Using Outdoor Learning to Encourage A Growth Mindset

We are increasingly aware that schools across the UK are embracing the work of Carol Dweck and integrating it into their daily lessons and school culture.

This is a massive step in developing the thinking skills and self awareness in our young people that will prepare them for life in the workplace, which is of course riddled with challenges, difficulties and mistakes that they must have the inner wisdom to learn and grow from.

Working with our pupils in the outdoors is filled with opportunities to illustrate the meaning of a growth mind-set.

Growth mindset and outdoor learning

So to briefly recap on the work of Dweck in the context of school learning.

Of our two mind-sets ‘growth’ or ‘fixed’ what we are firstly aiming to do as educators is raise self awareness in our pupils as to which one they unconsciously adopt when facing difficulty.

Do they say “I can’t do it” and give up easily? 

The fixed mind-set is wedded the belief that you can either do things or not. You’re ether ‘good at this’ on a first attempt or not.We should therefore do the stuff we’re naturally good at and avoid the rest.

This mind-set believes that intelligence, creativity, charisma, spatial awareness, joke telling ability, in fact any quality is a fixed entity and can’t be developed. This is therefore hugely discouraging and damaging to learners when faced with difficulty.

Or do they say “I’ll figure it out” thus embracing a growth mind-set.

The growth mind-set comes from the belief that effort leads to success. Their focus is on hard work, time spent, perseverance and they get a thrill from improvement.

Self awareness is the first step in this journey to developing a growth mind-set.

 Mistakes Are Brilliant! 

Outdoor learning particularly lends itself to emphasising the importance of a growth mind-set. When outside trying to complete any task we often go through a process of trial and error.

For example, when constructing and operating giant weights and levers in an outdoor science lesson, difficulty rarely leads to a pupil stating “I’m no good at doing science outside!” Rather they haven’t done it correctlyyet.

With a little trial and error they will get there. It’s the same whether you are lighting a fire, building a shelter or creating a piece of artwork, the skills come with practice and effort rather then being innate or about ‘natural talent’.

“I’ve missed over 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted with taking the game winning shot…and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” 

– Michael Jordan

Try taking your lesson outside and illustrate the benefits of a growth mind-set in this setting whilst drawing parallels to inside the classroom with for example maths, language or reading skills. 

Emphasise the importance of practice, effort and hard work when feeding back to pupils for exmple saying something like “I saw how hard you worked to get that right” rather than “your brilliant at this.”

For lesson plans in how to use the outdoors for co-curricular teaching, take a look at our LOC handbook.

Your ‘I CAN’ is more important then your IQ

Dwecks’ studies conclude that world class professionals always apply more effort in their area of specialism than their peers, hence their elevated status.

Even Einstein and Mozart were reputed to put more time into their subjects than their contemporaries. What’s more, according to Hymer and Gershon, genome papers and other scientists have failed to locate any gifted gene or the existence of a fully talented zygote. This is inspiring for our pupils to grasp, success is proven to come with effort and not born talent.

Top tips…

Try asking this question to your pupils:

  • When have you stuck to a challenging task that resulted in success?
Answers might include: learning to walk! Riding a bike or swimming, learning times tables, juggling, getting a job, a high test score etc.
Trial and error is always a key factor in their examples and you can do the same in your lessons, here are some activities you can use to give experiences of failure and success:
  • Set a problem and give them free reign to try out different solutions
  • Pupils work in groups on a problem. One records the trials and errors which come about.
  • Encourage all pupils to include trial and error in their written work. 
  • Model trial and error in front of the whole class, talking through as you go e.g. “this mistake has been helpful to me because…”