arts, it's not that you needed to. After the test, you trade papers with the person next to you. When she hands it back with an apologetic look, you realize that you only got a 60! Oh well, this isn't your kind of subject anyways.

This is the plight of many children. They have a bad day, then at school it's near impossible to concentrate. Or maybe, they get a test back with a really low grade. Instead of striving to do better on the next test, they avoid all parts of the class, reasoning that they just can't do it; they've hit the bar. How do you help these students?

The Brain: Process of Thinking

Every second, billions of pieces of information are trying to squeeze themselves into your thoughts. How do we not get overloaded with information? It would seem like that in order to process that much information, you would have to spend all your brain power on just interpreting what it means. However, most of this information is taken out through a filter, also known as the reticular activating system (or RAS). After the information is decided as important, it goes to the sensory intake centers, which houses the limbic system.

The Limbic System

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What is a Growth Mindset?

A growth mindset is quite simply, the belief that a brain can change. Learn. It is the belief that your intelligence is not based or genetics, and that the learning involved in school is far more important than the grades.

This, obviously, improves the students overall moral and determination. It makes students realize that learning really is fun, and so students take their learning beyond the classroom. Those with a fixed mindset instead think that the grade, the final product, is the best part of any journey, and rush to get there. They turn away from challenges, and, if faced with failure, lie, or say that it isn't meant for them. This is the plight of many students and teachers, who want everyone to have good grades, not feel challenged.

However, if students with a fixed mindset are in a bad mood, they will turn away from the subject, blaming their unhappiness on it. They will stop studying and turn away from the subject they used to enjoy, and drift into another area, only to turn down another challenge there.

If a student has a fixed mindset, turning away from a challenge only directs him farther away from school, instead of helping them find an area they sort of do well in. So how can you help these students?

Helping students with a fixed mindset try harder in class is not a one day commitment. In order to convince them that they can do well in anything they put their mind to, you have to show them examples, and make class more interesting. Most importantly, listen to the student. Most people will give you some sort of feedback if you push them hard enough. If the kid thinks that ancient mesopotamia was way too complicated, try showing them about the festivals, and show them what you love about the subject, instead of what some professor far away thinks. In science and social studies, show the students what the tie ins around town are, like Bennett Place or the American Tobacco trail. Afterall, if the student is happy, they're less likely to turn away from a challenge, and gain a growth mindset.

Happiness and Learning

As mentioned previously, emotions affect nearly everything when it comes to learning. Filters direct all the information to the reactive brain, making it hard to focus, and difficult to learn. All the facts and figures swirl into something as meaningful as the hard chair beneath you. The student starts to daydream, rapidly losing all attention to the world around her, and falls into whatever world they've cooked up. Everything you've been working so hard to teach her floats in and is directed away from the thinking part of the brain, into the reactive brain, and is lost forever. So what can you do? Work to get the good emotions flowing. Pick up the class a bit, give the student something other than magic-fairy land to think about.


Education World, and Carol Dweck. "Wire Side Chats: How Can Teachers Develop Students' Motivation -- and Success?" Education World:. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

Judy Willis, "How to Teach Students About the Brain" Education Leadership:. Education Leadership, December 2009. Web. 02 Feb. 2016

The Science. "The Science." : The Growth Mindset. N.p., 2008. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.